In his memoir, Memories of Evil, Peter Kubicek bears personal witness to the terror of the Holocaust. His book is a testimonial to those who by strength of spirit and conviction, and sometimes through kind fate, managed to survive humanity's worst genocide - the Holocaust.
Kubicek describes the degradation and inhumanity felt by Nazi victims. His narration uncovers the horror of incarceration, starvation, forced labor and brutality. His descriptions are remarkably detailed, especially considering his young age at the time and the decades that have passed since the Holocaust. Miraculously, Kubicek's mother also survived at Bergen-Belsen, although his grandmother died there. His father had managed to immigrate to the United States just before his family and friends were taken from their homes.
Mr. Kubicek hails from a Slovak city called Trencin. Of the 18.000 inhabitants, about 2,000 were Jewish. Only a few survived the deadly whirlwind of the Shoah. Kubicek's life as a child was normal in all respects. His parents were devoted to religious tradition; he enjoyed school, he loved hiking and he participated in the cultural life of the Jewish community. Zionism was an important aspect of his family's life. His parents owned a general store in town and he spent much of his childhood there.
In the summer of 1939, as war neared, Kubicek's father left for America, eventually settling in New York City, where he called for his family to join him. But it was too late. Jews were denied travel permits and visas. The author and his mother were stranded in a land where being a Jew meant being destined for extermination.
Germans soon evicted Jews from Kubicek's apartment building, including their valuables and furniture. The family business was also taken. Trains began transporting the Jewish population to Nazi concentration camps, emptying the town of its Jewish inhabitants and their culture. At age nine, Kubicek was engulfed by the horror of the Holocaust. The first camp was Bergen-Belsen, where their valuables and clothing were taken, their heads were shaved and they were issued striped pajama-type uniforms. There, they were put to work, serving the Nazi war machine.
In various concentration camps, Kubicek had to endure the unendurable. Separated from his mother, he was left to fend for himself in a nightmarish world of beatings, humiliation, slavery and murder. Everyone that he had loved had been taken away from him. He suffered through sickness, starvation, forced labor, brutal weather and vicious cruelty. Kubicek soon learned to find work valued by his nefarious Nazi captors. In one camp, he learned how to mend and darn socks, a valuable skill that aided him greatly in another camp.
As Allied forces neared, in 1945, Kubicek and 32,000 other prisoners were led on a forced march through the countryside. For many days and nights, the march continued. Those who were too slow, who had stopped or sat down, were moved into the ditch and shot. This particular action later became known as "the hunger march." One morning, Kubicek arose to discover that the German soldiers were gone. They had left during the night. Ironically, the 3,000 prisoners left at the camp because they were too sick to travel were liberated by the Russian Army shortly after the march began.
As the war ended, Kubicek, like all of the prisoners, faced a myriad of physical and emotional problems. Kubicek weighed less than 70 pounds. Severely malnourished, doctors discovered that Kubicek had also contracted tuberculosis. Almost everyone suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. He was eventually hospitalized and forced to live in a sanitarium because of his tuberculosis.
Miraculously, Kubicek's mother had also survived. Reunited, they seek to join his father in America. When Kubicek had largely recovered from tuberculosis, they returned to Trencin; where they discovered that Christian neighbors had taken their apartment and furniture. Eventually, Kubicek's mother found the person who had taken their furniture. Under a false bottom in a china cabinet, the cache of jewelry that she had hid there four years earlier was recovered.
Kubicek and his mother eventually were able to communicate with his father and he helped them immigrate to America. But many of the Jews remaining in displaced persons (DP) camps had no such luck. With no nation, except Sweden, willing to take in Jews who survived the Holocaust, they had had nowhere else to live. These plucky Jews had survived starvation, being beaten within an inch of their lives, survived rigorous slave labor and the loss of everyone that they had loved. Yet they remained homeless because most nations had an immigration quota on Jews, including Great Britain and The United States. Many of these survivors attempted to enter Palestine; the ultimate quest for a Zionist. They were rebuffed by the British, who controlled the Palestinian Territories.
Kubicek is a very competent writer, although a memoir is hardly the medium for a sparkling new talent. Still, Kubicek delivers a panorama of feelings and experiences that one might anticipate in a Nazi concentration camp. We discover remarkable characters and vivid descriptions. The flow of this memoir is steady and constant. The reader is immersed within the cascading bowels of terror inflicted by Nazi Germany upon innocent Jewish families. In this, Kubicek proffers exactly what the reader expects to discover.
This book might have been enhanced with the inclusion of additional family pictures (if possible). Adding more maps and diagrams, which are plentiful and easily available, would have enriched the experience for visual learners. And while a memoir is not a novel, there is room for enhanced character development and a more evocative description of the senses.
Many memoir authors write about their experiences not for public consumption, but as a gift for their progeny. That is certainly the sense here. Should the author desire, this memoir has the capacity to be turned into a novel. As such, a vast new universe of characters, situations and emotional responses would open. Of course, it is not for the reader to dictate what the author intends to provide, particularly in a memoir. Regardless, Kubicek has given us an opportunity to live within his Holocaust, which is the quintessential desire of the memoir author.
Peter Kubicek's memoir produces a powerful historical description of life as a Jew in Nazi concentration camps. His story is remarkably accurate and insightful. This is a riveting tale of family, faith, terror and survival. Memories of Evil is a thrilling, compelling memoir.
Reviewer Charles S. Weinblatt is the author of Jacob's Courage: A Holocaust Love Story (Mazo Publishers 2007). http://jacobscourage.wordpress.com/