Interviewer: Oana Aioanei
Date of interview: February 2003
Mrs. Clara Foldes lives alone in a flat in the center of town. The rooms of the flat are very tidy. She has abstract paintings on the walls. She is a very nice lady. Although she is 83 years old, she looks much younger. We sat and talked in the kitchen. It was warmer there than in the rest of the flat, which made our discussion friendlier. Mrs. Foldes likes to be visited and have someone to talk to.
My family background
My school years
During the war
Teaching at the Jewish school
My family background
Unfortunately, I don't know anything about my great-grandparents, but I remember things about my grandparents. My mother's parents were called Moric and Vilma Kohn; they lived near Oradea, in Lesul Oradiei [Les]. I know that my grandma Vilma was born there, but I don't know where my grandfather was born; I don't have any documents about it. My mother's parents spoke Hungarian because Oradea was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire then. My maternal grandparents moved from near Oradea to Sofronea, a small village close to Arad. My grandparents had kind of a restaurant near the railway station in Sofronea. My grandfather Moric died in Sofronea in 1918. He was buried in the Neolog  Jewish cemetery in Arad because there was no Jewish cemetery in Sofronea. My grandmother stayed in Sofronea for a while.
My grandparents had three girls, all born in Les: Margareta, my mother, Elisabeta, and Eugenia. My mother, Margareta Grunbaum, nee Kohn, was born in Oradea in 1898; she was eight years younger than my father. Elisabeta lived in Curtici. Her husband was called Iosif Stern and had a textile store and land in Iratosu. They had two children: Marta and Carol. Marta has a son who is a physician and married with two children; they live in Cologne, Germany. Carol died in forced labor near Sighisoara. They made the rocks explode in the mountains and a rock changed its direction during its fall and killed Carol and those who were there. This happened in the 1940s, during World War II. My mother's youngest sister, Eugenia, lived in Timisoara. Her first husband was a Hungarian Jew from Budapest, his name was Sandor Ungar. He died after World War I. Eugenia's second husband was a Romanian called Vasile Simedrea. He wasn't Jewish. She had two children: Ana from the first marriage and Titus from the second.
My mother met my father on the train - they were both going to Curtici. My father was a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army [see KuK army] , and my mother was working as a clerk. My father, Andrei Grunbaum, was born in Hungary, in a village near Debrecen called Konyar, in 1890. My father fought in World War I, but I don't remember where. Both my father and my mother graduated from Commercial High School - my mother in Arad, my father in Debrecen. My parents spoke Hungarian, but my father could also speak Yiddish.
My father's parents lived in Konyar. My grandparents from Hungary spoke both Hungarian and Yiddish and were very religious. They were called Grunbaum. I had the chance of knowing my paternal grandmother. She was a small, thin woman, and she wore a wig. She was very religious. My paternal grandparents had five children, all born in Konyar: a girl, Aranka, and four boys - Marton, a dentist, Pavel, an office clerk, Lajos, who ran the parents' store, and my father, Andrei, who was the youngest.
Financially they did well. They had a textile store and land. They grew corn and watermelons. They also used to hire men who worked their fields. I remember that my grandmother had a large courtyard, where the corn was stored. The watermelons seemed enormous to me. I was four to five years old then and I used to ride on them. Because we lived close to the Hungarian border, we often visited our grandparents from Konyar. I don't remember any animals, but since it was a big household, I guess that she must have had geese and chickens. My grandmother had a big, nice house with two kitchens; one for wintertime and the other for summer. The house had about four rooms, built in line, and a long glass terrace in front of them.
I remember something else about my grandmother Grunbaum. She had a summer kitchen with an oven for bread. The oven was very big and behind it there was a special place where a large pot was kept, where the grease was gathered after the rendering of the scraps. One day I was sitting at the table for dairy products drinking my cup of hot chocolate. I was watching the women working at the other table, the one for meat products, and I noticed that they kept going to the pot behind the oven and poured the grease in there. So I took my cup and poured my hot chocolate in the pot, too. Of course, my grandmother couldn't use the grease anymore. She had to give it away - probably to the personnel, who took it home.
The family was kosher. The men went to the synagogue every day; when they didn't go they said their prayers at home. The women only went to the synagogue on Sabbath. They observed every Jewish holiday. My father's parents, his brothers, and his sisters-in-law were very religious - the sisters-in-law wore wigs.
My parents married in 1919. They lived in Curtici. Curtici was a rich, large village; it became a town later. The Jewish people in Curtici in those times were tailors, merchants, shopkeepers; one of them had a grocery. They also had land, worked by hired laborers.
I was born in Arad on 17th March 1920. I had a brother, Gheorghe, five years younger than me, so he was born in 1925. We had no financial problems in Curtici before the war. We did well. We didn't have any land, but we had a big house, which also included our store. My parents had a textile store - they sold material for both winter and summer: buttons, thread, headkerchiefs, and the shrouds needed for funerals. My mother had a helper in the house, Florica, and in the store they had an apprentice.
Our house in Curtici was a large one, U-shaped. I don't remember the number of the rooms of the house. I know that we were using three of them. The rest of the rooms were rented out - we had three tenants. My parents improved the condition of the house: we had running water. From the fountain we pumped water into a large pool placed in the attic - water, which was used in the kitchen and in the bathroom. We, the children, enjoyed doing this a lot. For the heating of the house we used wood. We had ovens made of cast iron. We also had a large courtyard and next to the veranda there was a small garden. It was my mother's; she took care of it. We didn't have any animals.
We had books in the house. My parents were reading the local paper; there was no Jewish paper in Curtici. I was only at home during the holidays, and we spent this time together at home.
We lived on the corner of the market. In the middle of the square was the Orthodox Church and between the church and the buildings surrounding it, was a semicircular empty area for the market. The market days in Curtici were Monday and Thursday. It was a very rich market - with dairy products, eggs, fowls, and a butcher's shop behind the church. We bought dairy products, vegetables and fowls. The shochet was slaughtering it, making it kosher. The butcher was Jewish, but the meat he sold wasn't kosher because there were only a few Jewish families in Curtici.
When I was seven years old [in 1927], my grandmother Vilma moved from Sofronea to Curtici with us. My mother had just had an operation and my grandmother came to help us, and remained with us. My grandmother was sending us to the butcher's, she used to give us 5 lei and tell us, 'Go and buy some meat, so that I can prepare a veal goulash for your father tonight.' We didn't go shopping too often. My grandmother enjoyed doing the shopping herself. She took care of the household, while my mother and father worked in the shop. We didn't buy any pork. In fall we bought geese. After they were stuffed, the best parts were put in pickle brine and smoked. We kept them like this during the winter until springtime. We did the same with veal. The smoked meat was kept in the storeroom. It tasted delicious.
The Jews lived scattered around Curtici; there was no separate Jewish neighborhood. The Jewish community was made up of fifteen families, which meant that we were enough for the prayers. The Jews had a synagogue in a transformed peasant house - there was a room for the men and one for the women. It wasn't a special building but meetings were held on every Friday, Saturday and on every holiday. Being so few, we didn't have a rabbi or other functionaries. My father was the president of the community. My father wasn't a very religious man, but he knew everything. My mother lit the candles, but she didn't wear a wig.
I remember how we used to celebrate Pesach. Most of the time it was during my school holiday, so I could spend it with my family. Matzot were hidden in different places, and we, the children, had to find and steal them. Because my father knew all the customs, this feast was celebrated in every detail.
What I also remember is that Purim used to be celebrated with a lot of cakes. My mother arranged different kinds of cakes on china plates, covered them with a white napkin, and we had to take them to the Jewish families who were our friends. We used to make a lot of shelakhmones, cakes with nuts and poppy-seed.
We met the rest of the family during the holidays. My aunt from Timisoara, Eugenia, used to spend the holidays with us. My mother's second sister, Elisabeta, was married in Curtici and we used to meet her two children, our cousins.
We got along very well with our Christian neighbors. Their daughters and I were very good friends. Our parents were also befriended. We were on good terms with the Orthodox priest, Bradean. He had three daughters and we spent all the time together.
I don't remember celebrating my birthday; we didn't have this custom. I don't even remember being invited to someone else's birthday party, neither to the girls of Priest Bradean, or to the house of teacher Ardelean, with whose daughter I spent time from kindergarten to my graduation in Cluj.
My school years
I went to kindergarten in Curtici, and then to the state school because there was no Jewish school in Curtici. My favorite teacher in elementary school was Elvira Cioara. She was my teacher for the first four school years. My favorite classes were grammar and mathematics. While in Curtici I remember that a teacher from Arad used to come to school and teach me to play the violin. This helped me a lot later, when I became a teacher, because I could help the children during the music classes by playing the violin.
After finishing elementary school my parents paid for my further education. It wasn't very expensive. Everyone could afford it. I went to school for twelve years. So, I spent the first four years of elementary school in Curtici. Then I studied for eight years at a pedagogical school in order to become a teacher. I did the first year in Arad. Because the school was closed here, I was transferred to Lugoj, where I did the second year. The school was closed here too, so I was moved to Cluj, where I studied for the next six years and also graduated.
In Cluj I stayed in a boarding school. Our boarding school was like from a fairy tale. It had its own kitchen. Every meal was like a small feast. Of course the food wasn't kosher because the school wasn't Jewish. The boarding school wasn't like a prison. If someone had relatives or friends in town, they could come and take you out on Saturday afternoons, after classes, but they needed an approval from your parents. The school took good care of us. I had a Christian family who used to take me out - the Cucu family. I came home only during the holidays - at Christmas and Easter and in the summer.
The school was in the same building: on the ground floor were the classrooms, and on the next floor were the dormitories and the study-rooms. We had two uniforms. For every day we wore a black and white one. When we went to concerts, the theater and on other special occasions, we wore a white and light blue shirt, and a navy blue skirt and jacket. During the afternoon break, the educator took us to a compulsory walk in town - we went to the cinema when there was an interesting movie on, or to the theater. On Wednesdays we went to the theater and on Saturdays we went to the Opera, to the matinee performance. I got along very well with my schoolmates. There was no religious discrimination. Nor did the board make any differences. I wasn't the only Jew in this school. I had two Jewish schoolmates, one older than me and the other one younger. One of them was the daughter of a rabbi.
In Cluj my favorite teachers were the headmaster - a very special woman - Ioana Gabor, the French teacher, Jana Casian, and the anatomy teacher. She taught splendidly. She made such expressive drawings with colored chalk, that you understood everything immediately; you didn't even have to study at home. Later we were taken to different faculties, where we could assist at conferences on subjects of interest to us. I remember that a professor said once during a conference, 'Love finds its way through the stomach. We have to take care that the animal is well fed.' He developed this subject scientifically.
I remember going to religious education. Somebody was taking me there on Sundays. Later the rabbi started coming to school and we had our religious education class in the teachers' room. The rabbi was young, very handsome, and married with two children. After telling my classmates about him, they always found different reasons for coming into the room during our class - with the excuse of looking for something or somebody.
The school also had a chapel. I used to go there sometimes. I also sang in the choir of the school. I was singing alto. Many times, especially during the Lent, we were invited to sing at the Orthodox Cathedral. I have a very good ear for music and our teacher insisted that I don't miss because singing alto is more difficult than singing the tune.
While in Cluj I attended a Red Cross nurse course for two years. We were taken to the hospital where we could watch and learn. I still have the diploma.
I started a two months defense course as a volunteer in 1938. I spent the first month in Turda. We had both theory and practical classes. I learned to use a shotgun. There was an officer who trained us. His name was Pitic and he was very accursed. I couldn't finish this course because after the first part Jews weren't allowed anymore, so I was sent home. I cried all the way back home from Turda.
During the war
During the war, when Hitler's regime began, while we were living in Curtici, many Jews from Bucovina who had gone to Germany for studies and had remained there, came back via Budapest-Curtici-Arad, trying to return home. Because they didn't have any documents or visas - just the clothes they were wearing - they had to get off the train in Curtici since Curtici is at the Romanian-Hungarian border. My father, who was the president of the Jewish community during those times, managed to get in touch with some of the frontier guards, and they called him any time another person or group arrived. The guards were rewarded for this. Some of the travelers stayed with us for a few days. They had the chance to take a bath and change their clothes - we bought new ones for them.
There was a man, Iosif Guttman - he died last year in Israel - who helped my father; he was taking the travelers to Arad. The community took care from then on, helping them to return home. They were all very poor. I remember once being on a holiday in Curtici. It was in 1938-1939. One of the refugees, a professor called Sturm, wanted to give me something as a remembrance. He didn't have anything else but a tin opener. I'm still using that tin opener, although I have more modern ones now.
After I graduated in 1939, I returned to Curtici. I didn't work as a teacher in Curtici. I couldn't work in a state school because Jews weren't admitted to state institutions anymore [because of the anti-Jewish laws in Romania] , although I had a state diploma in Romanian. The Jewish community in Alba Iulia needed a teacher at their Jewish school, so I moved to Alba-Iulia on 1st December 1939. I stayed there until 31st August 1942. The name of the rabbi of Alba Iulia was Kraus. He had a daughter of my age. The Jewish community in Alba Iulia was a very religious one; I wasn't even allowed to wear a purse on Saturdays. We were two teachers at the Jewish school. The other one was a Hungarian teacher, Gal. He taught in the 3rd and 4th grades, and I taught in the 1st and 2nd grades. The community was a large and very rich one; there were land owners among them. I stayed in Alba Iulia for two and a half years.
In 1941 my parents were forced by a new law to move to Arad. All Jews who lived in villages had to move into towns and Arad was the closest one to Curtici. I was 21-22 years old then. I remember that my father was called to the town hall and he was told that in two hours all the Jews had to leave Curtici. They went to Arad on the 11 o'clock train. Somebody from the Jewish Community expected them and took them to the courtyard of the Jewish school. From there they were sent to different families. Naturally, my grandmother Vilma joined my parents to Arad. She died in 1945 because she was already old. She was buried in the Neolog Jewish cemetery in Arad, like my grandfather.
I couldn't visit my parents because Jews weren't allowed to travel; there was a law passed by the legionaries . One day I received a paper from the Educational Inspectorate, saying that I had to bring to the law-court in three days written proof that I had never been sentenced. What could I do? I wasn't allowed to travel to Arad to get proof. But if I didn't bring the paper I was in danger of losing my job. I went to the law-court to see the public prosecutor. I knew what he looked like: a small, thin man. I went straight to him and told him, 'I'm a Jew, you know very well that I'm not allowed to travel. I think that you could help me, by asking the court in Arad for a paper, which proves that I've never been sentenced. You give me this paper and if it proves that I'm not telling the truth, you can cancel it.' He looked at me and asked, 'Is this legal?' I replied, 'I don't know if it's legal, but it's human!' He gave me the paper I needed and I never saw him again.
It was through connections that I managed to go home and visit my parents. During the time of the Iron Guard , the laws changed very often. At one time the only way Jews could travel was if they had a medical certificate from the physician of County Alba, which proved that that person needed to do some tests, which could be done, in my case, only in Arad. So I went to this physician, told him that I was a Jew and that I wanted to go home and visit my parents. I was 21-22 years old. I told him that I didn't suffer from any illness, and that I didn't know what he could possibly find because my only problem was that I missed my parents. He examined me and told me to come back to the secretariat the next day and I would find the paper I needed there. I received that certificate and went home.
Teaching at the Jewish school
I think that my parents talked about me to the Jewish community in Arad, saying that I would like to move to Arad. When one of the teachers retired, I was brought here. I taught at the Jewish school in Arad for seven years, from 1942-1948. I taught the Aleph-Bet at the Jewish school because I had learned a little Hebrew in Alba Iulia. The Aleph-Bet was a very good book, with pictures; it was easy for children to learn from it. There were many children in one class at the Jewish school in Arad, some 30 to 35 pupils, most of them Orthodox Jews.
I was the youngest teacher there. I enjoyed organizing festivities. We had one of the celebrations at the State Theater. I remember the first ballet dancer - she was thin and wore a red dress. Her name was Ecaterina Blum and she was a friend of mine, who was in charge of gymnastics and ballet classes at the school. During the war, the Germans needed the building of the school and we had to move into the building where the community had its office. The Jewish School was closed by the Nationalization Law [see Nationalization in Romania]  in 1948 - all schools of the minorities were turned into state schools. I was moved to a state school in Arad, the Ghiba Birta School, where I worked for 30 years, until I retired in 1978.
Life during World War II was difficult. Nobody was forced to leave Arad, but the Nazis imposed some restrictions: Jews weren't allowed to enter certain confectionaries, restaurants, the swimming pool. My father had a difficult time finding a job. Our apprentice had remained in Curtici; he took care of our store, and he sent us money from time to time. The Orthodox priest, Bradean, and other villagers also brought us supplies.
During World War II my paternal grandmother was taken to a concentration camp along with her daughter and two of her boys. [Editor's note: Clara's relatives lived on Hungarian territory, and that's why they were taken to concentration camps. Clara, her family and some relatives lived in Southern Transylvania, where Jews weren't deported.]
I don't know how my father's brother Marton managed to escape [Editor's note: maybe because his wife was not Jewish], but two of his brothers - Lajos and Pavel - didn't come back from the camp. Pavel was taken from Debrecen by the Germans with his two sons - they had to go to a mined bridge, but I don't know where. It was mined too well, it exploded. Pavel was there with one of his sons, and they both died. This was in 1944. The other son died somewhere else. When Pavel's wife learned about what had happened, she got mad and soon afterwards she died.
Lajos remained in Konyar with his family, they lived with my grandmother, and they were all deported from there. Lajos perished in Auschwitz. My grandmother returned with her daughter-in-law Berta, Lajos's wife, and her four children; two boys and two girls. Berta pushed my grandmother in a wheelbarrow, but, unfortunately, she died on the way home, after they had already reached Hungary, in 1945. I don't know where she was buried. Berta and her children eventually moved to Israel. She was very religious - she wore a wig, on Sabbath she didn't light the fire or switch on electric power, she didn't talk on the phone, and she walked to the synagogue although she had to go a long way. Their whole family was very religious. One of Berta's sons, Ocsi, used to be the manager of the customs from Israel for some time.
Aranka, my father's sister, who was already married and lived in Mezotur before the war, returned from the camp and emigrated to the United States of America. Marton and his family lived in Budapest; his wife was Hungarian and died in the 1950s. After her death, Marton and his daughter moved to Israel.
I met my husband Andrei Foldes on New Year's Eve 1943. We met in Arad at a friend of mine, whom I knew from Alba Iulia. I was already a teacher. He was from Arad. I went to that New Year's Eve party with three young men, brothers. Two of them were physicians and the third one was an engineer. They had also been evacuated. But that was the evening when I met my future husband.
Andrei was born in Arad in 1906, when Arad belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was older than I was, and he had three brothers. His parents were called Teresia and Adolf Foldes, but they died before I met him. Andrei, along with his brother Geza, had a warehouse for construction materials in Arad. During the war years Andrei helped the community by supplying it with wood for caskets. Andrei's second brother, Iuliu, lived in Timisoara. Iuliu was an engineer, he worked for a German factory, AEG. He was so good in what he was doing, that his employers kept him during World War II. The third brother was called Bela and worked as a chemist in Arad. He was killed by the Hungarian soldiers, when they reached Arad in 1944. He didn't take refuge, thinking that the Hungarians wouldn't do anything to him because he had graduated from Budapest University.
Andrei and I got married in the Neolog Synagogue in Arad on 17th March 1946. The ceremony was without pomp, but our marriage lasted 44 years. It was during the war and everybody had troubles. We didn't have children, although we wished to. We observed all holidays - Jewish and Christian ones because we had many Christian friends. My husband wasn't very religious, but we went to the synagogue on holidays.
I didn't become a member of the Communist party during the communist era, although I was asked to. I was doing my job as a teacher, and I wasn't interested in politics. I was pretty busy - teaching, cleaning the house, doing the shopping. I loved the summertime, when I spent all my free time at the swimming pool.
After my husband's warehouse for construction materials was taken from him, Andrei started working as a clerk in the same warehouse. My dear husband Andrei died 15 years ago [in 1987] in Arad; he is buried in the Neolog Jewish cemetery.
My brother Gheorghe went to the German high school in Arad after finishing elementary school in Curtici. My mother wanted him to learn German. In 1938/39 the headmaster advised her to take him out of this school because of the war, and he didn't want him to be expelled later. My brother was accepted as an apprentice by a very good carpenter. He stayed in Arad during the war, and after the war, he ran away to France with a friend of his. He started working there - carpentry for exquisite furniture. He was very good in his trade. Because of the anti-Semitism there he left France and moved to Holland. While working there as a carpenter somebody from a Jewish organization asked him if he wanted to go to Palestine.
He was going to be taken there by plane, but as a Jewish soldier. I was already married. Gheorghe called me and asked me to call my parents - they didn't have a phone at that time - so that he could talk to them. He went to Israel, where he took part in the Independence War, the Six-Day-War  and the Yom Kippur War . He had a small factory in Tel Aviv; he did his job as carpenter very well. He got married in Israel to one of my former students from Alba Iulia; her name was Clara Suzana. They adopted a girl, a cousin of ours, the daughter of Marton, my father's brother, who perished in Auschwitz. She lives in Israel, is married, has two children, and works as a physician. Gheorghe died quite young, when he was 53 years old, because of heart problems. Suzana died last year [in 2002].
Although the law which didn't allow Jews to live in villages was annulled after the war, my parents didn't move back to Curtici. However, they went there every week and sold textiles. In 1950 my parents moved to Israel, where my father died in 1951, somewhere near Tel Aviv, but I don't know precisely where. After his death, my mother lived in Nahariya for some time. She used to make cakes and sell them. She died in Quiryat Yam in 1989, a few days before the Romanian Revolution .
All the Jewish friends I had in my youth left Romania. Most of them went to Israel. I had to make new friends. I remained in Romania for two reasons: first of all because at the age of 29 I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and the climate in Israel wouldn't have been suitable for my condition, and secondly because I can't learn a foreign language. Not being able to learn the language, I couldn't have taught there. The first time I visited Israel was in 1969, and the last time in 1988, a year after my husband died. Israel is a wonderful country.
Before Pesach I work as a volunteer for two weeks at the office of the Jewish community. I used to visit older people, but I have health problems now which don't allow me to do these visits anymore. I like to read a lot - novels, and our Jewish newspaper Realitatea Evreiasca, The Jewish Reality. I watch TV, and I go to the club of our community, where I meet my friends, almost every Monday. On Fridays I enjoy going to the prayer.