The Sword on Top of the Wardrobe

Josie Glausiusz and her father in 1974.

When I was a child, my father, Gershon Glausiusz, kept a curved sword, in a sheath, on the top of a wardrobe in his office in our house in London. Although he had hidden it out of the way, it was quite easy to find it if one was determined, because my father ran an import-export business and the office was often piled with boxes filled, at various times, with Kodak film, Parker pens, digital watches and a brand of soap named Jaro. By climbing on the boxes, I could reach this sword, although I never did anything but look at it. I do not remember whether the sword was sharp, or whether it was some type of souvenir, the sort of thing one can buy in the gift shoppe after a tour of a medieval castle.

The fact that we owned a sword did not seem especially unusual, as we are a family of collectors, mostly of books. It seemed like just another knick-knack, although one concealed from the curious eyes of prying children. Then, at a post-Passover lunch with my family three years ago, I decided to ask my father, who was ten years old when he survived Bergen-Belsen, why he had purchased a sword. Here is his recorded reply:

“When we were liberated in April 1945 [near the small German town of Tröbitz] by the Russians [from the “Lost Train” that had left Belsen two weeks earlier] we found refuge in the office of the former bürgermeister of this little township or village. The house had been occupied by the Dutch Jews from the same train, and this had been abandoned by the bürgermeister and suddenly, instead of fighting the Russians, they moved them to another place. In the office he had two boxes of hand grenades and some other things, weapons, with which to fight the Russians.”

“There was a ceremonial sword which I somehow got hold of,” my father continued. “I might have found it in the cupboard or whatever. It was silver-plated, very vicious-looking, but very beautiful. And it had inscriptions on it. On one face of the sword, of the blade, was “Deutschland über alles” (“Germany above all”) and on the other face was “Alles für Deutschland” (“All for Germany.”) This had been used to inaugurate the youth to the Hitler Youth, or something like that. So I wanted to have this sword because it would give me the chance to fight back. And my mother, very wisely, took it off me while I was asleep, and exchanged it for something more practical – food or something like that – and that was the end of my sword.”

“When I grew up, I wanted to have a sword,” my father said. “So you actually bought the sword for a reason?” I asked. “Yes,” my father replied. “Because I had longed to be able to fight back.” “Where did you buy the sword?” I asked. “Oh, probably in a junk shop,” my father said.

In writing up this memory, I googled “Alles für Deutschland” to check the spelling, and discovered, somewhat to my shock, that one can still purchase a dagger like the one my father found more than seventy years ago. According to lakesidetrader.com Military Collectables, “the Sturmabteilung (SA) or “Brown Shirts” dagger was originally produced in vast quantities by 123 different cottage makers. Initially these daggers were made with the highest quality, being produced out of hand-fitted nickel fittings, hardwood grips and brown anodized or “blued” scabbards. The blades were etched, “Alles für Deutschland”, or “All for Germany”.

According to Wikipedia, “the Sturmabteilung (SA) literally Storm Detachment, functioned as the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party (NSDAP). It played a significant role in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Its primary purposes were providing protection for Nazi rallies and assemblies.”

In listening to the recording that I made of my father’s memory, I am struck by both the horror and the ordinariness of this story. In the background, one can hear everyday sounds such as bread being sliced, and comments from my mother, Irene Glausiusz, and my sister Sharon. (“It wasn’t a sword, it was like a pirate sword, a dagger.” “Isn’t it illegal to have a sword?” “What did you put on this fish?”) The conversation is a microcosm of the experience of growing up in a family with a father who survived the Holocaust: Yes, we owned a sword. We didn’t know why. It didn’t occur to us to ask. Until I did. Then I received my answer from my father:

“This was satisfying a longing for a sword to fight back.”

About the Author
Josie Glausiusz is a journalist who writes about science and the environment for magazines including Nature, National Geographic, The American Scholar and Hakai. Her Hakai Magazine article Land Divided, Coast United won the 2015 online media award from Amnesty International Canada. She is the author of Buzz: The Intimate Bond Between Humans and Insects. Follow her on Twitter: @josiegz
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