A China Set That Held a Family's Memories

Widow Is Forced To Remember Without the Porcelain

Man in Uniform: David Mark Olds (right) served in America’s occupation of Vienna, where he bought the tea set.
Courtesy of Sally Wendkos Olds
Man in Uniform: David Mark Olds (right) served in America’s occupation of Vienna, where he bought the tea set.

By Sally Wendkos Olds

Published June 04, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It was our 53rd wedding anniversary, which we celebrated with a special dinner at home, as we often did, and I had just poured steaming espresso into the blue-and-white translucent cups that we saved for very special occasions.

As we sat down to sip our coffee, David looked at the demitasse cups and the pitcher and creamer, and that wonderful sugar bowl with the delicately sculptured rose on the lid, and reminisced once more about the way he had acquired this set of Meissen porcelain. I liked seeing the dreamy expression on his face as the memory came back to him. I would envision him as a young soldier, serving in America’s occupation of Vienna after World War II.

“I knew nothing about fine china,” he said. “So when this old man in the shabby clothes that were too big for him came up to me with a cardboard box and offered to sell me this set, I didn’t know what to do. He told me, ‘Sehr wertvoll — hergestellt in Deutschland’ [‘Worth a lot of money — made in Germany’].”

“I just stood there on the street corner, looking at the cup and saucer he held up to the light. And then when he said he would take a couple of cartons of cigarettes for the whole set, I thought, ‘What the hell?’ and I bought it. As ignorant as I was, I knew that it had to be worth a lot more than the Camels I had just bought at the PX [the post exchange, a military store].”

David stopped speaking for a moment, picked up his cup and said, “That old guy was probably selling the most valuable thing he owned.”

David had told me how conflicted he felt being a Jewish soldier in Vienna, which, he said, had been even more anti-Semitic than Germany, and how he would look at the Austrian civilians and wonder what they had done during the war.

Still, he felt sorry for the few local people he came to know. Now, just after the war, things were very tough. With the economy and the infrastructure all torn up, there were few jobs. The winter was cold, and heating material, mostly wood, was expensive. The best jobs were with the provisional Austrian government and the occupying forces, but there weren’t nearly enough of them.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.