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No Traces: The Low Profile of Peter Zwetkoff

Years ago, when I was working as a reporter in Austria, I asked the composer Peter Zwetkoff whether he would let me profile him for the newspaper. The man was appalled. He shook his head and gave me a look so intense it scared me. "Bloss keine Spuren," he said, talking as quietly as he always did but with a determination that put an instant halt to further inquiries. Bloss keine Spuren. No traces.

Peter Zwetkoff was born in Bulgaria in 1925. He grew up in a village just outside of Innsbruck, Austria. As a teenager, Zwetkoff joined the resistance against Hitler. Gestapo men arrested him repeatedly and tortured him. As of the mid nineteen-fifties Zwetkoff lived in Germany where he worked as a freelance composer for a radio station. Peter Zwetkoff died on May 17, in Baden-Baden, Germany. Searching the web for documentation on Zwetkoff yesterday, I came up almost empty-handed. I found a page on Wikipedia and entries in various music and film databases. But there isn't much else, just an obituary written by a friend of Zwetkoff's, the Austrian novelist Erich Hackl. Zwetkoff had continued to keep a low profile.

No traces: our conversation occurred in a small pub in Vienna, about twenty years ago. This was long before Facebook and bare-it-all blogs, before we entered the age of collective exhibitionism. During the past years, I have often wondered how suicidal we must seem to those who have been shaped by regimes of terror -- and how lucky we are if we have lived our lives without knowing what dictatorship feels like.

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