Can you tell me where you were born?
I, Sylvia Weiss née Aszkenazy, was born in Beclean, Romania. Beclean was a big city, which housed 150 Jewish families. There was a Jewish section which included the shuls, the Talmud Torah and Jewish businesses.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
We were four children; I had two sisters and one brother. My father, Yoel Yitzchak Aszkenazy, was a well-to-do businessman. In order not to compete with the other businesses, my father opened his lumber shop in a non-Jewish section across the street from the governor of the province. My father befriended the governor, who was also a customer. This enabled my father to ask for favors for the Jews when needed. My father’s hobby was his beehive. He would dress up in a mask to work on his hive. We had fresh honey for Rosh Hashanah and Pesach and many people came with empty jars which we gladly filled up for them.
My mother, Roiza Aszkenazy née Edelheid, was always promoting peace among us. Every Thursday my mother fasted and each erev Rosh Chodesh she visited the cemetery where her grandparents were buried.
My family was very close. We lived only 12 km from my maternal grandparents, Moshe Hersh and Chaya Edelheid. We shared many Yamim Tovim together with our uncles and aunts. Being that we were the oldest grandchildren, we were spoiled and loved.
Can you describe Shabbos in your home?
My maternal great-grandparents lived close by in a house that my father built for them on our property. My mother would pack Shabbos food for them each week and once we were all dressed in Shabbos clothes, we would bring the food and wish them good Shabbos. In return we each received a kiss and a brachah.
Since the shul was quite some distance from our home, the Friday night and Shabbos minyanim for the families who lived near us took place in our home. As soon as the Friday night davening was over, my father began singing Shalom Aleichem. The Shabbos seudah included homemade challah, fish, chicken soup, chicken and kugel. We always had cake for dessert and sang beautiful zemiros. I can still hear the beautiful melody of my father’s “Mah Yedidus,” as he sang along with my brother and our guests.
At 11:00 Shabbos morning we met the maid in the town bakery where the cholents were left to cook overnight. The maid carried it home for our seudah.
What kind of education did you receive?
We attended public schools since there weren’t any Jewish schools. My mother taught us about Shabbos, Yom Tov, brachos, kashrus and all the basics to be a frum Jewish girl. A woman was hired to teach us to read alef–beis and to daven. My younger brother, Yisrael Lipa, attended a Talmud Torah in the afternoons.
Shabbos morning we were expected to attend public school. Since there was no eruv in town, a non-Jewish neighbor would carry our books. School was six days a week but on Shabbos there was no writing.
My mother knew a dressmaker in Retteg and arranged for me to take sewing lessons with her. Years later in the camps and even later in America, these valuable sewing lessons saved my life over and over again.
In 1939, Sara Schenirer’s famous Bais Yaakov made its way to Romania. All my friends had joined for that first year. My father was a relative of the Satmar Rebbe, zy”a, and followed the Satmar ways of not allowing girls to be formally educated. The girls were expected to be good balabustas; Chumash and Rashi were not a priority. As the second year approached, my wonderful mother saw the effect that Bais Yaakov was having on my friends and convinced my father to let me attend with them. The two years that I spent learning in Bais Yaakov were absolutely wonderful. I learned to appreciate the many blessings of Hashem in our everyday lives. My friendships were strengthened and my faith grew.
Did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe at this time?
Once, on a trip to Retteg to visit my maternal grandfather, I met a young man who was a lawyer and did business with my zeide. I asked him why he was buying grain when he was already an established lawyer. He answered me that the Hungarians had revoked his license and so he became a businessman. He was also being trained as a car mechanic in case the Hungarians took away his right to sell grain as well. At this point we were happy children, sheltered from the world’s problems and oblivious to the challenges that awaited us.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness