Mrs. Leah-Lilly Klein (Part I)

Can you tell me your name and where you were born?

My name is Leah–Lilly Klein, née Levy. I was born in Baia-Sprie/ Felsőbánya. From 1940 to 1945 it was part of Romania; after the war it was considered part of Hungary. It was a small town and the Orthodox Jewish community was very close knit.

What memories can you share with us about your family?

I grew up in an extremely Orthodox home. I had one older sister, Blima’la, and one younger brother, Shmuel Volf. My mother wore a sheitel like most of the other women of the town. Every day she would say the entire sefer Tehillim twice: once in the morning and then again before it got dark. We were brought up to do mitzvos and to act with kindness. That was my mother’s motto: “Kinderlach, you should always be busy with mitzvos.”

My mother was extremely kind and helped everyone. She was a real Yiddishe Mama. Every Friday my mother prepared bags of food for us to deliver to the people of the town. I remember clearly taking the packages of food and money each Friday morning to the home of other Jewish people who were in need. We always had bachurim at our table from the nearby yeshivah.

My family was very wealthy. My father owned a business exporting wood and coal. I was fortunate to have grown up in a beautiful home and enjoyed a very nice childhood. My maternal grandfather lived close by. His last name was Wieder; however, he was referred to by the townspeople as tzaddik. My paternal grandmother and my uncle always came to spend Pesach at our home. My grandmother baked the best delicacies. Whenever anyone came to visit her, she always sent back a special package for ‘Leah’la.’ I had everything a child could want.

What sort of education did you receive?

My sister and I attended public school. In the afternoons we had a teacher who came to our house to teach us about Yiddishkeit — to daven and to read Hebrew. I attended a Jewish boarding school called Schwartz–Menyhert. There, I went to a gymnasium called Oradea – Nagyvarad, so that I would not have to mingle too much with the gentiles. The boys attended frum chadarim.

When the war broke out, where were you?

The year was 1944; I was away in boarding school. One day my mother called for me to come home. She instructed me not to bring home my clothing because she was hoping that I would be able to go back. The head of the school put me on the train and instructed me to say that I was studying in a public school and I was being called home because my father was very sick. They told me that my name would be Mary Fazekas.

Once on the train I opened the door to the next compartment, where two men were seated. I was shy and closed the door. The men came after me, saying, “Come on in, young lady, and do not be afraid.” These men were actually a Hungarian count and his butler. They inquired about my name and why I had no packages. I told them the fabricated story about my father.

As soon as the train left the station, a German officer, along with a Hungarian officer, came into my car and requested to see my identification. The Hungarian count stood up and introduced himself as a count. He then said, “Mary Fazekas is my company; do not bother her.” The only possible explanation for this episode was that a malach was watching over me, because without identification they would have taken me right off the train.

Did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe at the time?

My parents had passports to travel to England. When they heard that the Jews living in their town were going to be relocated to another city set aside only for Jews, they decided that they wouldn’t leave the family behind.

What was the situation back home?

It was Erev Pesach when I arrived home. My parents seemed so sad. Our family business had been taken away. That year, my paternal grandmother and my uncle, who always spent Pesach at our house, did not come. I begged my mother to tell me why everyone was so sad. My mother tried to calm me and said, “Don’t worry; everything is going to be fine.” My father said, “Children, even if we have to leave this house, we have plenty of money in the Swiss bank with which to buy a new house and new clothing.” My mother assured us that we would always be together.

How did life change once the Nazis invaded?

One day after Pesach the Nazis arrived and we were all taken to the shul. We remained there for a few days. Then the entire family (my aunt and uncles and cousins included) and the rest of the Jews of the town were taken to the ghettos.

to be continued

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.