The tumultuous history of Hungary through the twentieth century is viewed through the saga of the Hungarian-Jewish, furniture-manufacturing family, the Vendels. After taking over the once successful, but now failing, family business in the 1930s, the family patriarch's dashing elder son decides that the family needs an infusion of new blood. A matchmaker presents him with a photo of a pretty German nursery school teacher. When the two meet, they instantly fall in love, but because Hungary has an alliance with Germany, and the Third Reich prohibits marriage between Gentiles and Jews, the couple must hide their union. Their marriage ultimately stands as a dark foreshadowing of rougher times to come as troubles ensue with the advent of World War II, when the family, its employees and servants must retreat to the basement, where the shop emerges increasingly as a refuge in a world growing more violent and less tolerant.