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Life in Sighet

Since there were a lot of Jewish people in your town, did you have any contact with people who were not Jewish?

At school only, in school. I started school at the age of seven and, sure, there were Romanian and Hungarian girls. It was elementary school—four years. If one wanted to go to high school, one didn't have to go further. There were eight years, actually, of elementary, for those who did not follow the academic line. But—this is what I want to say—my father was more enlightened because he allowed me—he accepted me to go to high school. I remember that he made a rule, "You can go to school, but you never take notes on Saturday." So, I promised him I would not take notes on Saturday. In the elementary school, yes, I met many Hungarian and Romanian girls. Actually, I sort of tutored one of the Romanian girls. This one went on to high school I tutored her and she was always the number one, obviously. I was number two. In my third year, I tutored. Her name was Bitsa. But our friends were only the Jewish girls and we met every Saturday and we sang and we cracked nuts and—how do you call those seeds? I forgot. And we sang many Zionistic songs. The friendships, I had very good friends. abrupt cut

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My first year of elementary school I had a friend whose name was Suri. After the first year we moved to another part of the town, so my second year was in another elementary school. I was very upset about having to leave the school and to leave Suri. The funny part is that Suri became my best friend. We had only one year together and every Saturday I visited her and the other Jewish girls. Suri is still alive. She was born one day before me and she remembers my birthday. She just called me on September from Netanya [Israel], so it was a good friendship. She stayed with the elementary school eight years. She became a dressmaker as it was the most preferred profession for Jewish girls. Can I tell you a joke about this? You can use it, or not. When I was already a doctor in New York—and I like very much to sew and to knit—I decided to take a course at Sears, a sewing course. I went together with a friend of mine, Margie, and I told her, "Margie, don't tell them that I am a doctor." So, we go to the course and we introduce ourselves and she just couldn't keep her mouth shut. "My friend the doctor." So the other ladies said, "You are a doctor, so what are you doing at this sewing course?" And I said, "My mother always wanted me to be a seamstress, but see, I'm a doctor instead."

That's the joke. Because that was a very good profession, but very few Jewish girls went to high school. So, when I finished elementary school I started high school. It was a very elite school, very few girls went to high school and very few Jewish girls went to high school. It was also very expensive and I remember how we had to pay the fees. It was a lot of money. Only after a few months did my father realize that he's a veteran of the First World War and he might be exempt of the tuition. And indeed, I became exempt and I got back the money, which was a good thing—we were all very happy about that. It was much easier to continue high school. When I went to high school—again I was a very good student—from the third year of high school, I already tutored, Bitsa and others. There were two Jewish girls whom I tutored at the age of thirteen, and I got paid by them. Well, I would say we were not poor, just middle class, but you know me making some money made a difference, I really could choose what I wanted for winter, my own winter coat, ordering and whatever to be done.

All along in high school, I tutored students. The anti-Semitism was such that it was always harder for a Jewish girl to make it. I do not remember any pogroms in our hometown. I don't remember anybody to have been expelled, but there was a lot of discrimination, and we were always second-class citizens. When I was in the upper classes—we had eight years of high school—when I was a junior or a senior, again, at the end of the year they give—how do you say—awards, and Bitsa, whom I tutored, got the first award, the best student. She passed in the senior year with 97 out of 100. I was number two with 96 out of 100. I remember very well how we met after our class—how do you call it?—class mistress?—and Bitsa was in front of me, she didn't see that I am coming and she said "Bitsa you made it!" So it was very important to make her number one.

The school was quite strict and we learned very serious topics because if you have a high school diploma from Romania at that time, they equated with three years of college here. I remember that I had French for eight years, we studied Latin for six years, German for four years, Greek for two years. This was all language because we didn't have too many science teachers. I really was the smartest at the age of eighteen. I was never as smart, I never knew so much. Zoology, botany, and sociology, psychology and even cooking, housekeeping, sewing, knitting and so on and so forth. This was our curriculum. In my senior year of high school I even had a boyfriend. If you ask, sure, he was Jewish, there was no other way, right? We spent our free time at this age hiking the Carpathian Mountains—we were very close, and there were some resort places in our province—and we had very good times. I also went to dancing school every Saturday, dancing with boys. My parents didn't even know that. It was not allowed.

Why were you not aloud to take notes on Saturdays?

Because father wouldn't allow me, it was a sin to take notes, he was very observant and girls—I mean, you didn't write on Saturday.

Could you tell us about your religious life, how religion was a part of your life?

I would say that everybody was religious, everybody was observant. If we knew a Jewish person who was not kosher, he was not considered a mensch, I mean he's lost to us. So yes, observant, everybody was, but there were various degrees of observance. We also kept kosher, obviously. I just remembered one incident about this. I must have been fifteen or sixteen years old and it was Yom Kippur. I visited some cousins and they had an orchard and we walked on the orchard and they had walnuts. I found a green walnut on the ground and I cracked it and I started to open it, and then I realized it is Yom Kippur, and I had to spit it out. But I had sinned already, I knew that I had sinned, this is how it went, right? Sure those feelings evolved, but we were all very observant.

What was the name of your synagogue?

Vishnitzer synagogue. I told you my father was a Vishnitzer Hasid and latter on I will tell you how he wrote a book about that.

Was there a fair bit of segregation?

No, I would not say. But most of the Jews lived in the center of the city and almost all the businesses were Jewish. Sure, there were Hungarian businesses, Romanians, and in our courtyard not all were Jewish, no, you could live wherever you wanted at that time.

How did anti-Semitism affect your life?

I did not feel it but, I knew, right, that we are minorities and they don't like us as much. But I did not feel that somebody would discriminate against me personally. Also I had a very Jewish—I'm sorry—Apsan was a very Romanian name. There was in the city another Apsan, a Romanian guy, I do not no how my family got that name, probably a few centuries before. There were two villages in the province—our province in Czechoslovakia—upper Apsan, and lower Apsan. There is a possibility they got the names from there. But since it was a Romanian Apsan some considered me Romanian. I also spoke Romanian very well, and sometimes they didn't know I was Jewish and it pleased me to trick them. But the only think is that they wouldn't let me be number one, which, we understood that.

Can you tell us some more of your experiences with anti-Semitism, when you felt discriminated against?

No, I could not tell you, as I told you, I felt quite comfortable because the Jews were the majority—there were 12,000 Jews out of 30,000—and because we had a very good Jewish life with synagogues, and with Zionist organizations, and with crowds. I did not feel it. My Romanian colleagues were very nice, I tutored most of them, I told you, and no, I would not say.

Can you clarify in your community who were Romanian's who were Hungarian and who were Czech?

This part of Romania was called Transylvania, and in this part—it is northern Romania—and this was part of Austro-Hungary. And during Austro-Hungary, the majority were Hungarians and Jews. During the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Jews had it very well. They were allowed really, to prosper. After the First World War, the Romanians got it, and there were many Romanians in the villages, and then they moved into the cities—into the town to. So by my time—and some Hungarians too—by my time they were almost equal number. I have to tell you, there were many Germans in that province, it was called Maramures, Sighet was the capital of Maramures. There were a few villages with German people, there were many Gypsies around who were come and going. There were some Ukrainians. It's very interesting, when I was going in the summer to visit my grandparents—our summer vacation was spent with—in the villages we had at least thirty or forty relatives—grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—in various villages. It was very interesting to realize that one village was Hungarian, one village almost completely Romanian—this is my mother from that village. The next village was completely Ukrainian—Rutanian they called them—my father was from that village. They were various minorities. And then after the war Ukrainians took all the part which was beyond the border of Romania at that time. There is more to geography to understand what happened there.

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