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!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • 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.
  • 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.