Tiny Miracles

I have been out in the world again.  All the stories I’ve seen and heard and lived have been patiently but eagerly contained, just waiting to be told.

 

In Poland and Lithuania, where we were traveling, World War II still casts a long shadow over the land.  That is a long, hard, sad story.


But little stories are everywhere, and more often than not, you will find stories within stories.  In fact, they will find you.

In Vilnius, even the walls contained stories.  We started to notice things, like faded Hebrew lettering on an old wall…

…Or a Star of David scratched in stone seventy years ago.

We learned that our apartment was in the Vilnius Ghetto, where more than 42,000 Vilnius Jews were imprisoned before they were murdered.

Near our place was a statue in memory of Dr. Tsemakh Shabad, a Jewish doctor in Vilnius.  A lovely young Lithuanian named Yrita gave us the inside story.

 The good doctor was loved by all, especially the children, and not only because he believed most childhood illnesses could be cured with a warm glass of milk and a bit of chocolate.

When a mother brought her little girl to him, that was what he prescribed.  They had no money for chocolate, so for a week he had the little girl come by every morning to take her medicine– a glass of warm milk and some chocolate.  Sure enough, she soon felt better.

When the little girl’s kitten fell ill, she knew just what to do.

She took her kitten to the doctor and asked him to cure it.

The doctor told her that in this case, they would forego the chocolate, and stick with the warm milk.  I’m glad to tell you the kitten recovered as well.

Though Dr. Shabad died in 1935, the children of Vilnius still visit him.  When they do, they rub the kitten’s nose and make a wish, certain it will come true.

 

 Yrita told us that for little wishes, you rub the kitten’s nose.  For very big wishes, you might need to rub the doctor’s nose.

 Sometimes wishes don’t come true, not even the little ones, and not all stories have a happy ending.

Sometimes the best we can do is to search for a little light in the darkness.  Sometimes you will find it in the most unexpected places.

Tiny miracles can be found everywhere– even in a bit of chocolate, especially when served with a cup of kindness.

All words and images c2014 Naomi Baltuck.

113 Comments

    1. Hi Vladimir. This trip has been heart-wrenching. I have always known and understand what happened to Europe in the war, but this certainly was an eye-opener. So many sad stories, but there are many bright spots too.

    1. Hi Meredith,
      It is surprisingly, amidst all the horror, how so many kind and courageous human spirits rose to greatness. Thanks so much for the visit, and for sharing your thoughts.

  1. We had planned to go to Poland and Germany this summer and immerse ourselves in WWII history, but our plans had to change. You’re making me wish we could have made it happen. Someday…

    1. Hi Juliann,
      In so many ways, it is a really difficult trip to make. Schindler’s Factory, The Warsaw Ghetto Museum, The Uprising Museum, the Holocaust Memorials. The scale of destruction is unbelievable and inescapable, the horrible toll of that war. I knew what happened, but again and again I try in vain to comprehend how such heinous crimes upon against humanity could be perpetrated upon so many by so many. By the time we had to choose whether or not to go to Auschwitz, we just couldn’t do it. I do hope you get there one day–I might wait until the kids are a little older.
      Thanks so much for the visit, and for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Your story brought tears to my eyes. So easily we forget about the effects of the war over here in North America. I especially love the photo of the cat in the window!

    1. Dear Naomi,
      Thanks for the visit, and for the kind words. All of Europe suffered so much. Even at home in America World War II there was rationing, there were victory gardens, and people bought war bonds to pay for it. And I think that’s the way it should be, so that we don’t jump into wars too quickly, and let only a few carry that heavy burden while we go about our business.

  3. Gorgeous pictures as always, Naomi. I must be getting long in the tooth as I cried like a baby reading your post. So much hurt in the world yesterday, today and tomorrow. You told the stories straight up.

    1. Dear Tess,
      Thank you so much for your heartfelt response. You are so right about the hurt and the suffering in this world–yesterday, today, and unfortunately, tomorrow. I think we are–or at least I am– too jaded now to expect that any war will be “The War to End All Wars.”

  4. What a lovely vignette from your travels! I’m a big fan of milk and chocolate myself – just a little soothes the soul. My family are from that area of the world, and though they didn’t speak about it much, the shadows were definitely there, hanging around their peripheral vision.

    1. Hi Kasia,
      It would be interesting to know more about your family’s perspective. Were they over there during the war, or had they come here before it started?
      Thanks so much for the visit, and for sharing a bit of your story.

      1. Hi- Thanks for the interest! They were there during the war – although everyone was moved around of course. Lots of them went through the camps, although my Babcia managed to rescue as many as she could. Some ended up in Katyn forest, others made it to the UK after the war. Complicated.

  5. Kindness soothes. Your lovely photos help me go deeper into the feelings in the story. Always glad to read your latest post, Naomi.

    1. Dear Meg,
      It’s so good to hear from you! I love having a new way to tell stories. Knowing that I have this way to share the photos makes me more mindful of what I am looking at and how it might illustrate the story.
      Thanks so much for your encouragement.
      Love,
      Naomi

  6. Wonderful and warm story about a painful time. So glad you are here to remind us to look for the love instead of focusing only on the hate.

    1. Thanks, Pat! It would be so easy to get caught up in the negative. There is still so much pain, so many scars over there. What impressed me is how much healing and recovery I saw.

  7. My kind of doctor! Forget the systems, the drugs, the forms to fill out – give me warm milk and chocolate any day! I wonder why noses are good luck…I remember rubbing Abraham Lincoln’s nose in Springfield when I was about 8.

    1. That’s unexpected! Both the kitty’s and the doctor’s noses were shiny from dispensing all that good medicine. Thanks for the visit, and for your fun response. I hope your summer is going well.

  8. Wow— reading between the lines here. Your silence is deafening. Must have been one hell of a trip! Hugs!

    1. Hi Sue,

      Your response is very astute. WIth our limited time there, and so many museums and significant sites to visit, we were absorbing it faster than we could process it. Six million statistics–each one attached to a story, a face, each one leaving a hole in the fabric of the world when it is extinguished before its time. It weighed heavily upon me. Now I need to focus on the light, or I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.

  9. A cup of kindness and a bit of chocolate can do wonders, I think. I am so jealous, how do you manage to travel so frequently?

    1. Dear Carol,

      Travel is a priority. Thom is a teacher, so we have spring and summer breaks, and any opportunity we can snatch in between. The kids are living grownup lives of their own, but thank goodness they still enjoy traveling with us! We plan around their schedules, like seeing Argentina while Eli was in Buenos Aires on a Fulbright, or this trip to Lithuania, after which we dropped Bea at the University of Vilnius, for her school program there. Next year Eli will be teaching in Turkey…

      We live comfortably, but make our cars last twenty years. We don’t wear designer clothes, and instead of remodeling the bathroom, I painted the walls. We save dining out for special occasions. Even when traveling we picnic, or rent apartments with a kitchen. In Berlin our hotel room had an electric tea kettle, and after a long day of sightseeing we were happy to put up our feet and dine on instant Thai soup, cheese and crackers. We came home from this trip without a single souvenir–aside from photographs and memories, but that’s more than enough.

      I have some catching up to do on my blogging, but have loved following your adventures in Panama, and was so happy to read that you were traveling with your son and daughter this week. You have the spirit of an adventurer, Carol, and are making up for a long hard valiant time of caregiving.

      But you should also sign up for Groupon travel specials. My friend Sue and her girl herd celebrated her 50th with a trip to Iceland–five days, including all hotels and airfare, most meals, a night cruise to see the Northern Lights, and a free drink and admission to a hot spring spa–all for $700! She saw Ireland the same way for about the same price a couple years ago. I’ve had my eye on their trips to Asia.

  10. How honored I am to know you Naomi. You discover and tell wonderful stories about wonderful people, like you, for others. When I hear or read them I always want to become a better person. I hope you will publish all of your stories with your brilliant photos for others to discover. THANK YOU!!!

    1. Dear Dorota,
      As we traveled through Poland I thought of you so often, and am really looking forward to getting together and hearing your thoughts and stories and perspective about growing up in Poland.
      Thanks so much for your really sweet thoughts!
      Love,
      Naomi

  11. It breaks my heart to think of the suffering that continues to this day. So many lives lost, but God will not let His people be utterly destroyed. One day, the world will see…

    1. Hi Patti,
      It is heartbreaking, but there are always moments and heroes and heroines, big and little, who shine.
      Thanks so much for your visit, and for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  12. I love living vicariously through your photos, Naomi. The message in this particular blog post resonates. Everyone is capable of kindness, but sometimes they need a push in the right direction.

    Also, welcome back!

  13. touchingly recounted and the silence of the souls that departed this place resounds through your words and pictures. A sweet note to end on

  14. What a beautiful post, Naomi! So nice to see you around again. I love this line…”Sometimes the best we can do is to search for a little light in the darkness.”

    Agreed. When I was in Munich I went to Dachau. (I think you know about my WWII obsession since I was young and first read “The Diary of Anne Frank”.) It was disturbing to see the camp and years later, to visit Berlin, and see the bullet holes still scarring what remains of the city’s former self, which isn’t much. But life continues on.

    1. Hi Britt,

      Thanks so much for the very generous response. It was definitely different from any other trip I’ve taken–so many ghosts, so much darkness, but if you look hard enough, there are stories of hope and light. And as you say, life goes on. I was impressed with their determination to rebuild from the ashes.

    1. Thanks, Kavi, I really enjoyed Vilnius. DId you like it? Were you there for pleasure or on a holiday?
      Thanks for the visit–I’d love to hear more of your story!

      1. Visited Vilnius on a very short holiday to Europe, after Finland & Estonia. Pity I got to spend just 3 days in Lithuania …..loved the country – got to visit Trakkai & Belmontas apart from the local town 🙂

      2. Thank you for sharing your story, Kavi. It sounds like you had a really wonderful itinerary. We had three days in Vilnius too–it seems more like a town to take in just by being there, although we enjoyed a walking tour and went to the KGB Museum. I would have loved to see other cities in Lithuania, One day I would like to go back.

    1. Hi Jo,
      We were gone for three weeks, and it wasn’t enough time to do it all, but we still did plenty. Our time was divided between Krackow, Gdansk, and Warsaw, then Vilnius and Berlin. I learned so much about Poland’s history, unique and heartbreaking. My favorite part was renting a car and getting out of the cities and into the countryside. We went to the National Park in search of ice bison, and got to see how people in the tiny villages lived.
      I will certainly do a couple of posts on the trip.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  15. I love your story of Dr Shabad.

    As for cruelty shown towards Jews in the war…too horrendous to contemplate and yet we must never be forgotten what they endured.

    When I was a nurse, I used to know a couple, both Jews: he Lithuanian and she a German Jew. They’d met in a prisoner of war camp, fallen in love, and eventually got married, but they could never have children as she’d been the subject of experiments with radiation. She was the loveliest ward sister I ever worked with, treating the children in her care as if they were her own. Her husband came over as a very imposing fellow, with a face like granite, until he laughed and his whole face changed. I think the pair of them carried a lot of pain but that made them so understanding of other people’s pain.

    1. Dear Sarah,
      I just loved reading your story–thank you so much for sharing it. You are such a good writer, such a fine storyteller. I know you are submitting your novel for publication right now–and I want to be first in line to buy a copy because I KNOW I am going to love it.

    1. Dear Dave,
      Howdy, cousin! Thanks so much for the visit, and for taking a moment to comment. I look forward to sharing photos with you and giving you a report on our trip back to the river that spawned us. It was very interesting–wish I’d learned more about the old folks at home, but I can sure share some visuals of the area with you.

  16. Thank you for reminding us miracles can happen. A beautiful, moving story that help us learn both the tragedies and blessings of history. Thank you too for letting as travel with you and helping us reconnect with history. Have a great Summer and all the best to you and family.

    1. Thank you for your visit, and for your really sweet response. I hope you and your family are enjoying the summer too! I am guessing it’s hot in your neck of the woods, but that’s what beaches are for, and you have them too!
      Warm wishes,
      Naomi

  17. Hello Naomi!

    Love the story. I’m off travelling in Eastern Europe in a couple of weeks (and super excited although my sister who I’m dragging with me is terrified). We’re going further south than you went but I will be passing through Poland.

    Aren’t cats lactose intolerant?

    Kate 🙂

    1. HI Kate,

      Thanks so much. Where in Eastern Europe will you be traveling? I really hope that you will be blogging about it–it’s a part of the world where I feel as if I’ve only scratched the surface, but I have a feeling I will be doing more travel there, as my son is going to be in Turkey for two years.
      Don’t know about cats, but mine always loved milk, and I think above all, the good doctor’s prescription was for a little TLC which would do a body good, no matter how many legs it had.

  18. What a beautiful post. Hitting an emotional range from A to Z.
    You are braver than I to make such a trip. But it is an immensely important trip to make, to face the past, to find the good where it is to be find, to simply BE with it as observer and witness. And to do that for all of us. You bring us all along with you, and for that, we owe you heartfelt thanks.

    1. Thank you, and thank you again for such a very kind response. It was a tough trip to make. We went to so many historical museums, Jewish Museums, Holocaust Museums, Oscar Schindler’s Factory, and learned much more than our hearts could hold. When the day came to go to Auschwitz, we couldn’t do it because we knew our hearts would break. When the night is darkest even the tiniest lights stand out. Thank goodness there were noble people and good deeds even in one of the darkest periods of human history.

    1. Hi Madhu,
      My kids loved Poland and Lithuania as much as anywhere we’ve been, except Peru and the Amazon. It was easy to get around there, and there is plenty to see. It has a very unique history, although it is marked by the war. But you can see that they are working hard to rebuild, while honoring their fallen. I hope you do go there soon.

    1. HI Isadora,
      It’s so nice to hear from you! Mister Linky did not misdirect you. I am on the staff of The BeZine that links to the 100, 000 virtual poets site. Thanks for the kind word.
      Naomi

    1. That museum was closed when we were there. I wish we had been able to go. The Warsaw Uprising Museum was very good, very moving, an excellent communication of the suffering and the spirit of the Polish people during the war. Most shocking is the movie of the post-war flyover of Warsaw after having been bombed into oblivion by the Germans twice. Once for resisting the Nazis as they took Poland, and again out of spite when the Nazis left. It was reduced to rubble. The painstaking reconstructions are very impressive. What took you to Poland? Did you see Krakow or Gdansk?

      1. I went to meet Meg , Australian blogger Snippetsandsnaps who was in Warsaw visiting family. Restless Jo came too, so it was a really lovely trip!

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