By Evan Wechman
When Denville’s own local historian and renowned author Peter Zablocki was growing up, he had no idea the role his childhood would have on his future success. Before his family migrated to the United States, he lived in Poland under a communist regime. Different viewpoints were not tolerated, and the teachers were forced to portray Russia in the most favorable light.
After school, Zablocki would go home, and his parents would disagree with the many Pro-Russia talking points that were being shared at school. However, they asked Peter not to contradict anything being presented.
This led to some confusion, but also a passion for learning more about history. According to Zablocki, “when I was a little kid, I learned there were different ways to look at something and history was a forbidden thing for me.”
This lesson has helped Zablocki become a successful historian, professor, and writer. When Covid arrived in 2000 and the schools in New Jersey were shut down, Zablocki and his best friend Tom started a podcast called “History Teachers Talking.” Instead of the harsh back and forth heard on much of talk-radio today, Zablocki wanted to just discuss current topics from a historical perspective with a focus on the content being family friendly.
“We (Peter and his co-host) started missing that connection of teaching and learning and people started listening and the number of listeners grew from hundreds to thousands, and it just blew up. The podcast was never meant to be a thing, but it became a thing, and it got picked up by a production company, Evergreen Podcasts last year.”
Though the podcast is still popular, Zablocki who has published about eight books and counting, is awaiting the release of his latest nonfiction book “New Jersey and the Medal of Honor: A History.” This book, due out shortly, highlights Zablocki’s zest for finding the truth. In this latest work, he details the stories behind the 93 winners of the Medal of Honor who called New Jersey home. For instance, Zablocki shares the story of how Robert Augusts Sweeney became the first African American to win the award twice by risking his own life to save two different sailors from drowning at sea.
The Denville writer is hoping his latest addition will inspire others who can feel his passion for history and storytelling, to do the same. “I’m hoping the book will inspire other historians across the United States to start doing the same thing and creating profiles of their own states.”
Zablocki loves teaching history to students and has taught at some great schools throughout the state. However, in the last few years, between the success of his podcast and the growing demand for his books, he has been challenged by time. “Between my podcast and my writing, I had little time to teach. I decided it was probably best to walk away but teaching is in my blood, and I love it and will pass on my enthusiasm of history to others and Sussex Community College allowed me the opportunity to do that.”
Zablocki is an adjunct history professor at Sussex Community College which allows him to fulfill his desire to teach by having just a few classes while dedicating the rest of his time to his other pursuits.
Zablocki believes his success as a writer holds many lessons for his students. Before he found prominent publishing houses to produce his books, he admits he knew little about the industry. But he quickly learned and kept trying until it became second nature. Zablocki says ” you never know until you try. It’s almost like just do it: sometimes it’s a phone call, sometimes it’s an email, and sometimes it’s just a letter. All three worked for me. We often think we can’t reach out to these people; that they are untouchable in a sense.”
Zablocki tells his students to go out there and see what happens. “You never know until you try,” adds Zablocki.