Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Writing

Livia’s Jewelry Box

Write…Edit…Publish holds a flash fiction contest the third Wednesday of every second month. This month, the theme is jewel box. Click the button for the full list of participants.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve worked in flash, so I know this might not be my strongest work. I edited a lot of dialogue out of this story to keep the focus on the theme.

Wordcount 925: MPA

Livia Rachel Kovács gazed into a large jewelry store window on Fifth Avenue as cold air whipped at her face. There, on display among the dazzling diamonds, sparkling sapphires, radiant rubies, enticing emeralds, gorgeous garnets, and amazing amethysts were a dozen jewelry boxes, each one more ornate than the next. The most simple were made of fine woods, while the fanciest were gold and encrusted with gemstones. Some had miniature pictures on the sides or tops. The richness of the choice overwhelmed Livia, who couldn’t decide which one she wanted most.

Livia transferred her fancy Jumeau doll Ambrózia to her other arm. “Miri, can I have a jewelry box for a Chanukah present, or a belated bat mitzvah present?  My twelfth birthday came and went without any special ceremony or acknowledgment, and that little bag isn’t good enough anymore. I’m too old to be happy with that.”

Livia’s oldest surviving sister, Mirjam, looked away from the windows of a bookstore several buildings down. “You want a jewelry box more than actual jewelry?  I’ll be happy to buy you anything you want for the rest of your life, but a meaningful purchase is never impulsive. For all you know, you might find another jewelry box you like even more on another day, or something else entirely.”

“We might not come back across the river to New York for a long time, and these jewelry boxes could all be gone by then. You promised to buy me a jewelry box if I grew up. That bag isn’t big enough for all the earrings I want.” Livia pulled the door open. “If it’s too expensive, we can ask to reserve it or arrange to pay a little at a time.”

Mirjam followed her into the store, where an even wider selection of jewelry boxes awaited.

“Madame, my sister should like to buy jewelry box,” Mirjam called to the nearest salesgirl. “Not most expensive, but not most cheap either.”

“I want big.” Livia held her hands apart both lengthwise and widthwise.

“Nothing too plain. My sister deserves more than a basic wooden box.”

The salesgirl brought Livia an increasingly fancy array of jewelry boxes. Livia looked longingly at the most upscale, with gold she assumed must be a very high carat, expensive gemstones, luxurious metals like platinum, and intricate miniature artworks. Working-class girls, let alone new immigrants living on the charity of distant cousins, could only look at such treasures and wish to own them. The jewelry her family had buried during the war and recovered afterwards might be worth a few hundred dollars, not thousands. Their lack of jewelry boxes also spoke to how these treasures were regarded. Kovács women had never had the kinds of extensive jewelry collections high-society matrons boasted, and thus could realistically expect to only need simple cloth bags to store it.

“I want this.” Livia pointed to a cherrywood jewelry box with two doors which opened up to reveal four doors on each side, like a miniature bureau. Each knob was a small pearl, in a rainbow of colors instead of the expected, standard white, ivory, or cream, ringed by tiny diamonds. The outside doors were stained glass, calling to mind the pretty windows of the Esperantist Carmelite church where Livia and her little brother Daniel had attended school during the most precarious year of their lives.

“Nothing fancier?” the salesgirl asked.

“This one. Please excuse me for not knowing good enough English to explain every reason I want this.”

“We just came to America last month,” Mirjam said. “We’re learning fast. I already know eleven other languages fluently. After I master English, I want to learn perhaps ten other languages.”

The salesgirl took the jewelry box to the counter and wrapped it in white tissue paper. While Mirjam counted out the $5 pricetag, the salesgirl noticed Livia’s teardrop-shaped azurite-malachite French hook earrings.

“Girls in Europe have real pierced ears?”

“They certainly do,” Mirjam said. “These earrings have at least two hundred years. Our grandmother gave them to Rahi before she and our baby brother miraculously escaped a terrible train.”

“My name is Livia now,” Livia reminded her. “My first and middle names changed places. I stopped being Rahi four and a half years ago.”

“I remember you as Rahi,” Mirjam told her in Hungarian. “I can’t magically adjust to your new identity overnight, though I’ll happily call you whatever you want. It’s a miracle you survived, no matter what name you prefer.”

The salesgirl put the wrapped jewelry box into a white bag stamped with the store’s blue logo, and Livia carried it out of the building. After years of waiting, Livia finally had a pretty box to store her jewelry collection, which hopefully would get larger and larger as she continued growing older.


That night, when she was back in Newark, Livia opened her top bureau drawer and took out the cloth bag embroidered with her birth initials, R.L.K. She shook out the emerald French hook earrings her ears had been pierced with, a parrot brooch, several costume rings, a charm bracelet, a necklace with a frog pendant, and the amethyst ring her grandmother had wanted Daniel to give his future bride.

All the jewelry but the amethyst ring had been buried in a metal container in the Kovács backyard the first night of Passover 1944. So many people had lost irreplaceable possessions, but these pieces of jewelry had survived intact and now had a safe place to call home, just like the girl who’d started life as Ráhel Lívia.

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, Historical fiction, Shoah

Jumeau dolls

(FYI for non-Francophones: Jumeaux is the plural of Jumeau.)

I’ve honestly never been much of a doll person. I never had nor wanted a Barbie, and always had more stuffed animals than dolls. I’m told I carried my few dolls under my arm like a football, instead of holding them close and cuddling them. I always gravitated towards gender-neutral toys, like marbles, or stereotypically “boy toys,” like miniature cars. None of the girly toys really appealed to me.

However, I always made an exception for collectible dolls, the kinds not meant for playing with. I love their clothes, hairstyles, faces, bodies, and accessories. The dolls I feature in my books tend to be homemade or generic toy store dolls, but I’ve created two Jumeaux recently. I think I found out about them when I got a Jumeau coffeetable book from a bargain table at Barnes and Noble.


The Jumeau company was founded by Pierre-François Jumeau and Louis-Desire Belton in the early 1840s, in Montreuil-sous-Bois (an eastern suburb of Paris). They quickly gained a name for themselves, and their beautiful porcelain dolls became very popular. In 1844, they presented their dolls at the Paris Exposition. When the Paris Exposition returned in 1849, the company earned a bronze medal. In the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, they earned a First Place Medal.

More accolades and awards followed. At the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867, the company earned a Silver Medal, and at the 1873 Vienna Exposition, they earned a gold medal. In 1878, they earned a Gold Medal at the Exposition Universelle, and proudly advertised this fact on the shoes, boxes, bodies, and clothes of their dolls.

At the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879 and the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1888, they won prizes as best dollmaker. In spite of all these awards, though, only a few pre-1870s Jumeaux can be definitively identified.


Jumeaux had become luxury, status symbols, and enjoyed their golden age from the late 1870s to the late 1890s. By 1877, Emile-Louis Jumeau (son of founder Pierre-François) had added Bébés to the company’s products. Bébé Jumeaux were made in the image of real little girls, with realistic glass eyes and beautiful, fashionable clothes.

The Jumeau star began fading when German dolls rose in popularity. German dolls were cheaper than French dolls, but equally well-made and belovèd by their owners. In 1899, the Jumeau company became part of the conglomerate Le Société Française de Fabrication de Bébés et Jouets. This consortium went under in the late 1950s.

Though Jumeaux are no longer made, they continue to be cherished collectors’ items.

Jumeau face

One of my fictional Jumeaux is named Ambrózia, and belongs to little Ráhel Lívia Kovács. She was bought in a fancy Budapest toy store by Ráhel’s much-older sister Mirjam, a brilliant intellectual, academic, and hyperpolyglot. Ráhel receives her as a present in 1939, when she starts lighting candles upon her third birthday. Ráhel loves Ambrózia more than any of her other dolls, and takes her along to the Abony and Kecskemét ghettoes.

Ráhel is very worried when she remembers Ambrózia has a necklace that wasn’t turned over to the authorities or buried with the other valuables. She hid it under Ambrózia’s blouse since it’s Judaic jewelry. No one thinks a doll necklace could be worth much, but it’s a golden Magen David with diamonds and sapphires, inside a golden circle with more sapphires and diamonds, on a golden chain. Ráhel found the necklace at her maternal grandmother’s house after her death in 1942.

Jumeau doll with doll

Ambrózia is tucked under Ráhel’s left arm as she and her 4-year-old baby brother Dániel run to safety while a few teenage boys on the death train raise a huge uproar at one of their many long stops. The outburst draws attention away from the escapees on the other side of the train. I got the idea for their escape from the 2006 German film Der Letzte Zug.

Ráhel and Dániel (who’s become very ill with diphtheria) find shelter at a nearby cloister of Esperantist Carmelite nuns. Originally they were murdered with most of the rest of their family, but I no longer had the heart to kill them after I started getting to know them.

Plaid Jumeau

In my fourth Russian historical, little Kaja Saara Lebedeva (radical Katrin’s firstborn grandchild) has a vintage Negro Jumeau from longtime family maid Mrs. Samson. Katrin’s family have always treated Mrs. Samson like an equal and friend, which often earns strange looks from people not used to the races mixing so closely. Likewise, Kaja doesn’t care her doll isn’t a mirror image of herself. To a child, a doll is a doll, whether white, brown, tan, or purple.

Jumeau first advertised mulatto and Black dolls in 1892.

Black Jumeau