Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)

The Blue Glass Sugar Bowl

When my grandfather was a young man in the second half of the nineteenth century, his brothers Nathan and Charlie decided to emigrate to the United States. They were penniless, but in time they became successful business men and quite wealthy. They married and had their own families. Every summer they would return with wives and children to the small town where their brother lived, combining this visit with business ventures; also, their wives could replenish their wardrobes in Paris. Their children were my mother’s age and  became her summer companions. Sometimes, however, the two uncles would travel by themselves; I still vaguely remember Uncle Charlie visiting us in Berlin. He died in 1915. His brother Nathan returned to Germany after the end of the First World War, and it was an occasion for a family reunion. He conversed very little, his German had a heavy American accent, and rolled slowly from his mouth. Afternoon tea and home--baked cakes  served to him and the family. I am grateful to my American Uncles. They left me and my female cousins small legacies in their will; mine was to be paid out when and if I married with my parents’ permission. Their legacy helped me and my husband through the first years  when we began our medical practices in the United States.      

Their sons, my mother's cousins, continued the summer visits after the end of the First World War; they too brought their wives and children. They had sent us relief packages of sacks of sugar,  flour, coffee, cocoa, tea, rice and dried fruit, which were evenly divided between our family and my mother's sister and brother. These were years of acute starvation in Germany, and we were grateful to them. We all eagerly looked forward to their visits. Their children, in turn, were my own age, and I would take them to small coffeehouses frequented by the new writers and artists and unknown to strangers.

My mother Flora, as was customary, gave a dinner party in their honor and also invited her siblings and their families: Aunt Regina and Uncle Alfred.

My mother’s older sister had married a landowner in East Prussia, who had moved to Berlin after the war, when East Prussia became part of Poland, as stipulated in the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1918. As a consequence of their emigration, my aunt’s family lost most of their belongings, but managed to save precious dinnerware and silver.
My aunt, too, hosted a dinner party for the entire family. Unfortunately, shortly before that festivity the sugar bowl  broke and she quickly replaced it with an inexpensive blue glass container purchased from a store comparable to Woolworth in the United States.

The dinner party was a great success. At the end of the meal, the wife of one of our cousins, a rather snobbish woman, admired the blue sugar bowl, remarking that she collected old glassware. My aunt quickly gave it to her without mentioning where it came from. After the American relatives said their goodbyes, we all laughed, never thinking about the incident again.  But it may have had grave consequences. This get-together occurred in 1928.

In 1933 Hitler came to power. My mother moved to America in 1938 after my father's death. Her great concern at that time was to save her sister and her brother-in-law from being sent to the death camps by securing their passage and emigration to the United States. The document required to admit them was an affidavit. An affidavit  [in this context] was a statement that promised that the immigrant would not be dependent on any federal support and that the person signing the affidavit promised to take full responsibility for the welfare of the immigrant. My husband and I had  signed several of these forms, although we had little money, but for older people who might get sick and be an economic burden, it was very difficult to secure them because the cost was so great. [In fact, Regina, my grandmother’s sister, had breast cancer, according to my mother, which made the situation even more dreadful.] My mother [Flora], therefore, visited her cousin to appeal  for his help. He refused, saying that he had given a certain number of affidavits already and had reached his limit. I always wondered whether this decision was affected by the blue sugar bowl. It is more than likely that my cousin’s wife had had the it appraised before considering as worthy of being placed in  her collection of old glass.

My aunt and her husband never escaped from Germany; Aunt Regina was sent to Theresienstadt and died in a concentration camp. The family silverware and china, and other goods were stolen, probably by neighbors.


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