This page was originally posted as an extra on the Daily Stuff newsletter, but written as an answer to the Journal Prompt (posted daily in the Stuff) “Auto-Biographical narrative – Have you, or your family, ever been affected by war? Describe how. ”
I haven’t been being all that political here, really have been trying hard to keep from commenting. I have family and friends on all sides of the issues, but there is one issue that I can’t keep my mouth shut on. Short form: if you want to keep immigrants out, go home yourself or shut up. Even the folks who were here before Europeans are immigrants. Heck, Europeans are descended from immigrants to Europe….
This is the story of a doll, believe it or not, and her history means a lot to me and to the history of my family.
I am from a family of immigrants. Granted, Dad’s side of the family have been here since the early 1800’s. His grandfather was a horseback peddler, before the US was settled beyond the Mississippi, but they were all from somewhere else, before becoming citizens.
With my Mother’s family, it’s more recent. Baba and Dedi (my Mother’s parents) emigrated to the US from what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from Bohemia (which was really the sticks, then), which is the Czech Republic, now. They came over in the oughts of the last century. I grew up with the tales of the persecution they suffered as new immigrants and “furriners’, but they were here, and gradually managed to get the rest of their families to the States, where they settled down, became good, producing, members of society and eventually naturalized citizens.
Several of my Grandfather’s brothers had spent WWI hiding out from German conscription in the mountains, before Dědi managed to make enough money to bring them over, and then other relatives, younger, earned their US citizenship by fighting against Germany and Japan, in WWII. I grew up on those stories.
Now, to the doll that is the center of this story…It was the custom of the family, both here and in the Old Country, to exchange Christmas boxes. Sometime in late November or early December boxes of goodies were sent and received. Sometimes there were local foodstuffs, or foods that were scarce in the area they were being sent to (dried mushrooms and dried fruits!), sometimes embroideries or clothing or hand-made toys, but always something for each member of the family, and I still have some of those pieces, handed down to me for my hope chest when I was young.
In the fall of 1938 a larger box than usual arrived from the part of the family that was based in Usti. They were all silver workers in the factories there and members of the local synagogue, unlike the rest of the relatives who were scattered through the areas around Praha and Plzn, and farther south through Moravia, who were all Catholic. My Grandfather had been working harder than ever to have them brought to the States, but the restrictions against Jews entering the country were in place and they were denied entry, over and over again.
There were the usual things in the top of the box, mostly embroideries and lace, but then came a thick layer of tissue, and as that was peeled away, a beautiful baby doll in a hand-made outfit was revealed. Teta Francis gently lifted her out of the tissue and said, “Vypadá teta Baruška!” (She looks like Aunt Barbara) and cradled the doll in her arms. “To je hesky!” (Oh, how pretty!) The outfit was hand-stitched and hand-embroidered, trimmed with hand-made lace, both the pink overdress with the puffed sleeves that were the national costume and the white undergown embroidered with tiny violets and had a lovely brocade baby bonnet.
…and then as she held the doll out to be admired by the rest of the assembled relatives, the doll’s eyes fell back into her head, the little cap fell off of her head and you could see that the side of her head was crushed in. Teta Francis screamed, “Mrtví! Všichni jsou pryč!” (“Dead! They’re all gone!”) and fainted.
She was right. It wasn’t long after that that the word came through that various people from that area being rounded up and taken away to Terezín, the first of the concentration camps. We never heard from any of those cousins again, except to find out, long after the fact, that they had all died there, except for the two who died in Auschwitz…
So, Baruška was the last we heard from them…. All gone. All dead. People I will never meet…. Because they were turned away as “dangerous foreigners” and undesirables….
I treasure Baruška, faded and disintegrating as she is. and I look on her as a symbol of, “Never again!”
Posted 1/29/17 (C)M. Bartlett (original copyright) and first published as Daily Stuff Extra 1-29-17 Baruška
Page created and published 10/1/19 (C)M. Bartlett
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