In its association with the writer Hermann Kesten (1900-1996), this Peters cottage is easily the most significant of the group, as well as being the largest. The connection was brought to my attention in 2016 by Albert M. Debrunner of Basel, Switzerland, as he prepared a biography of Kesten.
Dr. Debrunner graciously summarized Kesten’s life and his relationship with Provincetown in an essay specially written for Building Provincetown:
The German-Jewish writer Hermann Kesten rented Pine Cottage, Peters Cottages, 290 Bradford Street, for the summer of 1945. Hermann Kesten didn’t stay at Pine Cottage alone. He shared it with his wife Toni, his mother Ida, and his niece Marian. As Hermann and Toni Kesten didn’t have any children of their own, this summer in Provincetown was the closest they ever came to a family life and they enjoyed it.
Hermann Kesten was born in Podwoloczyska (Ukraine) on 28 January 1900. The family moved to Nuremberg in 1904. After breaking off his studies at Frankfurt University he wrote his first novel, Joseph sucht die Freiheit, in 1927. The book was an immediate success. A year later Hermann Kesten was offered a job with the renowned Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag in Berlin. He accepted the offer and spent the next five years writing, selecting manuscripts for Kiepenheuer and moving in the literary circles of the German capital.
When Hitler came to power, Hermann Kesten and his wife Toni went into exile to Paris. Hermann Kesten kept on writing and he found employment with the Dutch publisher Allert de Lange, whose German department he founded. The Nazi invasion of France put an end to this and once more Hermann Kesten had to run for his life.
He managed to escape to the U.S. and his wife followed him after having escaped from the notorious French concentration camp for women in Gurs. In New York, the couple started a new life. At first, Hermann Kesten was busy saving his persecuted colleagues. He was one of the key figures of the Emergency Rescue Committee. Stefan Zweig called him “Schutzvater und geradezu Schutzheiliger aller über die Welt Versprengten” (“Protective father and even protective saint of all those dispersed across the globe”).
Later, he took up his work as a writer again. In the summer of 1945 he finished his biography of Copernicus which was first published in English. In 1949 both Hermann and Toni Kesten became American citizens. Yet they moved back to Europe in the ’50s, living in Rome from 1953 to 1977. When Toni died. Hermann Kesten returned to New York for a short spell, but then shared an apartment with an old friend of theirs, Martha Marc, in Basel, Switzerland. After Martha Marc’s death in 1985 Hermann Kesten moved to a Jewish home for senior citizens in Riehen, right on the German border, where he passed away peacefully on 3 May 1996.
Hermann Kesten loved Provincetown. He and Toni had spent a holiday on Cape Cod in 1943 and decided they wanted to come back and so they did. On 27 July 1945 Hermann Kesten wrote to a friend: “Unser Haus steht am Rand eines Pinienwaldes, die Vögel zwitschern auf unserer Altane, ich schlafe unter Pinienzweigen, es ist still […]. Hier ist es sehr hübsch. Wir hatten prächtiges Wetter in diesem Monat, keinen einzigen Regentag, überhaupt wenig Regen, und jeden Tag Sonne, und keine Hitze, oder nicht viel, und auch dann nie so unheimlich wie in New York. Der Ort ist lustig, schöne Spaziergänge, Wälder, ein wenig ungeniessbar wegen der Moskitos, und die Bucht und das Meer.” (“Our house is on the edge of a pine forest, the birds are singing on our balcony, I sleep under pine branches, it is quiet […]. It is very pretty here. We had glorious weather this month, no a single day of rain, little rain in general, and sun every day, and no heat, or only a little, and even then never as scary as in New York. The place is amusing, beautiful walks, forests, a bit unsavory because of the midges, and there’s the beach and the sea.”)
¶ Last updated on 27 November 2016. ¶ Image courtesy of the Town Assessor, Key 3582.