A Farewell to Boris
I always found it fitting that when you did a Google image search for my Czech-born stepfather, Boris Andršt, you ended up with page after page of pictures of garlic. Boris, who died in New York last week aged 85, was something of a hobbyhorse throughout his life. There was photography, gadget collecting, motorcycling, cooking, and, of course, growing vegetables.
Most people who had the privilege of meeting Boris sensed that he was a remarkable character. Women swooned over his charisma. Guys wanted to be as cool as him. I always thought he looked similar to actor Gene Hackman. He didn’t talk much about his past. I knew there was something about a concentration camp; something about a street in Prague’s Libeň – Andrštová – being named after his father. František Andršt, born in 1907, was a Social Democrat trade unionist. He was also a leading member of the Petiční Výbor Věrni Zůstaneme, or PVVZ, anti-Nazi resistance group. In April of 1941, František was arrested by the Gestapo. On September 27, 1941, the notorious Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich became the effective ruler of the occupied Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Three days later, as part of a merciless wave of repression unleashed by Heydrich, the imprisoned František Andršt was executed. Boris was twelve-years-old when his father disappeared. He continued living with his mother in Chocholouškova Street in Libeň, with mother and son in constant fear of the next knock on the door.
Boris very rarely spoke about his experiences as a Nazi prisoner. That it was extremely, almost unbearably traumatic to this already sensitive soul was obvious to anyone who knew him. Occasionally there was a joke about a goulash that didn’t turn out at least not being as bad as the cardboard-infused swill they ate in the camp. As he made such quips, Boris would both laugh and his eyes would well up. In America, he became a successful ophthalmologist. He married and divorced four times, had three children - two daughters and one son. He had girlfriends well into his eighties, and only gave up motorbiking after part of one of his legs was amputated due to poor circulation, the result of a major heart attack and subsequent triple bypass the once heavy smoker endured in his forties.