Martin Goldsmith is all too familiar with the Holocaust. The radio host and classical music programmer had written two books on the lives of his loved ones who were murdered by the Nazis. But something he didn’t know until recently was the existence of a long lost kettle, made for the ceremonial washing of hands.
His grandparents, Alex and Toni Goldschmidt, led a prosperous life in Germany until the coming of the Nazis. The couple, along with other Jews, were forced to sell their possessions at a fraction of their value. In the end, they lost their business, their home and their lives. Goldsmith, a Kensington resident, is the couple’s last living descendant.
A museum in Germany that works to return Nazi-looted items reached out to Goldsmith, 68, about the kettle. On Oct. 11 it arrived on Goldsmith’s doorstep, nearly 86 years after his grandparents parted with it. Today it sits on a shelf in his living room.
What was your reaction upon receiving the kettle?
Well, I had been expecting it for some weeks. So it wasn’t a complete shock. But as you might imagine, there were a full array of emotions that I felt upon holding it for the first time. A great deal of pleasure and excitement. And, of course, sorrow for what had happened to the rest of my family.
Has this newly found artifact changed the way you see yourself or your family history?
I’m not sure it’s changed anything. There are some just immense, beautiful houses in Chevy Chase. And my grandparents in Oldenburg lived in such a house. A big, rambling, beautiful house with a living room and a library with 15-foot ceilings and a fully stocked kitchen and lovely gardens and so on. And the house was apparently just full of paintings and sculptures and art objects and I have this little kettle.
So it’s both a pleasant reminder of what my family used to have, and a poignant reminder of what happened to them, that all that is left is this kettle used for the ceremonial washing of hands. I’m not exactly sure how it has changed my view of my family, but I guess it underscores what I’ve been feeling for years now.
So you have no children and both your parents and only brother have all died. So what do you plan to do with the kettle once you pass on?
I have to confess I’ve not really thought about that. I haven’t looked much past Election Day to be perfectly honest. So what am I going to do with it? I’m not sure. Certainly, there are options, such as leaving it with the Holocaust museum here in Washington or maybe giving it to a family friend. But it only arrived in the house a couple of weeks ago. I’m not yet ready to move on.
Since you received the kettle, has anyone reached out to you about it?
Well, yes, I have heard from a number of friends. I’ve heard from some strangers. I heard from the Washington Jewish Week. So I guess a lot of people found the story moving and wanted to speak with me and share some of their stories. I’ve made the acquaintance of a few people, which has been quite gratifying
What kind of stories have you heard from people?
People who have had similar stories of their families losing everything. I guess the main theme of the stories I’ve heard is that you, Martin, are lucky to have the kettle, because my family lost everything and I have no tangible reminders of the family.
But a few people have said that they, too, managed, somehow, through various long and winding roads, to obtain the objects from their past. So it’s just sort of a matter of people comparing and contrasting their stories. I mean, there are obviously millions of lives that have been affected by what happened in Germany and in Europe in those 12 years between 1933 and 1945. And those stories keep resonating down to our own time.
Are there any lessons or ideals people can take away from your story?
I would urge people to read the last paragraph of “The Plague” by Albert Camus. In his novel, the plague is a pandemic, such as the one we’re living through now. But it is also symbolic of a certain way of dealing with humanity. And in my reading, the plague is a certain fascistic way of governing. And in that last paragraph, Camus warns us that the plague never really completely disappears, but hides under rocks and in the floorboards of homes. And periodically it creeps out and has to be dealt with.
I would like to tell the story in detail of what happened to my father’s mother and my father’s younger sister. They were eventually deported from Berlin to a forest outside Riga, Latvia, where they were murdered along with thousands of other Jewish deportees. I would like to tell that story at some point. I have traveled to Riga to do some research, but I’ve not yet, as they used to say, put pen to paper.
Are there any other projects you’re working on?
A documentary film called “Winter Journey” has been made based on my first book, “The Inextinguishable Symphony,” and will be streamed during the JxJ Washington Jewish Film Festival in early December.