Baltimore, MD - Sept. 28, 2017 - Sometimes the people around us have unusual life stories about which we know nothing. Such is the case with Margot Brilliant, originally Graden. Mrs. Brilliant is 89 and lives off Bancroft Avenue in a cottage next door to her son and daughter-in-law. Mrs. Brilliant welcomed me into her home and spoke with full recollection of her early years. She may seem unremarkable, but when you meet her, you are warmed by her charm and kindliness. And her early life story is unusual and worthy of note.

When Margot, born in Hamburg, Germany, was four years old in 1932, she was placed in a Jewish orphanage. Her parents had divorced and neither could care for her. The orphanage was kindly run and matron would give each child a good night hug before they went to sleep. There was plenty of food and clothes were laundered and mended. Domestic duties were tended by older girls who were studying to go into domestic service.

When Margot was six, she went to school, the Judische Tochter Schule, a religious school like Bais Yaakov here. She walked with other children on Shabbat to shul, which was nearby. Hamburg had a thriving Jewish community, with many shuls, and orthodox girls' and boys' schools.

Her father picked her up on Sundays to visit her mother and he would take her for outings and for ice cream. Once her father took her to a Shirley Temple movie.

She lived a quite sheltered life in the home. They only went out on Shabbat after lunch and on Sundays, so she had limited contact with the changes the Nazis instituted, or the threat they posed. She remembers signs on stores saying they were only open to Jews between the hours of 1 and 3. She recalls the ice skating rink was closed to Jews.

In school, one girl was missing. The children learned the entire family had been arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Poland. Then people started talking about going to Palestine. The orphanage started to send children to other countries - to Denmark, Holland, Switzerland. The home began emptying out. She heard that the Gestapo was taking over the girls' school and the girls would go to the boys' Talmudical Academy.

The Joint Distribution Committee took 180 children, including Margot, age 10, on a ship to England on May 21, 1939 under the Kindertransport. Half the children were from Berlin and half from Hamburg. They arrived three days later in England. The Joint had advertised in the Jewish Chronicle, the English newspaper, seeking foster homes for German Jewish children from the Kindertransport. Her foster family chose her from a photo. She lived with the family in Wales.

Margot, age 10, in Germany

Mrs. Brilliant clearly remembers the two English princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. She recalled Princess Elizabeth's radio speech to the children of England who were separated from their parents. She observed that Elizabeth had a lovely speaking voice.

Margot spent the war in England with the foster family. She remembers the mother was cold and distant; she never gave Margot a hug nor a kiss. In 1946, Margot left their home for Birmingham, where she found office work and made a friend she had known in the orphanage.

Margot, age 18, in England

There was news of her parents. Unfortunately, it was sad news. The Red Cross informed her that her father was deported to Minsk, presumably dead. Her mother had died in hospital in Hamburg of malnutrition. Margot had no siblings.

However, in America, specifically in Baltimore, she had a grandmother, two aunts and an uncle. They sponsored her to come to America in 1947 where she lived at first with her grandmother.  

Her story has a happy ending. Margot married the late Dr. Louis Brilliant, z'l, a prominent optometrist. She has two grown children and numerous grandchildren. Her children attended the religious day schools here. She was a member of Mizrachi Women (now AMIT) and N'shei Agudah. She keeps busy these days with classes and spends Shabbat with Avi and Nechama, her son and daughter-in-law. Mrs. Brilliant has lived in Baltimore for 70 years!

 It was a pleasure to meet so kindly and grandmotherly a lady. You never know the stories of the people you meet, until you ask.

Eileen Pollock is a writer in Baltimore. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun, and Washington Times, among others.