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I thought my blog posts could use a little change of pace, so here is some flash fiction that is a companion piece to my novel, Journey to Marseilles. This short story takes place in Amsterdam circa 1932.


Rebecca’s grandmother, Sara, smoking a little clay pipe, settled into her bentwood rocker. Fascinated with the curling blue smoke, Rebecca tried to get her Oma to tell her stories about Holland.

“Oma, tell me about when you met Opa. Was he handsome? Where did you meet? Did he kiss you?”

“Slow down, little one. So many questions.”

Please tell us a story!” Fresh from America, Rebecca had already heard about Oma’s tales, and she was anticipating them. Rebecca’s sister, Hannah, more quiet and shy, sat nearby on the hand-woven rug from Greece.

“Which would you like first? There are so many.”

“When Opa came from Greece. That one.”

“All right. You know Opa came from a wealthy family, don’t you?”

Rebecca shook her head, and Hannah copied her. She wanted to hear everything not just the part she hadn’t heard before. She watched Oma’s blue eyes squinting in the smoke, her light brown hair with very little gray for someone approaching eighty.

“Opa had a good cigar-making business and was a respected cantor at the synagogue. Soon, however, we heard disturbing things about how the German government was treating Jews.”

“Are we Jews, Oma?” Rebecca asked.

“No, dear. Some of our relatives were, and some still are, but Opa decided being Jewish was not in his family’s best interests.”

“So he changed, just like that?”

“You know my side of the family has never been Jewish, right?”

Both Rebecca and Hannah nodded their heads.

“To be truthful, my family, the DeFrieses, always looked down their noses at your Opa because he was a Jew. And at me for marrying him. I didn’t care, though. I would have married Isaac if he’d been a Hottentot.”

“What’s a Hottentot, Oma?” Hannah asked.

Oma Sara laughed. “That’s someone from Africa, dear. A black native that lives in the jungle.” {Author’s note: this ancient African people—the Khoikhoiconsidered the Dutch exonym, Hottentot, to be offensive.}

Rebecca and Hannah both laughed at the idea of Opa being a black man who lived in a jungle.

“I’ll tell you another thing, girls. When your mother, Angelina, married your father Albert, his family, the Smits, weren’t kind to her, and they called her “Jew girl” behind her back.”

“So, even though Opa wasn’t Jewish anymore, Papa’s family didn’t forget he once was a Jew. There’s nothing wrong with being Jewish, is there, Oma?” Rebecca asked.

“Absolutely not, dear. It’s a wonderful religion, and the Jewish people are wonderful too.”

“Then why do people not like them and say mean things about them?”

“That’s a good question. And there is no simple answer. I think it goes way back to when the Jews were slaves in Egypt.”

“Where the pyramids are, right?”

“That’s right. Some people even think the Jews were the ones who actually built the pyramids.”

“Wow! Fantastic!” Rebecca said.

“Oma, there’s no more smoke coming out of your pipe,” Hannah said.

“Oh dear. You’re right, Hannah. Be a dear and run to the kitchen for a match. Will you, please?”

Hannah, eager to please, jumped up and ran off, returning a minute later with a handful of wooden kitchen matches.

“I don’t think I’ll need so many, but thank you, Hannah.” She struck one on the arm of her rocker and held the flame to the pipe’s bowl. She puffed twice, and the girls watched the smoke curling upward.

“I love the smell of your pipe smoke,” Rebecca said. “It smells sweet. Not stinky like Papa’s cigars.” Both girls giggled, and Oma smiled.

“Shall I continue, or would you just like to watch me smoke my pipe?”

“Oh, please go on, Oma,” Rebecca begged. “It’s a wonderful story. What happened after Opa decided not to be a Jew?”