Berlin, 1939. Many Jews were being rounded up, bound for death camps. My parents had miraculously obtained a visa to enable them to escape to America, but needed additional funds to pay for the ship’s voyage. They had sold most of their household items, but it wasn’t sufficient. One item remained to be sold – a large, solid silver chalice my mother had cherished, given to her by her mother as a wedding gift. A beautiful antique from the French Rococo period, quite valuable.
But who would buy it? Since most Jewish bank accounts had been confiscated, she needed to find a gentile who would be willing to purchase it. She thought of a gentile neighbor, Mrs. Palitz, who lived in her apartment house, whom she had befriended. When my mother lacked sufficient food for my sisters, Mrs. Palitz secretly bought her groceries, including milk, never requesting reimbursement.
“I would appreciate any money you would be willing to give me for this chalice, Mrs. Palitz, as I desperately need to pay for the ship’s passage, to save our lives”. “How much do you require?” She asked. When informed of the amount, Mrs. Palitz discussed it with her husband, who agreed to give my parents whatever they required to be rescued. Tapping much of their life savings, they made it possible for my parents and sisters to make the voyage to America.
Years later, in the early 1950’s, my mother received a letter from Mrs. Palitz, informing her that she and her husband had obtained a visa to the U.S., and were now residing in an apartment in Brooklyn. “We’d love to see you again, and meet your little girl born in America.” I recall meeting Mrs. Palitz and her young daughter, Loretta. I was about six years old at the time and recall that very special occasion so well. My mother and Mrs. Palitz embraced. She thanked Mrs. Palitz for having saved our lives by purchasing the silver chalice.
“Oh, I have something to show you, Mrs. Blitzer,” she said, as she carried a large box into the living room. She slowly removed a large silver chalice, and asked my mother to hold it. My mother’s eyes filled with tears as she held the chalice again, after so many years. I thought it was beautiful, as I gazed at its hand-embossed scenes of a long-ago world. I sensed how precious it was to her, as she slowly stroked it. How much she would have loved to have it in her home again, as a precious remembrance of her mother, who had perished in the Holocaust. But she had sold it to Mrs. Palitz, and had no funds with which to reimburse her for it. Mrs. Palitz put it back in its box. “Mrs. Blitzer, I know how much this means to you. It was cherished by your mother, and I want you to have it. Here. Take it home with you.”
“But I don’t have the money to repay you.”
“I cannot let you leave without taking it. Knowing you will cherish it means much more than the money.” Mrs. Palitz said. Now, it belongs to you and your family.
Through the years, the silver chalice had an honored place in my family’s home. Not only because it was beautiful and a part of my grandmother’s life – a grandmother who perished before I was born. But because it represented a Righteous Gentile’s devotion to helping a Jewish family survive and heal. The legacy of a righteous gentile’s promise fulfilled.