Our story begins in the enormous city of grandeur,
Vienna, where the Streit family had resided in
prosperity for generations. Mr. Alfred Streit, an
honorable Jewish businessman, lived in a spacious,
modern apartment in the upper class section of town,
along with his wife Francisca, and their three
children. The family had modernized itself as
presumably befitted a family of such high social
status, leaving behind a heritage of love and faith as
its members strode forward blindly into the superficial
world of glamorous riches and honor. Nevertheless, they
were content, living as comfortably as possible for
Jews in prewar Europe.
Otto, the eldest child, attended one of the most highly
acclaimed academies in Vienna and excelled both in his
studies and social life. The anti-Semitism that was
slowly drifting in from Germany had not yet developed
fully in Vienna, and the hatred and hostility that was
mounting in the hearts of the Austrian nation like lava
inside a volcano was not quite ready to erupt. Thus,
for the time being, the Austrian malice towards the
Jews was contained on the whole.
Ida and Gertrude, the youngest members of the Streit
family, also led carefree lives. The were both
graceful, charming and adept at ballet. They never
missed a party or social event. And why shouldn't they
enjoy life: for the Streit family, it was just one,
seemingly endless sunrise.
"Excuse me, Madame," said Klara, the Streit's hunchback
Austrian cleaning lady, as she walked rather hastily
into the family lounge where Francisca was relaxing on
the plush couch, reading. "I have completed all the
tasks you assigned me today. May I have my monthly
"Of course, Miss Klara. Sit down here a moment while I
fetch the money. I'm sure you could use a few minutes
rest after all the hard work you put in today. We are
very fortunate to have such a devoted housekeeper."
She searchingly studied the woman's flushed cheeks and
lowered eyes. "Why is Klara so uneasy?" she wondered.
"One would expect her to beam with pride at such a
compliment." Despite her maid's unusual reaction,
Francisca made no comment. She wasn't the type to pry
and really, it wasn't her business.
She returned two minutes later and handed over a small
wad to the fidgeting cleaning lady, who had been too
restless to even take the offered seat, a privilege she
should have appreciated...
"Thanks again, Klara," Mrs. Streit said warmly, as she
accompanied her to the door. "We'll see you again on
A loud crash interrupted her as a gleaming object fell
to the floor with a clamorous thud. Francisca
recognized it immediately: it was a silver heirloom
that had been in the family for generations, an object
very dear to her and worth a small fortune. Francisca
stood there, staring, absolutely horrified and
dumbstruck. The cleaning lady, whom she had trusted
implicitly, had proved so disloyal, dishonest and
She tore her eyes away from the antique and refocused
them on the woman before her. Klara's demeanor had
changed from fidgety to downright frightened. Her pale
green eyes reflected panic and despair, justifiably so,
since she would, no doubt, now be imprisoned for a few
years and after her release, life would never be the
same. She would never find employment again. Tears
sprang to her eyes.
"Madame," her broken voice sounded desperate, "I-I am
sorry. I couldn't help myself. You see..." she went on
to relate the poor financial state of her family, the
hunger they suffered despite Mrs. Streit's generosity,
her children's threadbare clothing. She begged her
mistress to have pity on her and not hand her over to
the authorities; she promised never to steal again.
Francisca's Jewish heart melted at her pleading.
Klara's green eyes looked so desperate and frightened.
And her fate lay in Francisca's hands. Only she could
grant her a fresh start.
"Miss Klara," she said softly, "I hope you realize how
terrible was your crime, really too grave to overlook.
Not only is this heirloom priceless, but our family has
deep sentimental attachments to it. I find it very,
very difficult to forgive you, but I will. And I trust
that you have learned your lesson."
Klara nodded, speechless, but her expressive green eyes
gleamed with renewed hope, respect and admiration for
Years passed and a madman rose to power in Germany. His
demented ideas quickly spread throughout Europe like a
blazing fire in a parched forest. The smoke was thick,
gray and ominous -- and headed in the Jews' direction.
Hard times befell the Jews in Germany and its
neighboring country. It started off with basic, harsh
laws exhibiting discrimination against the Jewish race,
and soon became... a holocaust.
In 1938 the Streit family experienced the effects of
the impending war for the first time. It was the first
bombshell to be fired directly at them but it hit hard.
Their family business, along with most of their
household possessions, was confiscated by the Austrian
government, never to be returned. Moreover, Alfred and
his wife were imprisoned for several months on no basis
whatsoever. During these bleak months they were
stripped by the Nazi government of their entire
fortune. Klara's service was no longer required but the
government offered her a position in some office; her
years of service with Jews, they felt, had taught her
many things that could be of use to them.
She entered the hierarchy on the bottom but the Nazis
turned the world upside down in every sense and a lowly
citizen like Klara was given an opportunity to rise to
power. Paupers, dregs of society, soon filled
responsible positions at excellent salaries. Petty
criminals became police chiefs, street cleaners --
mayors, drudgery maids were transformed into high
government officials, just like the demon-of-all had
risen from a house painter to ruler of the Third Reich.
After their release from jail, Mr. and Mrs. Streit
agreed that the wisest thing was to escape as soon as
possible. Jews were now outright persona non grata and
there was nothing to keep them in Austria any longer.
Their magnificent past was dead.
Escape was much easier said than done. No one wanted
the Jews, the helpless lamb amidst seventy voracious
wolves, as History had proven time and again. Visas, to
anywhere, were almost impossible to obtain; for every
available document there were hundreds of desperate
hands. But the Streits were determined not to give up.
Until the very last days of their lives, decades later,
Mr. and Mrs. Streit continued to shudder at the thought
of waiting in line. Lines held too many memories -- of
apprehension, fear, dread and despair, of hopes raised
Each morning anew found either Alfred or Franciska in
line for necessary documents, and by sunset, one of
them would be found facing a callous official who
denied their request with a flick of the hand. Pleading
that they had been waiting in line since early morning,
they would be told, ever so calmly, that no passports
were available at the moment but they could try
again... "Tomorrow or some other day..." They would be
dismissed with a raise of the official's voice, "Next!"
They tried again. And again. They bided their time in
line hoping that "today our salvation will come." But
repeated failure threatened to crush their spirits
Then one day the unbelievable occurred, quite suddenly.
Mrs. Streit had been waiting in line longer than usual
and as time wore on, she had become morose and
despairing. Anger crept into her heart, along with
total exhaustion. All these feelings combined and
combusted to a breaking point. She couldn't take this
one moment longer!
"May I help you?" came the cold, polite voice of the
official behind the desk.
"My husband and I have spent the past two months
waiting on your lines," Francisca said in tones louder,
more emphatic than her usual aristocratic demeanor. "If
I don't get the necessary papers this moment, I
What would she do? Was there anything in the world she
could threaten to do that would make a difference here?
She felt suddenly drained, deflated, helpless.
"No, there is nothing I can possibly do. There is
nowhere we can turn. I beg of you, please, please give
me the documents I need to leave Austria."
"And what is your name, Madame?" This was the very
first time someone had bothered to ask her name! The
official was peering at her curiously. Strangely
enough, there was something familiar about her, now
that Francisca looked more closely. Those green eyes...
how come she had not noticed them before?
"Oh, Mrs. Streit, how you have changed!" She rose from
her chair and came around the desk to embrace her
former employer. The people on line began murmuring
their protests and Klara whispered, "Don't think I have
every forgotten the kindness you showed me. I will do
my best to obtain passports and visas for your family."
Francisca looks back to the past with fresh wonder each
time. Her act of kindness, forgiving Klara's crime, had
planted the seed to her family's imminent freedom. It
was then and there that Francisca had heartily thanked
the Divine Providence that had stood by her, and she
resolved that when she reached safe shores she would
reestablish her feeble ties with her Jewish tradition.
The sun was just beginning to rise in the east when the
Streits, standing on ship's deck, caught their first
glimpse of the lights of the Haifa harbor. They shed
tears of joy. The sudden burst of glorious sunlight
blended with their feelings. An end to darkness. Dawn.
New beginnings in a land of their heritage, a home
where they belonged, where they would rebuild their
lives upon traditional Torah values...