elza rizova

Elza and Anani Rizov

Elza Rizova
Sofia
Bulgaria
Interviewer: Maiya Nikolova

I remember my grand-grandmother. She was a very beautiful, big woman who
wore a nice bonnet. She lived with her younger daughter, who looked after
her. She was disabled. She herself wasn't well-to-do, but her sons
supported her; they took care so that she could live in luxury. I remember
she used to draw small surprises like sweets and fruits out of her pocket
every time I visited her. There was always something in her pocket for me.

My grandfather Samuel Baruh was a hazan. He maintained the temple in the
town of Vidin. His whole family was very religious; so was my mother. My
grandfather used to wear something like a dress coat, black clothing and an
ordinary black hat. He dressed very well at those times.

There was a water pump in their house and the whole neighborhood used the
pump because the water was sweet. They had a wonderful yard with marvelous
quince trees. The house was old but very well-kept. They had some hens and
a dog. They didn't have any domestic help for the garden and the household.
Their younger daughter looked after them till the end of their lives. They
were a model family for the whole town. My grandfather was strongly
religious, but he didn't have any political views. He was a modest person;
he didn't take part in the town's political life.

We used to play in the temple's yard. My other grandfather, Alfred Aladjem,
was a more-modern person. He used to stand on the stairs in front of the
temple and threw sweets to the children. I was the youngest, and I could
never reach for the sweets. He would watch to see who had taken a sweet and
who hadn't, and the next time he would throw it so high that it would fall
right beside me. And the elder children would scuffle for the sweets, but
he would throw it to me again.

He had a talent for medicine. He was sort of a medicine man - he fixed
broken legs, hands, and he also treated ailments with herbs. Once a cart
arrived with a child, wrapped up in a rag. The child was half-dead. My
grandfather saw that she hadn't eaten for a couple of days. Little by
little, my grandfather fed her with a teaspoon. She fell asleep and,
perhaps, in an hour or two she said she was very hungry, and my mother
prepared a big slice of buttered bread for her. She ate it and it seemed
that her temperature had fallen. That is how the child recovered and her
family returned to their village. After a few days, her father brought two
white chickens. He wanted to feed us in return, showing his gratitude in
this way. My grandfather treated not only broken bones, but used herbs to
treat venereal diseases. He was very popular in the town.

I don't remember my grandmother on my father's side. She wasn't alive when
I was born. On my mother's side, my grandmother, Vida Baruh, was a very
clever woman. She loved to knit and embroider. There was a wooden bench in
front of their house and she used to sit there, sewing, knitting and
embroidering.

My grandfathers both took part in the Russian-Turkish War for the
liberation of Bulgaria. My father was born at that time.

My best memories are from my hometown. It is still in my heart and many
times my husband and I have been to Vidin, we have traveled with the
steamboat to Lom and Rousse, and back to Sofia. When I was a child, Vidin
had a European look, because of the river and the harbor, and because of
the customs, as well. It was a large frontier town. All foreigners used to
stop there before they began traveling around Bulgaria. It is a lovely
town. Its garden is magnificent. The Baba Vida's towers are also well-
preserved. All the time, they maintain them, so they won't collapse. And
the Jewish synagogue has the sound of an opera; the acoustics are opera-
like.

The Jews in Vidin used to live in Kaleto; it was a famous Jewish quarter.
There was a cinema hall in Kaleto. There were always dances there. There
was only one synagogue, but there was a Jewish community with
administrative officials and a chairman of the consistory. I remember they
did circumcisions on the boys as well as celebrations of the 13th year - a
very special birthday party in the temple in the presence of almost the
whole community. And it was very beautiful. They put the tallit on them and
they gave them the Ten Commandments to carry around the temple.

There wasn't any anti-Semitism in Vidin, even in deportation times; we felt
no difference at all in the attitude. The military band used to pass
through the town and we ran after it. And in the center, there was a
monument for the soldiers who perished in the war. The band was escorted to
that monument, both by the children and the adults. I remember it very
clearly, yet I don't remember any patriotic songs.

Friday was the market day and all the people from the villages around Vidin
came to sell their products. My mother used to buy large baskets with
cherries, apples, etc. I remember very well the cherries because after she
had given the basket back to the man who was helping her, she would spread
a rag in a very cool room. Then she would raise part of the carpet and
spread the cherries over that rag, so that they wouldn't rot.

My father, Mosko Aladjem, wasn't strict. He was a very good man. He has
never hit me; neither my brothers nor sisters ever were punished. He wasn't
very religious. He kept the official holidays from time to time. He visited
the synagogue and used to wear a silk tallit, a very sheer one.

My father was a radical in his political affiliations. He traveled to Sofia
quite often and here, in Sofia, a minister named Kostourkov met him.
Recently I was at a neighbor's place. I saw the minister's portrait there
and I was introduced to his daughter. This happened after all these years.

My father was elected deputy mayor of the town, and for several years he
was in that position. I remember that when they wanted to oust him, they
broke all the windows of our house and my father left a notice: "Please, my
children would get ill. I want my windows repaired." And in two days a
workman came and fixed the windows without a single coin paid by my
parents. My mother covered the windows with rags and quilts because it was
winter and we were very young.

My mother, Buka Aladjem, spoke Ladino. She used to speak in Ladino to us,
but we always answered in Bulgarian. My father didn't allow us to speak
Ladino at home. He was a politician and wanted his children to keep abreast
of the times. I have no memory of my parents talking about where they have
come from. I know that at those times his education was of average level.
He was a certified public accountant. I don't know what it means but I know
they asked him very often to the court for consultations.

My father spoke Hebrew, and so did my grandfathers and my mother. They all
graduated from the Jewish school. My parents met in a very interesting way.
He liked her. She had been very beautiful girl, and a friend of theirs
would advise him not to fish for that girl because they wouldn't let her
marry him. But he popped the question. She must have liked him. Until the
end of her life she was very neat and elegant. She sewed. She often said
humorously that she didn't need an education, because she knew the
centimeter well. And from the oldest dress she would make me the most
beautiful one. They always bought me patent leather shoes, because I
couldn't use the ones that had belonged to my elder sisters.

In my father's house, we didn't have water pump, and we took water from a
neighboring house. When my father became deputy mayor, they placed a pump
and an electric lamp in front of our house. The day after he was overthrown
from the town council, they removed the pump. The fact that a Jew had
become a deputy mayor was a great success.

Our house was a very old, small house, although it had four rooms. It
wasn't made of brick, but built of adobe. We had a really very nice yard
where my siblings and I actually spent our childhood. My mother was a
housewife, and she had never worked in her life. She was the one who took
of the cooking, shopping, cleaning and any kind of domestic work. We didn't
have any servants.

My grandparents and my parents associated with the town's elite. My father
kept company with Bulgarians. He met with them often. We lived in a Turkish
neighborhood. Next to us lived the director of a bank in Vidin. He had two
children I used to play with. His wife had trained in the food-processing
industry in Germany. They were very intelligent people.

My parents always got together with their relatives. Men used to visit each
other during the holidays. And the women with their handiwork - my mother
would take her knitting and go, for example, to one of my father's sisters.

My father was an administrative secretary of the Jewish community. We kept
all the Jewish holidays. Special cooking was done for each holiday; the
proper kind of sweetmeats was prepared. We weren't very rich, but we had
enough.

We observed Shabbat very strictly, and every Friday evening we went to the
synagogue. My mother was a hazan's daughter; she was strongly religious and
she particularly insisted on that. My father was a worldly person, but in
spite of his modern views, he regularly attended the synagogue on Friday.

We absolutely kept the Friday meal. We ate vegetable soup and meat-filled
peppers. At Pesach, we had boios. On the first night, we used to gather at
my grandfather's, the hazan, and sing very beautiful and inspiring songs.
We made Kiddush at home, although my father didn't drink alcohol at all.

We celebrated the new year. As she was a rabbi's daughter, my mother used
to keep holidays such as Yom Kippur and she insisted on her family keeping
them, too. We were supposed to fast on that holiday as long as we could,
even if it was for several hours only. Even now, not for the whole day, for
several hours only, I still keep it. The bar mitzvah of my eldest brother
was like a wedding, but they didn't do one for Asher. He used to say that
he hadn't celebrated that day, therefore he couldn't grow up. That was his
usual excuse when he got a poor mark at school.

All my brothers and my sisters attended the Jewish school until the fourth
class. At the age of 12, they sent my brother Alfred to Germany to an art
school. After graduating, he continued with the academy. He had a
girlfriend who was a musician. His voice was a beautiful tenor. She
strongly insisted, so he graduated from the conservatory as well.
Unfortunately, at those times a Jew could not perform at the opera. He
didn't have the right. My brother often had concerts here and there, yet he
never became a real opera artist.

My brother Asher graduated from a high school in the evening class. My
sister graduated from an economics school. She worked for the government,
as did my brother. He was chief of personnel in the geological research
department.

I attended the Bulgarian school "Naicho Tsanov." My teacher was Zora Neeva.
She was one of the best teachers; she was a radical, with the same
political affiliations as my father, and they were friends. She was a
spinster; she never married. She taught general subjects. There weren't any
anti-Semitic acts from teachers or students. I've never taken private
lessons; my father was cultured enough to help his children. I graduated
from a Bulgarian school. It was quite common in the past to study first at
a Jewish school, and after that, the secondary and the higher education in
Bulgarian schools. I personally haven't studied Hebrew or religion, but my
siblings have. My parents didn't teach me anything special in the religious
sense.

It wasn't easy during the Holocaust; it was almost devastating. First of
all, we didn't have the material base to provide our living without being
permitted to work. My brothers were in the forced labor camps. I was only
19 and my sister was 21, and we had to work. A friend of my father, Atanas
Minkov, a famous lawyer in Vidin, found us jobs. It was very hard physical
labor in a brickyard. The director respected us, helped us. There was quite
a distance between Vidin and the brickyard. He would pass in a cabriolet,
pick us up on his route and drop us right before the brickyard so that they
wouldn't see him and blame him for supporting Jews. I will never forget
him. His name was Zdravkov.

We weren't allowed to go out in the street. We had a curfew. At that time
we lived on Timok Street, and our landlord was a military officer. I can
hardly explain how big his heart was and how good he was. He helped us in
every way. We couldn't buy bread, because as soon as we went out during the
hours permitted, there was no longer any bread. He supplied us with bread.
And when they were about to intern us from Vidin, my mother made for each
one of her children a small dowry. In those times, you were supposed to put
something aside for the time of your marriage. She arranged all these
things in a chest, listed them and left everything with that Bulgarian
officer, along with her jewels. Later on, he became a minister
plenipotentiary in Czechoslovakia or in Poland. He was a very intelligent
man. He had studied in Turkey. His name was Vladimir Panov. He did us a
really very big favor. Bulgarians weren't bad people, not at all.

My father was moved from Vidin to work in the Sofia municipality. In the
years of the Holocaust, we were sent to Pleven first. But that lawyer,
Minkov, came from Vidin to Sofia. My mother told him that they were
interning us in Pleven and he came here, in the Jewish commissariat and
arranged for us to go back to Vidin. It was because my father was a famous
person and he had a lot of friends who helped my mother and us survive,
otherwise we couldn't have made it. The internment - I think it lasted for
2 years - ended when the war was over.

During the internment, I came to Sofia wearing a badge. My colleagues from
the "Rila" factory invited me to come to a celebration and they paid my
travel expenses. I didn't have any money. I was allowed to come for one
evening to Sofia and return within 24 hours. A colleague invited me to
sleep at her place. I objected that her husband was a cop. In the end, in
spite of the fact that he was a cop, he walked me to the station next
evening. He bought me a ticket and entrusted me to a man he knew and I
traveled in safety.

When we came home after the end of the war, we didn't find anything - not a
single spoon, not a single fork. We didn't have a knife. My brother found
one. Some very poor people had moved into the house we used to live in.
They had cut even the wardrobes to use as firewood in the stove. Those were
three most beautiful wardrobes; they were made of walnut. I used to look at
my reflection in the doors of the wardrobes when I passed by. Everything
was ruined, the whole house. People thought that we wouldn't return and let
such poor people in our house. We couldn't go back, and my brother found us
another house.

When I returned to work after internment, it was as though someone from
high society had entered the factory. Almost the whole weaving workshop
came out to greet me. It was like a celebration. I felt almost like a
queen. During the internment, my colleagues supported me all the time in
every possible way, by constantly sending me parcels, money.

Since the end of the war, I worked as a weaver. I never had any problems
because I am a Jew. I have always been well accepted both by the Bulgarians
and the Jews at work, the Bulgarian silk factory. After the war, I returned
to the same work in production, only not in the weaving shop but in the
dyer's department.

We stayed in Bulgaria because my mother didn't want to leave my father's
grave. My elder sister and my brother left. Meanwhile, I married a
Bulgarian, Anani Rizov. We first met in a very odd way. There was a tram in
Poduene, a quarter in Sofia. One was coming up the hill, and the other was
coming down. There on the crossroad we met - my husband waved his hand from
his tram. When I came back from deportation, he had become a chief of a
department in the factory. We married on January 18, 1946, and we have
lived together for 52 years. I had a very good life and a happy marriage.
We helped our children study and buy houses. They both have apartments. We
also bought a house.

My father-in-law was an old communist from 1923. His views were more
modern. But my mother-in-law wanted me to convert to Christianity. He
jumped to his feet from the chair and told her not to interfere in our
private family matters. We never spoke again of converting to Christianity.

We were all members of the Bulgarian Socialist Party; at that time, of the
Bulgarian Communist Party. We didn't share our fathers' political
affiliations. We had our own beliefs. I am still a member of the party.

We didn't keep the Jewish traditions at our home. We celebrated Christmas
and Easter, the Bulgarian holidays. Now, at 80, I bought a cookbook with
Jewish recipes. It is now that I showed such interest. Once my husband got
ill with a very high temperature, and I didn't know even how to prepare
soup for him. I had no idea at all, because I went to work and I wasn't
interested in the household tasks. So I asked my elder sister to come and
cook something for him because I couldn't leave him hungry at home. She
came and she forced me to do it myself, while she stood next to me. Since
then, I have learned to cook.

My daughter, Sonia Doneva, was born on October 13, 1946. She graduated from
the Machine and Electrotechnical University, textile engineering - her
father's profession. She is interested in any information concerning Jewry;
she has Jewish friends and constantly keeps in touch with them. My son,
Georgi Rizov, is less involved in these things. He was born on November 8,
1955. He is a military doctor and doesn't have relationships with Jews to
such a great extent. He does with the relatives - with my nephews, my
sister's children.

I have been a member of "Shalom" organization for many years, but since the
Jewish organization began. I attend the "Health" club together with elderly
Jewish women. I also participate in the "Elderly" club. My circle of
friends is not only Jewish. I have friends here in the neighborhood. We sit
on a bench every afternoon, we share things and we are inseparable.

I visited Israel twice before 1989, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The
first time was in1958. There was a war. It was very frightening. The
second trip to Israel was in 1988. My nephew paid for my ticket. I
resembled his mother, and he wanted to see me. He had emigrated when he was
very young and we didn't keep in touch. My brother and my sister also got
tickets. I was there for 3 months.

It was good that the Berlin Wall fell. It was good that roads were open so
that people could travel and live a different life - not only in Bulgaria.
People have the opportunity to study abroad, to move, to change their
lives.

Democracy did not bring very many good turns. My son-in-law, for example -
Sonia's husband -has been unemployed for four years, and he is a man with
two higher education specialties. He has graduated in "internal-combustion
engines" and from the Economics University in Moscow, but he couldn't use
his education. This fills me with indignation - that there are so many
unemployed people. It is true that we have lived in a more modest manner,
with very small salaries, yet we were able to see our children through
their studies and to build a home. We had small salaries to live on;
probably life was cheaper. Now life is very expensive and, with that poor
pension I have, I couldn't make it if it were not for my children. They are
not obliged to help me.

I don't see any difference between the Jews before and after the war. They
have always supported each other. This exists initially in the commitments
of Moses to help each other, both materially and spiritually.