Readers highlight treasured items that are part of their family stories


NPR interviewed 8 refugees from different corners of the globe and asked them: What precious item did you bring on your trip to remind you of home? Responses ranged from a set of incense stones made by a Yemeni grandmother (and now emitting their special aroma in Ecuador) to Ukrainian sheet music.

NPR also asked listeners: Tell us about an object from your personal or family history that has special meaning as a memento of the past in another country or a reflection of your identity.

Here is a sample of answers, edited for length and clarity.

A crystal decanter with a chip reminds me of a daring journey from 1911

My precious object is this decanter more than a century old.

In 1911, when my then 14-year-old grandfather Jan Roušar (changed to John Roushar on Ellis Island) and his family came to the United States from Oldriš in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), they brought this family heirloom. It is heavy cut crystal and it must have had significant significance to be carried this far.

/ Monica Elenbaas


Monica Elenbaas

A decanter with a chip recalls the will to take up daring challenges, like the crossing of the Atlantic of a grandfather when he was a child.

I never saw this carafe in my childhood – it had a chip in its lip and was considered unusable. When my mother and Aunt Dorothy helped clear out my grandparents’ house in the 1970s, she moved to my mother’s house and was hidden in the back of a dresser.

I discovered it a few years ago while helping my parents clean up after a fire. My mother asked me if I wanted it, “even if it’s broken”. I found it magnificent and decided that if and when my husband and I went away he would accompany us on the seas, just as he had done when my dear late grandfather was a boy making his crossing from Atlantic.

He has been traveling since 2016 with my husband and I on a 40 foot catamaran called “Grateful”, which has traveled the waters of five continents.

I think Grandpa would agree. He is one of my angels above. I think of the bravery it took his parents to see the writing on the wall and decide to leave their thriving business behind because they could see World War I coming and didn’t want their sons to be rushed in the Kaiser’s army.

In comparison, crossing the seas is a pleasure for my husband Jamie and me. Every time I look at the decanter, I’m reminded that a willingness to take on bold challenges runs in family.

Monica Fox Elenbaas

A Norwegian grandmother’s cabbage dish was a way to say “I love you”

In 1906 my grandmother, Oline Steffensen, traveled from Norway to the United States. She was 25 years old. She had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and wanted to go to Utah to attend the temple and “be sealed,” as the Mormons say, to her mother, who had died while she was was very young. little girl. The desire to connect with his family members for eternity gave him the courage to make the journey.

In Salt Lake City, she married Rudolph Stockseth, a fellow Norwegian, who was a printer. They had nine children. My father was the eldest. They never had enough money, but they had a lot of love in their family. I remember well the camaraderie of my aunts and uncles at family gatherings.

What Oline brought from Norway was her ability to love… and to knit… and to cook.

I remember eating Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in his little brick house and savoring the aroma and tangy taste of red cabbage cooked with caraway seeds and a dash of vinegar, called “surkål .” This was the crown jewel of the meal for me.

My grandmother’s abrupt and accented English made me think she was grumpy. I realize now that the food she cooked – and the red caps she knitted for us – was her way of saying, “I love you.”

John Marshall

I still have the shoes I wore when my family fled the Nazis

I’m 84, considered a Holocaust survivor. But I consider myself a lucky “refugee” to have escaped the Holocaust.

I was not quite 2 when my family (mum, dad and older sister) boarded what I was later told was the last train to leave Paris before the French government surrendered . I was told it was the first week of June 1938, but I don’t know the exact date.

We were heading to Bordeaux and then to Spain, armed with all the necessary travel permits, US visas and a small suitcase full of clothes and my mother’s travel sewing kit, contained in a tobacco box. in reused red metal.

A pair of shoes and the sewing kit of a mother prevented from fleeing the Nazis are a reminder of the resilience and courage shown by refugees in their search for safety.

/Mireille Taub


Mireille Taub

A pair of shoes and the sewing kit of a mother prevented from fleeing the Nazis are a reminder of the resilience and courage shown by refugees in their search for safety.

It was a trying journey. The train, full of refugees, was bombed – waging war on civilians was a common Nazi tactic. We were lucky to survive and continued walking to Bordeaux – which had been declared a closed city due to its strategic location, as well as the sequestered French government in Bordeaux had yet to decide how best to get there. to return.

We had to walk for miles. I wore my patent leather shoes, my parents carried this little suitcase. Eventually, we ran into the US consulate agent in a small town outside of Bordeaux. My father and the officer were able to hire a truck to take us to the Mediterranean coast. Eventually, we were able to cross into Spain and Portugal, where we boarded a Greek freighter that set sail for New York. We arrived on August 11, 1940.

My patent leather shoes, which were no longer shiny and sparkling, stayed on my feet until I outgrew them. I still have them, along with my mother’s improvised sewing kit. I use these items as props for my volunteer work at the Nassau County Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, where I tell visitors the reasons my family was forced to seek refuge and discuss the need for safe havens 82 years later.

I treasure my shoes and my mother’s sewing kit, as they underscore the resilience, determination and courage shown by refugees in their quest for safety – and also serve as a reminder that for many, the mere presence of luck can trace your future.

Mireille Taub

Why I’ll never leave my flute behind

My most precious object is my flute!

A flute saved from a fire represents a spiritual connection to music.

/ Penny Rogers


Penny Rogers

A flute saved from a fire represents a spiritual connection to music.

I started playing in the school band when I was in 7th grade, just over 50 years ago, and once I started playing, there was never a question about what I would do for a career. Playing music meets my spiritual needs like nothing else – and it’s mentally challenging, which I love.

I majored in music in college. My first job was a music teacher. When the building where I lived caught fire in the middle of the night, I ran outside. A firefighter asked me to move my car so the fire truck could get closer to the building. He went back to my apartment with me so I could get my car keys: “Just your car keys, ma’am. Nothing else!”

When we left, I had my keys… and my flute. I would have fought him if he had told me to leave him behind!

If I ever have to escape for any reason, you can believe that my flute will be the first thing I take with me!

Penny Rogers

Copyright 2022 NPR. To learn more, visit


Comments are closed.