Alexander Tomsky - my father's death from natural causes

Alexander Tomsky

Jan Tomsky was born into a German-speaking Jewish family in the little Czech town of Dobruska in 1920. As a young man he survived the Second World War in the shelter of a Catholic seminary while most of his relatives were murdered. Later he went on to become a highly respected professor of archaeology, first in Czechoslovakia, and after the Soviet invasion of 1968, at the University of Tuebingen in Germany. He died in 1994. Here his son, the well-known Czech publisher, Alexander Tomsky, recalls the bizarre and strangely symbolic circumstances of his death.

"My father's death is a very sad thing that happens to many Jewish people who survived the genocide and who have lived fruitful and active lives, and then when they retire, when they get older, very often the shadows from the underworld, as it were, begin to haunt them. They suddenly begin to go back to their childhood, to remember all those cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, that died during the war, murdered by National Socialism in Germany. And I never suspected my father, that it would happen to him, but as he was getting older and was remembering more and more his young days, he began to question himself why he had survived, why him - you know, a kind of guilt of surviving, which I couldn't understand. I was born after the war. Then he began to see old cousins he had forgotten in my own children, because I have eight children, and he would say: "Ah, he looks like that". You know, he had tears in his eyes. And when my mother died, he was seventy-two, he found living quite impossible.

But he was a scientist and he decided to die of a natural cause. He had obviously slight problems with blood pressure, and he decided to go to the Alps - I think it's the highest hotel in Germany, in Berchtesgaden, and this is quite nightmarish, because Berchtesgaden was a special place - the Germans are ashamed of it - built by Hitler, and most parts of this mountain refuge of Hitler are not open to the public. But there is a hotel and my father simply stayed there for three days, was very merry, drinking Cognac and he died of a brain stroke - natural cause. But to die in Berchtesgaden seems symbolic, as if he wanted to join all those friends and relatives, and there were over seventy of his aunts and uncles and cousins who died in the war."