At NYC’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, I walked my elderly father, John Gimesh, through the exhibit, “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.” We slowly wound through the galleries, trying to wrap our heads around the numbers, locations, names and faces. Born in Hungary in 1930, my father's lively green eyes faded, blinking back tears, as he recalled his own war years as a child in Budapest – and the relatives who did not survive.

Toward the end of the exhibit, we came upon a showcase, entitled, “Amalgam 1945.” It displayed hundreds of mangled utensils that Jews had brought to the camp – spoons, keys, scissors, pliers, etc. Just before Russian soldiers liberated Auschwitz, the SS set fire to the storage sheds. The heat of the fire soldered the utensils together, creating this disturbing piece of abstract art.

Together we bent over the showcase, staring. We wondered about the ordinary people who once held those everyday objects, oblivious to their pending fate. Surely, there would have been an old man sipping tea, a mother serving kugel, a child spearing boiled potatoes.

A young John Gimesh and his father in Hungary

Hidden for 70 Years

My thoughts wandered to visiting Auschwitz with my father a few years earlier. I wanted to bear witness to the horrific acts carried out there, and wanted to confront the cruelty my father had spoken of so often.

At one point, not far from the crematorium, I saw my father poking around in the dirt with the toe of his black Reebok sneaker. He had found several spoons, from so many years ago, peeking up from the ground. Despite the dull patina, these spoons captured the morning sunlight, sending out hopeful, glistening rays of silver. They seemed to say, "Here we are: Witnesses!"

It was inconceivable that those spoons remained hidden for over 70 years – yet there they were, begging for care. With dust flying, my father bent down, cleaned them off with the corner of his shirt, and tucked them into his coat pocket.

Early on, I realized that nothing in my life could compare to the loss of 6 million. My skinned knees, disappointments, heartbreaks, and frustrations paled in comparison to Dad's childhood. So I rarely complained, and as much as possible pushed my own feelings aside, to make space for his sadness and not add.

Standing there in Auschwitz, I wanted to ask my father what memories those spoons conjured up, but I feared it would add too much to the heavy yoke of sadness I carried for him. So instead of curiosity and connection between father and daughter, I protected myself by reprimanding him for taking the spoons, and not being respectful of that sacred space.

John Gimesh’s passport photo, upon emigrating from Europe to the U.S. in 1956

Poppy Seed Pastry

Suddenly my father nudged me, interrupting my thoughts of Auschwitz. He was tired and needed a break at the museum's cafe. As we sat eating my father’s childhood favorite – poppy seed strudel – he asked, "How can we sit here laughing and eating this delicious pastry, knowing that 6 million innocent people were murdered?"

He stared at me, demanding, "And for what?" Patting his thin, bruised hand, we sat in uncomfortable silence, knowing there are no answers to such unimaginable questions.

Ready to head home, I held my father's hand as we navigated out of the cafe. Then, piercing the low hum, I heard the faint sound of clanging chimes. I looked down to my purse to see the spoons we used to stir our coffee (plus the dessert forks, still with bits of poppy seed pastry). They had magnetically clung to the metal closure on my handbag, creating waves of sound like wind chimes gently colliding with an invisible clapper.

I agree with those who say “there is no such thing as coincidence.” Was this a sign that my father had every right to take back the things that Auschwitz stole from him? Or that his family had been with him all along? Or that I would always be inextricably entwined with my father's experiences?

There is truth in each possibility. I also came to believe these everyday utensils symbolize my father's lesson of resilience and hope. Unlike those born with a “silver spoon,” my father endured a beastly hell – yet emerged with his humanity intact.

In his web of intertwined silver, tin and copper, each thread melting into the next… forming a matrix of dreams realized and dreams lost… hopes and despairs, tranquil moments, anxieties, passions, brilliance, and above all… the sweetness of life.

For me, I am gifted with the legacy of these spoons – to hold dear, and from which to draw strength.