In first person: Going home again revives memories, sweet and bitter

My sister Magda and I grew up in Oberwart, a small town in eastern Austria, where Father operated a traditional country store. Our playmates in the 1920s and '30s were Christian children whose parents, mostly farmers, were our customers. Magda and I attended Protestant elementary schools, which were free for the gentile kids, but we had to pay, being Jewish.

Our Passover holidays were an important part of our Conservative faith, and we celebrated them in the proper tradition. Our Christian neighbors knew about our seders, which often coincided with their Easter holidays. We maintained good relations by exchanging edible gifts: their Easter eggs and country sausages (not strictly kosher) for our matzahs and other Jewish goodies.

These warm relations happened for the last time in 1937; on March 12, 1938, the Nazi seized Austria and we fled for our lives to Shanghai, along with 20,000 others.

Magda and I returned to our birthplace 43 years later and found our former shop run by a woman in a shabby apron, who turned out to be a former playmate.

Word of our presence spread around the neighborhood, and the son of one of our former customers said, with tears in his eyes, "We didn't know what was going on." That reminded me of the time when the Nazi takeover was imminent and these same neighbors told us: "You don't have to worry; nothing will happen to you. You are decent Jews, not like some of those others."