If you could only take one suitcase, what would you put in it?

Today we did our yoga class without music, with our eyes closed,  and had to shut off all internal chatter,  “to help us recharge from this overstimulated world we live in.”

It helped, it’s been a crazy week…

Aloes in Pasadena

My glasses broke last week which meant vision troubles and headaches all week,  as well as several car trips in the traffic to the eye specialist,  all of which was, as Judith Viorst might say, a terrible-horrible-no-good-waste-of-time.

After the adjustment on Friday I went to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Have you ever been to a Holocaust Museum? This little one, which was founded by a group of survivors in 1961, is the oldest in the States. It recently moved into a beautifully designed new building (by Belzberg Architects from Santa Monica).

At the museum I met two 82 year-old survivors from Auschwitz, Eva who grew up in a small village in Hungary, and Mary, from Budapest.

When the Nazi’s came for them, they were given an hour to pack, one bag per person, Mary told us: “We wore as many layers of clothes as we could, my mother packed the little food we had in the house, bread, eggs, cheese… but there’s very little space in one suitcase, and we weren’t given any time to prepare a picnic,” and looking in the distance she said,  “Hah some picnic!”

“My family were moved during passover, so we didn’t even have bread to take with us,” Eva said, and she shivered as she recalled how their neighbors came out their houses and watched her family walking to the train station, “But even though we knew those people so well, no one ran over with a piece of bread, or a kind word.”  Her mother, her four sisters, and her niece went to Auschwitz.  Two of them survived.

The number tattooed on Mary's arm

“If you could take one bag, what would you put in it?” Mary asked me.

“Photographs,” I said. “And the silver candlesticks.”

I would’ve starved.

“I only have one or two photos from my childhood. I was lucky to get them from an uncle who’d moved to America before the War,” Mary said,  “When we arrived at Auschwitz after that terrible train journey standing up squashed in that cattle car one little bucket in the corner…. ” she stopped talking,  looked away, sighed deeply,  “they took our clothes, our suitcases, we couldn’t hide a single thing. We lost it all, they even shaved our heads.”

“None of my relatives survived,” Mary said,  “When we were liberated I didn’t know where else to go, so I went back ‘home‘, back to Budapest. I saw a girl in my high school wearing my coat, the one my mother had had specially made for me, and the matching scarf my grandmother knitted, and all the girl could say was,  ‘So you’re back?’ No thank god you survived, welcome home, or even lovely to see you. Just, ‘so you’re back…?’

“Did she give you back your coat?” I asked

“Nothing. Not a word about my coat!” Mary said.

And I was whining about my glasses?

* * * * *


I didn’t know anything about the Jewish origins of Flamenco.

My friend Dinah went with the Israeli musician Yuval Ron (above) who plays an instrument called the oud, on his tour of the historic area of Andalusia, in southern Spain. Earlier in the week I was fortunate to go with her to hear the ensemble playing the beautiful Andalusi style of music created by Jews and Muslims over  a period of 600 years“.

About dearrosie

We think we need so much, when all we really need is time to breathe. Come walk with me, put one foot in front of the other, and get to know yourself. Please click the link to my blog - below - and leave me a comment. I love visitors.
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23 Responses to If you could only take one suitcase, what would you put in it?

  1. Corilee says:

    Beautiful post, it was great to hear about Mary and Eva. And you’re right, it puts things in perspective for today.

  2. dearrosie says:

    I’ve heard interviews with people who’ve had to flee their homes because of an approaching fire, flood, hurricane, and from what they said, I understand it’s something that takes careful thought and planning. If you do it last minute you take silly things.

  3. Priya says:

    I couldn’t help shuddering at the words “When the Nazis came for them”. Mary and Eva and all the others do put our whinges in perspective, don’t they? Thank you, Rosie, for writing a heart-felt reminder.

  4. dearrosie says:

    Thanks for your comment Priya.
    re the Nazis: What scares me is there wasn’t just one man doing all those unspeakable things to fellow humans. Unfortunately there were many people all over Europe who were only too happy to “follow Hitler’s orders”, for example Mengele, who was known as “the angel of death” was at Auschwitz and both women who were teenagers had to face him at the gate

  5. Boris says:

    These memories are a treasure and provocative without parallel in our history; they remind us that we still live in societies that, given the ‘right’ combination of economic, political and social conditions, people will still behave the same way; our methods may change, our media and social conscience may be more developed but our deeper human nature may never evolve so that we can say ” we will never behave that way again”. We will always be on our guard, so at least we can say “Never again ” to the catastrophe and physical suffering.

  6. dearrosie says:

    Thanks for your very thoughtful response Boris.
    I’m glad you watched Sophie’s adventure at the dog door. I included it specifically for you and a couple of other dog lovers

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I am speechless! Wow, I wish I was there to see this museum with you! I want to go the next time I am visiting Cali! Today on my hike I am going to think about what I would carry with me in my suitcase…

  8. shoreacres says:

    You’re exactly right – you don’t wait until the last minute to pack that “one bag”. I live in hurricane territory, and June 1 I pull out the “special suitcase” and go through its contents. It was the small suitcase my mother carried on her honeymoon, and it carries the treasures that represent my past life and memories.

    Some years I make a little change in its contents, but they’re quite consistent. It’s gone through three hurricane evacuations now. It sits in the back seat, on the seat, with the tupperware container with paperwork and other such valuables below, and the kitty in her crate on top.

    • dearrosie says:

      Thanks so much for your very interesting comment shoreacres. I was hoping to hear from someone like you, who’d had to pack for hurricanes. I love that you use the suitcase your mother used on her honeymoon. You sound so calm and so organized about being ready to evacuate.

  9. Val Erde says:

    I’m surprised that the two women were able to talk about the experience. Of the few survivors I’ve met, silence has been the usual response to questions, because what they experienced in the concentration camps was horrific beyond belief.

    Yes, I’ve been to a holocaust museum: the “http://www.annefrank.org/ Anne Frank House
    and its associated exhibition, in Amsterdam, Holland. I don’t know if they have the photos online that I saw there, but I do hope not. I won’t open your link and will understand if you don’t want to open mine, but I still remember and shudder at what I saw in the Anne Frank House photographs.

    You can’t pack a suitcase for something that is going to rob you of your self, your life (even if you survive, your life will never be what it was before), your family, including your parents, siblings and children. You can’t pack a suitcase to live in an environment in which those who are your jailors think of you as less than an animal. You can’t pack a suitcase to go where there is no respect for you.

    It doesn’t compare to a natural disaster like an expected hurricane or tornado, not even an earthquake or a tsunami. We’re talking here of conscious, intentioned maltreatment and torture. It’s different.

    Sorry, but this subject isn’t one I can talk about in a level-mannered way.

    • dearrosie says:

      I hope reading this hasn’t upset you Val. Most survivors don’t like talking about their experience and that’s why it was so moving to be there *listening*. Eva was a lot more reticent in sharing.

      Mr F and I have been to Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and I’ll never forget it! When I walked across a room and the floor boards creaked, I realized exactly what it was like for the family to hide up there.

      I think if you pack a suitcase for a natural disaster or something like the Nazis you never lose hope that you’ll still be able to come home. Dont you think?

      • Val Erde says:

        Your post hasn’t upset me, but thinking the concentration camps does.

        Many of the people who ‘packed for something like the Nazis’ didn’t even know they were being taken to concentration camps, but later some did and no – I doubt very much that any thought they were ever going home again.

  10. Val Erde says:

    (Also sorry, I think I missed the closing tag off my link. You can probably adjust that, if you want to, in your comment edit box).

  11. טיולים says:

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  12. Yes, I’ve been to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. It was one of the most profoundly moving experiences I’ve had in my life and I was in a numb daze for several days after my visit. And to think, genocide is still happening on this planet. It’s heartbreaking.

    • dearrosie says:

      I was also profoundly moved after our visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. Its heartbreaking to think that genocide is still happening on our planet.

  13. Such a horrible story about the Holocaust, Rosie. Every time I read about someone’s personal experience, I am horrified anew. We have a great Holocaust Museum in Washington too. Thanks for sharing about the Jewish origins of Flamenco. Very interesting!!

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Cathy,
      There are actually two Holocaust Museums in L.A – this one is the smaller and lesser known of the two – but of course the largest one in the U.S is in Washington D.C. (we went there a few years ago.)

      I didn’t know about the Jewish origins of Flamenco before my friend went on that trip to Spain. I was fortunate to hear the Andalusi style of music here in Los Angeles.

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