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The Plum Story

On Sunday, 1 May, the State Zionist Council of SA hosted the annual communal Yom HaShoah Commemoration at the museum.    

Pam Rachootin shared a moving testimonial about her mother, Anni, featuring an inspiring story from a book – Morris Diary, that Anni later translated and shared with Pam when she was growing up.

Photo: Anni is later years at home in Sedona, Arizona. Anni was dedicated to educating young people about the Holocaust.

Let goodness and kindness be your goals. Love and respect yourself and others. A quote from one of Anni’s talks about life as a Holocaust survivor.

My mother, Anni Rachootin, originally Anni Salberg, was born in Germany in 1926.  She and her family lived in a small town, Jessnitz, for the first 11 years of her life.  She had an idyllic childhood until Hitler came into power in 1933, the year she started school and the persecution began.  In 1937, her brother, aged 14, was able to get an educational visa to go to the US, sponsored by an uncle there.  A year later, in April, 1938, my mother and her parents were able to follow him, just months before it would have been too late to get out of Germany alive.

After raising 3 children, my mother returned to university as a mature age student and became a marriage and family counsellor.  Still later, she supported local efforts to educate students about the Holocaust by relating her own story.

My mother never knew her grandparents.  Her paternal grandparents lived in Warsaw. Her maternal ones were deceased.  When she walked home from kindergarten there was a German couple Herr and Frau Vogel who she liked very much. One day she asked them if they would be her grandparents and they said “Yes”.  So she went home and told her mother.

Every day on the way home from kindergarten she would stop there.  On the dining room table, with a beautiful white tablecloth, she would play dominoes with Grandfather. Grandmother would bring in homemade strudel or cheesecake.  The cuckoo clock would tick and cuckoo, and she thought “This is the life.” 

Later, when Hitler came to power, her mother told her that she couldn’t go to her chosen grandparents anymore because it would get them in trouble.  My mother thought what a terrible person she must be if she got such wonderful people in trouble.  Her parents never explained what was happening. 

Fortunately, my mother found solace in a treasured book in her home. She read it over and over.  Later in life, my mother made this translation of the book, entitled Morris’ Diary. I recall her telling me this story when I was a child. 

Morris, a young boy, is speaking:

What really made me angry was that there was a pair that called after me on the street, “Jew!”  And it made me cry bitterly and I told my papa and asked, “Are we Jews really bad, worse than the Protestants and the Catholics?” 

And then I saw that my papa was a smart and intelligent man, even though he only handled horses, not philosophy.  Because he took me by the hand and went with me to the marketplace of Hattersheim and bought at the first fruit stand a pound of plums and had them wrapped.  Then he went to a second fruit stand and again bought a pound of plums and again had them wrapped.  And then he bought a third-pound of plums.  I thought to myself, “What goes on here?  Must I eat all this?  Does he have plumophilia?”

So, my papa takes me home and stands in the kitchen and says: “Morris, here you see three bags.  In each is a pound of plums.  Now I take a pencil and write on one bag, “Protestants” On the second I write “Catholics.”  And on the third I write “Jews”.  Now I take a big bowl and empty all the bags of plums.”

“Stop,” I yelled.  “What a terrible mix-up you are making.”  But it was too late, already.  All the fruit was in one bowl. 

And now my papa took one plum after another and opened each and saw if a worm was inside.  And the wormy ones he laid on the right side and the good ones on the left side.  And he laughed smartly to himself and when he was finished he said, “Nu, Morris, my son, find me the Protestants and the Catholics and our people.”

I looked at him bewildered.  “What are you expecting from me?  The impossible?”

See, my papa triumphantly continued, it is impossible!”  And you can believe me, my child, exactly as I did with the plums, so the Almighty God does with people.  He will not ask are you Jew, Protestant, or Catholic, but he will see if you are good or bad, exactly as I did with the plums. 

So spoke my papa and I remember his words and it did not upset me now when they called “Jew” after me.  Instead I thought, “You are one of the rotten plums!.  I would like to be there when the dear God opens you and looks if you have worms. 

Other than that I confess that the three pounds of plums made me ill and that the next day I had a terrible stomach ache.

I wanted to share this warm, humorous and witty story because it played such an important part in helping my mother deal with the discrimination that she faced daily and gave her a way of coping.

The Adelaide Holocaust Museum and Andrew Steiner Education Centre acknowledges and pays respect to the Traditional Custodians and Elders of this nation, past, present and future, and the continuation of cultural, spiritual, and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. AHMSEC stands on Kaurna land.

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