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With diamonds in the seams of their coats

by Revital Belz

December 24, 2013 | 11:29 am

Photo via ajudaica.com

I am not particularly into jewelry, and I don’t have very much. However the little jewelry that I do have has lots of significance. On my wedding day I wore a beautiful diamond necklace which was given to me by my maternal grandmother. As she put it on me, we both cried, knowing the story that was behind this fine piece of jewelry.

At the start of World War Two my grandmother was eight years old and she lived in Belgium. Her father was a wealthy diamond dealer. My grandmother, Lili, remembers the night that Belgium was attacked. She was terrified by the loud noise of the explosions. Her parents sent her and her younger brother, Albert, to bed early. While my grandmother tried to sleep she could not help but eavesdrop into the conversation between her parents. Thank G-d, her parents understood the gravity of the situation and they stayed up all night planning the escape. In addition to figuring out how to leave Europe, her mother also thought about her father’s diamond business. My great-grandmother, Rosie, was always thinking ahead. She realized that escaping Europe was not enough. The family needed a way to survive. As Rosie orchestrated the escape with her mind, her hands worked tirelessly as she sewed hundreds of tiny diamonds into the seams of Albert and Lili’s coats. Rosie understood that the adults would be searched thoroughly at the border, but that maybe the kids would have a chance of smuggling out the valuables.

As my grandmother related this story her usual stoic nature changed dramatically. She became extremely emotional as she explained the brilliance in her mother’s plan. Apparently, the entire family was stopped in Cuba for several months before they made it to Ellis Island in New York. Only after their safe arrival in Brooklyn did Rosie revel that there were diamonds in the lining of their coats. It was indeed in the merit of those diamonds that my great-grandfather was able to start a successful business only a few weeks after his arrival in New York. Almost all of the diamonds that were brought on that journey were sold. However, Rosie held on to the necklace that she wore on her wedding day. Rosie explained that she had given up almost everything just to make sure that she and her family survived, however, she wanted to hold on to that one special necklace as a family heirloom.

The night before my grandmother’s wedding Rosie gave her the beautiful necklace. My grandmother said she will never forget the words that Rosie told her that night. She said “Lili, you are my only daughter, but not only that; you are the only remaining girl in our family. Everyone else was killed in Europe. It was my love for you and Albert that gave me the courage to do the unthinkable and leave all of my brothers and sisters during the war. This necklace is all I have left of those times, please wear it at your wedding, and one day, G-d willing when your daughter gets married let her wear it. And when you wear it think about all the family that did not make it here, and how fortunate we are.” Sure enough, my mother, who was my grandmother’s only daughter wore it on her wedding day. And, I, who was the first girl in my family to get married, wore it at my wedding. I am blessed to have a daughter as well, and I hope to one day pass on this family heirloom to her. While I am sure this piece of jewelry has high economic value I have never had it appraised. In our family, this necklace has even greater value than all the money in the world. To my family this necklace symbolizes strength and courage, and serves as a reminder that despite the Nazi’s greatest efforts Jews all over the world are living and raising families.

When my sister got married last year we didn’t know what to do. Until now every girl in our family has worn the necklace at her wedding, but my mother had given the necklace to me to pass on to my daughter. After a lot of debate we decided to have a replica made for my sister. While the replica certainly does not have the same emotional value, it certainly sends the same message to our family.

To see more blogs from this author as well as others, visit www.ajudaica.com

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