Mrs. Esther Klien – Part I

I was born in Leordina, Romania, near Hungary. The town we lived in was not very chassidish.

We were seven children, four girls and three boys. I was the second child. My parents were both from chassidishe homes.  My father was the Rav, shochet and mohel of the town.

Did you experience anti-Semitism in your childhood? 

We were friendly with our neighbors and they helped us on many occasions; however, at the same time, they would scream “Jews, Jews!”

What kind of education did you receive?

I went to public school seven days a week. On Shabbos, the gentile children would carry our books for us. The government allowed one hour a week for religious studies and the priest would come in at that time to teach. Since my father was the Rav, he, too, would come to school during that allotted hour and teach the Jewish children about Yiddishkeit.

My father was home and had time to learn with us and teach us. My mother was a brilliant woman. As she cooked in the kitchen, she would tell us stories of tzaddikim. We received a full education, just as if we had gone to a Bais Yaakov school.

Did you know about the atrocities happening in Poland and Germany, before the war reached you?

We heard. We knew, but many people tried to cover it up.  Rabbanim declared a yom taanis and called for Yidden to do teshuvah. Yet, people didn’t believe that the war would come to us.

When did you begin feeling the effects of the war?

The Hungarians collaborated with the Germans. So, in 1940, my father was drafted into the munkatabor — the forced labor units. At the end of 1943, we were ordered to wear a yellow star. In May 1944, the real tzaaros began. Two days before the German invasion, many new laws were enforced. We were all ordered to gather in the beis medrash. From there, we were transported to a ghetto. We took along only whatever we could carry.

I remember my mother standing in front of the aron kodesh and sobbing. She kissed the sifrei Torah for the last time as the soldiers pulled her away and chased her out. She was the last one to leave.

I was 14 years old when we were taken to the ghetto. We were given a minimal amount of food. The living conditions in the ghetto were very hard. We slept on straw in an old brick factory.  Each family was given a small space, one right next to the other.  The men were taken out of the ghetto to work each day.

After two weeks, cattle cars were brought in. There were no selections — they liquidated the ghetto in its entirety. A certain amount of people were assigned to each train. It was my mazel that after my mother and two of my siblings were loaded onto a train, the guards cut off the line.  I begged and pleaded with them to let me go with my mother but their answer was “You will meet each other when you get off the trains.”

We traveled for four days. On the second day of Shavuos, we arrived in Auschwitz.

To be continued.

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.