For years, Marta Appel had been getting together at a restaurant once a month with a group of friends she had known since high school. In 1933, she stopped coming to the lunches, mainly because she did not want to embarrass her non-Jewish friends. She recalls:
One day on the street, I met one of my old teachers, and with tears in her eyes she begged me: “Come again to us; we miss you; we feel ashamed that you must think we do not want you anymore. Not one of us has changed in her feeling toward you.” She tried to convince me that they were still my friends, and tried to take away my doubts. I decided to go to the next meeting. It was a hard decision and I had not slept the night before. I was afraid for my gentile friends. For nothing in the world did I wish to bring them trouble by my attendance, and I was also afraid for myself. I knew I would watch them, noticing the slightest expression of embarrassment in their eyes when I came. I knew they could not deceive me; I would be aware of every change in their voices. Would they be afraid to talk to me?
It was not necessary for me to read their eyes or listen to the changes in their voices. The empty table in the little alcove that had always been reserved for us spoke the clearest language. It was even unnecessary for the waiter to come and say that a lady phoned that morning not to reserve the table thereafter. I could not blame them. Why should they risk losing a position only to prove to me that we still had friends in Germany?1
What influenced Marta Appel’s choice to re-join her friends for lunch? Do you think her decision was courageous or a mistake?
What influenced Appel’s friends to choose to cancel the lunch? Do you think their choice was an act of cowardice or a sensible decision? How does Appel explain their action? Was she right to not blame them for making that choice?
1 Marta Appel, “Memoirs,” in Jewish Life in Germany: Memoirs from Three Centuries, ed. Monika Richarz, trans. Stella P. Rosenfeld and Sidney Rosenfeld (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991), 351.
How to Cite This Reading
Facing History and Ourselves, "The Empty Table," last updated May 12, 2020.