I recently went to a garage sale held by an elderly couple that I’d never met before. They were moving from their home of 25 years to an assisted living facility. It was a very emotional time for them. After I’d bought some household items that I needed, the wife and I started chatting, and it became clear that we had made a connection on a level beyond the buying/selling. As if to keep me there a little longer, she asked me if there was anything else I needed.
For some reason, I mentioned that I happened to be looking for the kind of apron my Grandmother used to wear — one with a top and bottom and pockets. I described how my Grandmother’s apron pockets were always filled with hard-candy, safety pins, Kleenex, rubber bands, and whatever odds and ends she had collected during the day. I explained that I needed it for a work-shop I was conducting on preserving Jewish family histories. The woman’s lovely soft-blue eyes lit up and she motioned me to follow her into the kitchen.
Then, despite my protestations, she insisted on climbing up a ladder to a top cabinet. She then stretched her small, fragile body, burrowing into its depths to find her own mother’s apron. She extricated a box, and inside, wrapped in brittle yellowed, tissue paper was an apron. And it was exactly like my Grandmother’s. When I gasped in recognition, she insisted that I borrow it for my presentation. A total stranger she was lending her beloved mother’s apron to. Then, she motioned me again, and I followed her through her spotless house to the front door. On a credenza in the foyer, stood two tall, beautiful crystal candlesticks.
Staring at them, I knew what she was about to tell me . . .
Early on the evening of November 9, 1938, her father had rushed into their Berlin, Germany home, screaming that the Nazis were coming. The family had to leave immediately. With no way to imagine what was about to happen, her mother decided she needed to do something first. She grabbed her own Grandmother’s crystal candlesticks, hurriedly wrapped them in a blanket, ran outside, and quickly buried them in the backyard.
Then the three fled to the countryside, thinking they’d return to their home soon when things calmed down. Tragically, things never calmed down. The family, carrying only what they’d been able to bring as they ran out of their home, embarked on a long, dangerous journey first to escape Germany, then to escape Europe.
Eventually, they settled in the US, where the daughter grew up and married.
On their first trip back to Germany in 1957, the mother and daughter returned to see their previous home. Without asking permission of the current owner, the mother went straight through the gate to the backyard and to the exact spot where she had buried the candlesticks. Using only their hands, mother and daughter dug furiously until their fingertips touched a moldy, pile of rags. Gently pulling the rags–and their precious contents–out of the hole, the mother and daughter looked at each other in astonishment and delight.
And that’s why, in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2017, because I needed a few garden tools, I stood with tears streaming down my cheeks, holding the hand of an elderly woman — who wasn’t a stranger anymore — looking at her Grandmother’s beautiful candlesticks that her Mother had buried on Kristallnacht in 1938.
For more information about Kristallnacht: