He was always there at every activist meeting. A quiet, rather quirky, middle-aged man who rarely spoke, but was eager to assist with hooking up the projector or making sure the microphones didn’t squeal.
Periodically, group members would get a nightly phone call as Peter urged us to watch a particular informative program, or told us he was battling a computer virus that invaded our group’s list serve. In fact, he would spend every Saturday night – all night! – perusing through radio and television schedules, then assemble and send out an email titled “Shows for Thinkers”.
Most people did not really know Peter – he was just always there. And suddenly he wasn’t.
Peter Holzberger was murdered this week and our worlds turned around. Immediately, we were devastated.
Two young white men had found Peter working in his back yard, broke his neck, hog-tied him with bungee cords and carried his body to his basement where they hid him with boxes and clothes. Then they robbed his house, coming back several times over the next week to load up their blue van. They even bought items with his debit card on his computer, which ultimately led in their discovery.
It turns out that in earlier years Peter had met one of them at the library and tried to help him deal with his troubled family before the miscreant entered prison where he met his accomplice.
Now those who casually noticed Peter and said “hi” at meetings are filled with shock and sorrow and are scrambling to learn more about the friendly, quiet man.
We learned he had been a near genius with technology and mechanics, volunteering to fix the furnace at Milwaukee’s Peace Action center. We learned his ultimate passion had been working toward a world that works for all through good governance – from banning yard chemicals in his neighborhood to empowering the United Nations to employ world law over war and global warming. Forthright former socialist Milwaukee Mayor Frank Zeidler was his hero.
We learned of a lovely man who loved classical music and poignant movies about those down on their luck. A man who had little himself, but would lend sometimes large amounts to a friend. A man who would have liked a family but was too shy to ask for a date.
Now our whole city knows Peter Holzberger and all shake their heads at the horror and brutality of his demise.
But what has struck me in this tragedy is the importance of each of us activists, be we dynamic speakers or those who attend meetings and do what we can. We who care deeply about the vital issues that Peter did are all very precious to each other. And we are each others’ family.
There are those who knew other sides of Peter. This is the side that I knew.
Let’s notice and be gentle with each other while the gift of life still streams in our veins. There are too few of us who work for a better world. If there were more, there might be a world without murderers of Peter Holzbergers. Until then, now the two troubled young men – the type that Peter also fought to save - will be locked away forever while Peter’s example of peace and light will shine on.
Peter Holzberger (March 12, 1948 – November 5, 2013)