Dinner with a Doll Collector

Their faces look inside a perfect stillness.
It is the one who looks, who gives a doll their imagination.
Provenance gives them their history.

As I looked around the dining room,
Miniature clothes were embroidered in silver and gold.
Blue velvet dresses provided a backdrop for blonde curls.

A pink feathered hat adorned one, whose eyes were untouchable
A face that will never see horror,
A life that will never be defiled.
There is no memory inside a doll.

And so it was that surreality took me to a special house for a glatt-kosher dinner: the house of a doll collector.

She chose each one with meticulous care over 40 years, having owned an antiques shop and been a dressmaker. Her Galateas were placed elegantly on pedestals. They were either outside on display, or inside glass cabinets, grouped with the thought of how the viewer’s eye would move from unharmed face to perfect hand.

When I ate her food, an undiscovered identity emerged from a past life I never connected with before, in the shtetls of Russia, before my family escaped the Cossacks and came to America. This is what my ancestors must have eaten. This is who I must have been 120 years ago. America’s gift of individual freedom to pursue happiness was not known in that food. The American Dream is an identity revolution. It changes you. You become your own poem.

She showed me the pictures of her and her husband when they were young and just married, 58 years ago. How stunningly handsome they were.

The house shined with the perfection of their commitment to each other. A magnet that attached a piece of paper to the refrigerator said, “When we stand, we stand for Israel.” I immediately recognized this collection was a work of love over a lifetime and was given the honor to come back and take pictures.

Then I learned the secret: Her husband was a Holocaust survivor, who was suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. Before his memory went away too much, he wrote down his history of a life defiled, of unimaginable horror. Stunned, you read his child-like script.

When he arrived at Auschwitz, he was standing in a line of naked men, facing Mengele, who was gesturing people to the right (life) or to the left (death). Mengele directed him to go left, while his friend went to the right. So he spoke up. “I’m young and strong. I can work. I want to be with my friend.” So Mengele said, “OK, go to the right.”

She confronted her family and convinced them to take the last train out of Krakow. When he got out of the camps, he weighed 80 pounds. So when he married her, she…

cooked food like this…

for him…

for 58 years.

And when Alzheimer’s disease tells his lungs to forget how to breathe, he will not die alone — this proud Orthodox Jew 14 German death camps couldn’t kill. He will die with the dignity of a man having felt and eaten true love — in her arms, surrounded by the beauty of the world she made for him with her dolls — unharmed, as they look perfectly, eternally into the silence.

12 thoughts on “Dinner with a Doll Collector

  1. haircombdiva Post author

    Thank you, Leo. I love them with all my heart. They are part of my reflection, too, but from a history in Russia I never knew. When I look in Ina’s eyes, that history is communicated to me with a soul imprint. If you ever have the honor of eating her food, you will go back in time.

  2. dayle

    Lovely story, B. I particularly loved the expressions on the dolls faces – so many had recognizable expressions, quite realistic. And different from each other. Looking at them together, on one page, gives a wholely different way of looking at the dolls as reflections of the realities of the cultures and makers who created them. The face of the second from the top, blue dress, is particularly haunting.

    1. haircombdiva Post author

      Margie, what a pleasure to hear from you. I was talking to Susy today, and I said that I defriended all the congregation from my facebook because I thought that without the identity card of my role, no one would want to speak to me. How WRONG I was. At any rate, I am going to go to my facebook and send out friend requests again. I was so deeply moved that people wanted to be friends with just me.

      Also, the letter of condolence I sent to Les and Robert for beautiful Miriam was meant for your whole family. I was very moved also when Joyce came over to me and thanked me for it. I really wanted to go pay my respects because I loved her very much, but I was too afraid, wrongly so. I will send you and many others friend requests on facebook so we can share each other’s thoughts once more.

      Thank you so much for your comment about this piece. It was an honor to write it, an honor to know Ina and David, and an honor to have been able to do their exhibit for the Laredo Public Library.

      Best to you and family,


      1. Les Norton

        Barbara….I wish to extend my most sincere and appreciative thanks to you for the thoughtful sentiments you expressed to my family after the loss of my Mother. It was indeed a most kind and heartfelt tribute to her as well as a tribute to her affectionate friendship with you.

        Please know that if I can ever be of assistance to you, I would hope you wouldn’t think twice about contacting me…your friend.

        Thank you again for keeping my Mother’s memory in your heart and thank you again for your beautiful note.

        Adios 4 Now

        Les Norton

        1. haircombdiva Post author

          Les, I was so overwhelmed by the embrace of the congregation when I reappeared, I am still speechless. I truly had no idea anyone cared about, just me. When I heard about the death of your mother, a magnificent, inspiring human being to the core, I was in shock. My memories of our dinners together, well, I see her face right in front of my eyes. Thank you so much for writing to me, your friendship, the beauty of your family, and your graciousness. With my deepest regards, Barbara

  3. David schoengut

    What a great article , I’ve only meet you one time but I truly loved David sanitzky and his passing was sad , thanks again for such a beautiful message שלום ו הצלחה

  4. fanny stavorowski

    Dear Barbara: Thank you for sharing the pictures and the Story of the Sanitzky Family. David was a wonderful person, friendly and always trying to help. Ina was a wonderful wife and she took wonderful care of him until the end. Be well


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *