I have submitted the following for publication in The Washington Post Magazine–its 250-word features titled “Mine”:

Original house number, Gustav Neumann/Labor factory

Original house number, Gustav Neumann/Labor factory

It’s only a rusty piece of metal, but it’s priceless to me. I picked it up from a pile of mud back in 1994, the day I regained ownership of my family’s once-burgeoning manufacturing company in Czechoslovakia. As I walked around the grounds, inspecting my newly acquired fiefdom, I spotted something blue and shiny, partially obscured by mud. I extracted it from the pile and scraped off the dirt. Immediately, I realized that I was holding a piece of family history.

My great grandfather—Dědeček—had come to this town as a young entrepreneur seeking his fortune in 1883. House numbers in those days were assigned in the order dwellings were built. Dědeček purchased #7.

He became the country’s first importer of Singer sewing machines. He placed them in homes of women who sewed clothes to be sold in his store. The business thrived. By 1927, #7 had become a clothing factory, the largest manufacturer of work clothes and dresses in Central Europe.

I brought the blue gem—#7—home to America with me. More than one hundred years old, it reminds me of Dědeček, who became my best friend when we were hiding from the Germans on a farm during World War II. It makes me smile when I recall the stories of his adventures with which he regaled me. It makes me cry when I attempt to imagine his humiliation and suffering at the hands of the Nazis before they murdered him in that horrific place called Treblinka.

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