Lilly, The Polka Dot Wearer

Written by, daughter, Anita Goldberg
Hungary 1944.

A young girl, about 19 or 20 years old has her favorite blue with red polka dots scarf in her head, tied in the fashion that young single girls used to cover their heads. It’s a nice day and she is crossing a field, among many women young and old. She catches the eye of a young Hungarian soldier who is riding on a horse, boringly surveying the rounded up marching women.

She is easy to spot, with her polka dot scarf. Almost unintentionally the soldier follows her.

The older women notice his interest and understand the danger. A slow rumor, like a ripple on a lake, crosses the marching women:

“Take off that scarf!” “Tell her to take off that scarf!” Slowly but surely the rumor reaches her.

“Take off that scarf!”

She is a little confused. “Me?” “Why?” She raises her eyes and in a short distance she notices the soldier.

She understands. She perceives the danger. But she also feels rebellion rising in her.

The real meaning of war is just starting to reach her. Fear and hopelessness are still not more powerful than her sense of justice. “It’s my scarf” “My life” “My choice” “It’s me!”

But she knows. She can feel the fear and desire to protect her coming from the older women. She is attracting unnecessary danger, an easy prey for a bored predator.

With a mix of anger, rebellion, fear and dread she takes the scarf off her head and tosses it to the ground.

As she continues walking and the polka dots stay behind her, she comprehends it is her freedom, her whole life up to that very moment that she is really leaving behind.

She starts to understand how completely powerless she is and all the women around her. Her family and her whole community really are.

That’s what it meant being Jewish in Hungary in 1944, when the Nazis just entered the country. No way to escape, nowhere to hide as the whole world was changed forever.

That young soldier was Hungarian, not German. Under different circumstances they might have even been friends. Not now.

Lilly survived the war. She had seen, felt and understood all the depth of human misery and horror.

But she survived it. And as she tried to reclaim a normal life again, a sense of liberty and dignity, a right to feel and be a human being again, she looked for polka dots.

She bought and wore them in scarfs, shirts and dresses; big dots, little dots, loud ones and discreet ones. Polka dots became Lilly’s personal style.

Lilly today is 96. If you see her, she will most likely be wearing polka dots.

Her daughters, grandchildren and friends all know of her love of polka dots, but not everyone knows that it is a love of freedom, human dignity and free will she is really wearing.