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< Echoes of Memory

The Wicker Chair


By Louise Lawrence Israëls

The first three years of my life, which I spent in hiding from 1942 until 1945, seemed very normal to me. Three adults—my mom, my dad, and our friend Selma—as well as my brother were around all the time. They paid attention to me, played with me, and taught me the things you teach a little girl. Of course, I did not realize that our life was only indoors and that going outside to play or for a walk were not part of our daily routine. The adults kept their fears from the children.

In 1944, when I turned two, my parents wanted to have a birthday party for me. It took planning since they could not go to a toy store to buy gifts and they needed time to prepare for the big day. My mom made me a beautiful little dress; she used a cotton blouse of her own and the fabric was blue with little elephants on it. The dress was all handmade, with embroidery on the top part.

Selma made a doll from odd pieces of fabric. The face was made out of an old silk stocking. She even made extra clothes so I could change her if I wanted. The doll was also handmade. A few days before my actual birthday, a friend of my Dad brought a doll’s wicker chair to our place.

On my birthday, my mom dressed me in my new dress and brought me to the living room. Then my family sang “Lang zal ze leven” (the Dutch version of “Happy Birthday,” although the translation literally means “She will live a long life”) to me and it was time for presents. My brother had a pull-horse made out of wood, and he told me I could play with it for the day. Selma gave me the doll and I pressed it to my heart right away, and then my parents gave me the doll chair. The chair was big enough for me to sit in it, and that is just what I did.

Somebody took a photograph and you have never seen a happier girl. I loved the doll, until it fell apart many years later. The dress still exists; it is very fragile now. Our eldest daughter wore it on her second birthday, and then she put it on one of her dolls. 

The chair had a heavy life. I sat on it until I became too big, I stood on it when I wanted to reach for something, and I threw it at my brother—or he threw it at me—when we were angry at each other. The chair moved with us to many places and our children played with it. My mom had the chair restored in 1949 by a local basket-weaver who lived in our little town. She knew how important the chair was to our family and me. Replacing the chair with a new one was not an option.

About a year ago I asked our children if they would agree to my donating the chair to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. They had no objections.

A few months ago, I participated in the Museum’s First Person program. Susan Snyder, one of the Museum’s curators, interviewed me and as a surprise she had the doll’s chair brought out onto the stage to illustrate my story. How strange to see the chair wheeled onto the stage and handled with white cotton gloves! The chair has had a rough past—we were not careful with it at all—but now it is being handled with extra care and professionally repaired and conserved. Other children will be able to see how special my second birthday in hiding was because my parents and Selma wanted it to be special.

Postscript: The restoration of the chair is now finished. It is once again a beautiful chair with a colorful history, and sometime in the near future it will be added to the Museum’s Permanent Exhibition.

©2008, Louise Lawrence-Israëls. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.

Tags:   louise lawrence israëlsechoes of memory, volume 5louise lawrence-israëls


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