From our January 2022 newsletter:
"Long-Buried Secrets and a Suitcase Full of Doilies"
We accepted a unique donation this past month when Cora Sue Anthony, on behalf of her friend Helga Gladis, brought us this suitcase full of doilies, and told us the following story.
It was with a terrible sense of urgency that young Helga's aunt buried this suitcase in the ground, full of the family photographs, silver candlesticks and plates, lace doilies.
This proved a prescient action, for it would not be long before Helga's entire family was forcibly evacuated from the Polish ghetto in which they'd been living. Ultimately they were taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and Helga was the only one among them who survived the ordeal.
Helga must have witnessed or assisted her aunt in entrusting this precious cache to the earth for safekeeping, and that sense of urgency made a great impression, for she never forgot the precise location where her aunt buried that suitcase.
We know this because Helga, as an adult, decades later, endeavored to return to Poland after the fall of the Soviet Union, for the express purpose of retrieving the suitcase, along with the soil of her Polish homeland, which she carefully deposited into small glass jars that (with especially poignant resonance) once held baby food.
Yet we can only guess at the full scope of her emotion as Helga carried this beloved burden—native soil, suitcase full of lace, family photos, candlesticks and plates of silver so tarnished they were black as soot—back with her to the United States, where she had resettled, and built her life.
This suitcase is a powerful thing, and Lacis now bears the profound and humbling responsibility of its stewardship. We thank Cora Anthony, Helga Gladis's confidante and neighbor for many years, for looking after it for so long, and now bringing it to us.
It tips the scales with an emotional weight far heavier than its four pounds and eleven ounces. The impact it has had, far larger than its physical dimensions (about 25 inches long by 14 inches wide, and six inches deep) would imply. Its capacity for the inherent lessons it holds for humanity is limitless.
We hope this story travels farther than the suitcase itself has: farther, and further, deeper. We must now all carry together that shared emotional weight that Helga once shouldered alone, for this burden belongs to all of us who can remember, and learn.
Donated By: Cora Sue Anthony on behalf of Helga Gladis