It was just a small table, but it brought back memories that changed the lives of a Holocaust survivor, a dealer in antiques stolen from the Jews of Berlin and the son of the antiques dealer.
Lucia Muller-Rossi, half Swiss and half Italian, is caught in Berlin as her Swiss husband returns to Switzerland to serve his militia duty. Lucia uses her extravagant beauty, her easy morals and her flirtatious manner to survive in the Third Reich, where she and her son, Nicholas, are vulnerable non-Germans. She gains favor among the high-ranking Italians and Nazis and uses some of that favor to “help” Jews, who fear the Nazis will take all they have if they can't get it out of the country.
Lucia sees herself as a savior of the oppressed. She holds furniture for them as they are forced out of their homes and into hovels or concentration camps. She gets their money out of the country for them. And, for a price, she manages to get a few the forged papers they need to escape.
When she leaves Germany, she takes with her seven truckloads of valuable antique furniture, paintings, sculptures and jewelry.
Now in her nineties, she is Zurich's premier antique dealer, though there's a cloud over her head. While the charges of war profiteering were quashed by influential friends, she was never acquitted as she likes to believe she would have been had she been tried.
Her daughter-in-law Helen – Nicholas's daughter – is under no such illusion. She has seen the charges and evidence, and she is trying to force her father and grandmother to acknowledge the crimes they outline.
Into all this comes Sarah Freeman, whose name back in the Berlin of the 1940s was Sarah Lindemann. Her husband was among those who trusted Lucia to hold their furniture while they went into hiding. Sarah recognizes the small, unique table she loved in her better days. She knows that if she claims the table, Lucia's entire scam will tumble like a house of cards.
The story alternates between the present in Switzerland and the war years in Berlin.
This report prepared by David Gordon