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Monday, September 2, 2013
At the Aug. 17 taping of “Antiques Road Show” in Richmond, I stood in line next to a tall, stately woman in her 80s. Her time-ravaged face had once been beautiful. Her treasure — an Orthodox icon (religious painting) — sparked our conversation.
Over the next 45 minutes, as the line inched forward, she told me her story. She was Estonian, a native of one of the Baltic countries that were battered back and forth like pawns in the titanic clashes of the 20th century.
During World War II, Estonia was occupied by the Soviets, then the Germans, then the Soviets again. Her father died somewhere in Russia. She, her sister and mother fled west as the Russians advanced in 1944, preferring refugee status in Germany to the attentions of the Red Army.
Her mother had a “sixth sense” for survival. She put the family on a train out of Dresden the day before that city was devastated by Allied bombs in February 1945.
Refusing instructions to travel to Dachau concentration camp, her mother took the girls to Innsbruck, Austria. They emigrated to the United States in 1949.
As a student of the world wars, I seize every chance to hear the story from actors in the drama. Their ranks are dwindling fast.
The items I took for appraisal turned out to be not worth much, but this conversation with an elderly woman, whose name I never asked, is a treasure I’ll keep for a lifetime.
Weather JournalEarly mix, then ice storm Sunday