Grandma Helen Farkas the Survivor (part 2 of 2)

From left to right: family friend, Duvid Weisz, Erzike (Itzu wife), Grandpa Mickey, Itzu, Grandma Helen, Goldie (Duvid wife), Duvid Farkash, Arie Pelta, Miru Farkash, Shulem Weisz.

Post World War II – Satu Mare (Satmar)

After the War, Grandma Helen heard from her brother Duvid that her brothers Yoel and Aron were killed in Ukraine in the Munkaszolgalat. But no one that they spoke with saw it happen.  The last these brothers were heard from was in 1943. Now that she was living back in Rumania, she moved into her cousin’s house belonging to the Farkas family.  Eventually, she married her second cousin Nicholas (Aharon) Farkas (aka Grandpa Miki), in 1946.

Grandpa Micki, as we called him, owned a water-mill that villagers used to grind grain and he also made slivovitz alcohol brandy from plums in a distillery. In the end, the Communist Romanian government stole it all; they called it “nationalization”. She had to start life over yet again. The Soviets deported the wealthy men Jew and non-Jew alike regardless if he suffered already in a Concentration or Labor Camp. Grandpa was on the list for Soviet deportation. It was called the “Boyars’ List”.  Grandpa paid a huge bribe and was therefore, not deported to Siberia.  The fact that he suffered during the War in the Forced Labor battalions in Siegendorf, Austria meant nothing to the Romanians who were controlled by the Soviets.

In 1950, they moved to Satu Mare (Satmar formally called Satmarnemeti in Hungarian) with two of their children (my mother and her younger brother). The Jewish Community of Turt ceased to exist except in the Summer time when the remaining Jews in the area (mainly in Satmar) would return for the Summer to spend it in Turt. Most of the surviving Jews made Aliyah and the rest went to Satu Mare, where there was a functioning Jewish Community.  Grandpa bought the shares of his cousin’s grandparent’s large home at 40 Vorosmarti Street (today this street has a different name).

They lived in Satu Mare Rumania from 1950-1963. My mother and uncles grew up in Satu Mare. My grandpa “Micki” (Nicholas in English and Nicolae in Romanian) worked for the government as a supervisor of a plum brandy distillery.  On his time off, he would roam the countryside fixing other distilleries and teaching the non-Jewish Romanians how to farm.  He lived a miserable existence most of the year.  Doing this moonlighting was necessary to receive income to support his family.  For example, in the winter time, he would sleep on top of people’s ovens that doubled as a furnace for the home. Prior to WW2 most of this type of work was performed either by Jews or wealthy Hungarians.  Very few Romanians knew how to run a farm as a business.

Grandma and Grandpa survived financially by selling items on the black market such as, plum brandy (slivovitz) and fois gras.  Specifically, Grandma came up with the idea to rent trucks from drivers and made sure to offer rides to police officers on the street to reduce the chances of being stopped by the police who may have (correctly suspected) that she was engaged in smuggling and transporting goods for the black market.  The Communist secret police called “the Securitate” systematically started putting the surviving adult Jews in jail after hearing rumors that some of them had made Aliyah with “American dollars”.  In some cases this information was correct, just not for my grandparents. In fact, once this activity started, Grandpa rid himself of all American dollars.  If dollars were found in one’s possession, the victim could be punished with beatings imprisonment or even death.

Grandpa Micki Tortured by Ethnic Hungarian Agents – The Securitate

In 1957, a local Jew whom Grandpa gave a job to at the distillery in Satu Mare lied to the Securitate when he was arrested.  He said that Grandpa had USA dollars hidden in his possession.  It was clearly a lie and apparently the man felt so guilty that he admitted it to others at work, which is how Grandma found out it was him.

Grandpa was tortured by the Securitate at the Baia Mare jail for six weeks and no charges were ever filed against him. He endured a never ending cycle of water boarding, rubber hose beatings, tortured while being hung from the ceiling with his hands tied behind his back. His eyelids were taped open, in order to ensure sleep deprivation. He did not remember sleeping at all, except for a few hours, for the entire six weeks. The only way Grandma even knew he was alive was because she went to the jail with her children to bring a fresh change of clothing and food.
She would get his old clothing back in return from his jailers.

The Securitate used ethnic Hungarians to torture and interrogate my Grandfather about the whereabouts of the dollars that he did not possess. The Communists purposely used ethnic Hungarians to torture Jews because they knew very well that many of them had killed Jews during the Holocaust, in Romania.  Many stopped working for the Hungarian police and became Securitate agents and Romanian police officers.  Today, Satu Mare still is majority ethnic-Hungarian.

The Securitate agents offered to free Grandpa many times if he would confess and revealed the name of another person whom they could arrest for hiding dollars.  He never gave the names of anybody to his torturers.  The fact was that, he did not know any person who owned dollars.

One day the Securitate recognized that Grandpa Miki indeed had no information for them, and they relized that it was futile beat him anymore.  Around the same time, Grandma Helen lost all hope that her husband would return alive and she became severely depressed. Despite having a relatively large home with a nanny-housekeeper in a Communist country, broke down and wanted to die just as she had in the Nazi German Labor Camp near Riga, Latvia.

That very evening the Securitate came to the house with two ethnic Hungarian agents. They violently shoved the front gate open, just as my mother who was 10 years old was closing it, and then dragged Grandpa into the house and tossed him into a bedroom.

Grandma asked them, “Why do you do this to us after all we have been through? You know what the Germans did to us!”

The agents both said to her, “So, what does it matter if there is one less Jew in the world? Where are you hiding your American dollars?” 

Grandma told them that she did not have any dollars and she even showed them the Romanian lei currency she did have, and she let them fully examine her basement.  The agents refused to take anything, but rather demanded to know where her US dollars were being hidden.  They stated that if she did not reveal the cash to them, then her husband would be taken back to the Baia Mare Prison. She said that she cannot give them what she did not have. They then left the house with Grandpa that same night.

The next morning, surprisingly, Grandpa was returned home from prison by the Securitate.  He was incoherent and did not recognize Grandma.  He kept begging not to be beaten and was crying all the time.  He stayed in bed curled up in the fetal position for days.

Because of this experience, Grandpa “Micki” (Nicholas) experienced PTSD and had to go to rehabilitation therapy for weeks in a sanatorium to rest. He was never the same man again. The rest of his life he suffered a permanent severe kyphosis and walked with a permanent hunchback posture.  He suffered from multiple poorly healed fractures of his spine that were not amenable to surgical repair. In fact, upon arrival in the USA he was hospitalized at Maimonides Hospital in Borough Park. Every Shabbis Grandma would go with her three children to visit Grandpa in the hospital. Ironically, the Rumanian Securitate tortured Grandpa in a worse manner than he was treated by the Munkaszolgalat during the Holocaust!

 

Open Anti-Semitism in Post WW2 Rumania

My mother was an excellent student in school. She had top scores in high school and in school her photo was frequently displayed on the wall for her academic achievement. In 1960, she was expelled from school for a year, with no explanation given. Grandpa tried to pay bribes to get her back into school. In the past, bribes had worked to keep her from writing in school on Shabbis, as the Government made Saturday a mandatory school day.  No bribe could get her back into school, because of a government policy of harassing and expelling the children of any family that were prominent targets for the Communist Romanian Government.

Even my mother’s younger brother Tibi, was abused in school along with all the other Jewish children regardless of a family’s level of religious observance. Even completely assimilated Jewish families were treated this way.

Teachers routinely told the class “All Jewish students stand up!”

Then they were made to stand for the rest of the class lesson. Other times, all Jewish students were sent to the back of the room to stand for the rest of the lesson.  This had the effect of showing the non-Jews that Jews were second-class citizens and deserved to be ridiculed and abused.  When boys in school misbehaved, then only the Jewish boys were harshly punished.  They would take the Jewish boys and humiliate them in front of the whole school by having teachers beat them or shave the hair off of their heads.  The non-Jewish children, who were mischievous, were let off with a light or no punishment at all.

Most of the populace in Satu Mare was ethnic Hungarian, and the ethnic Hungarians were very abusive towards the Jews.  The Hungarians in fact appeared to enjoy abusing Jews.  They would refuse to greet or return the greeting of a Jew on the street.

Hungarian children and high school youth frequently told my mother and her friends that they wanted to play with them but they stated, “our parents do not allow us to play with Jews.”

There were frequent, very violent fist fights on the streets of Satu Mare between Jewish boys, who were being beaten by Hungarian boys.  The Jewish boys often fought back, but often times the police had to be brought in to break up the fights.  Jews, who were open atheists and did not practice Judaism at all, were also subject to the physical attacks.  On one occasion, a group of Jewish boys were attacked and one was hit on the head with a metal pipe, and another was beat with a metal chain by a Hungarian teenage boy. None of the Hungarian youth were ever punished for these attacks on the Jewish boys.  It is fair and accurate to say that the Hungarian anti-Semites in Satu Mare reminded even the unaffiliated Jews, that they were Jewish. This was a frequent occurrence in post Holocaust WW2, Satu Mare.

In Romania all the food they ate was Kosher; however they needed to wait hours in line in order to buy food. In the post World War Two era, they purchased pre-made matzos; they never again had homemade matzos, as they did before the Shoah.

All of these memories are why Grandma Helen refused to visit Romania despite an opportunity to visit in the 1990s.

Grandma stated, “I will never go back at all under any circumstances because of what they did to us and my family and do not discuss this with me again!”

Grandma had written her aunts and uncles in the USA for emigration sponsorship assistance; they all refused to help. They had relatives in Chicago, the Bronx, Long Island New York, Queens, and in Cleveland, Ohio.

Grandpa became socially withdrawn after he was released from detention at the Baia Mare jail. It is very possible that he lost interest in anyone, after returning from jail in Romania.  However, he was relatively close with his first cousins before leaving Romania.  These cousins were named: Dr. Gabor Lazar (https://www.centropa.org/biography/dr-gabor-lazar) , Stefan Lazar, and Anna Diamant.

Finally, in 1963, Grandma Helen and her family received exit passports that included Grandpa. Until then, they were all allowed to leave without Grandpa.  He had applied to leave many times and had never heard back from the government agency. The only way to get out of Romania, at that time, was to apply to leave specifically for “family re-unification” in Israel.

The Long Journey from Romania to the USA

Eventually, in 1963, Grandpa, Grandma and their children were given permission to leave Romania and go to Israel. They left Rumania with the help of the Jewish Agency and the Romanian Government received a cash payment of $3,000 USD in a US government program. The details of this program started under JFK are available now to the public.  This help was initiated by President Kennedy’s Administration, in order to assist the Jews of Romania to emigrate; because they were being persecuted by the Communist Government. Romanian Jews were not allowed to leave with anything of value.

Grandma Helen and her family first arrived in Budapest, Hungary after passing through the Romanian border control by having each of them pass through an x-ray machine, and then went to Vienna Austria, where they were housed by the Jewish Agency for processing to Israel. My mother recalls hearing about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas NY on November 22, 1963, when they were in Vienna.

There was no plan at all to go to the USA. However, Grandma and Grandpa called her brothers Duvid and Zoli in Israel (who survived the Shoah) to let them know that they were leaving soon to Israel from Vienna.

Surprisingly, Duvid and Zoli told my grandparents that,

“If you want your children to be Jewish then go to the USA, because here in Israel the society is anti-religious. None of our children want to practice Judaism.  You should know this, if you care about your children living as Torah observant Jews.  Your sons will have to go to the army (IDF), where they might have to fight and die defending Israel. In addition, the economic situation here is very dire.”

This conversation was very disappointing, powerful, and shocking news to my grandparents. They had not considered going to the USA after my Grandma’s Uncle and Aunts refused to sponsor them.  Grandma missed her brothers whom she had not seen for thirteen years.  She had been the midwife for the births of her nephews and nieces (Duvid’s and Zoli’s children) who were all born in Turt.

They then went to the HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society), and asked to be sponsored to go to the USA. The Jewish Agency told the HIAS to not let our family emigrate to the USA.  There were many verbally heated exchanges between the Jewish Agency representatives and our grandparents.

With nowhere else to turn, my grandparents received advice from other Jewish residents, to approach the Catholic Charities Organization.  They explained to them, that if they would relate over that Grandpa was tortured in Romania, then the Catholic Charities might help them to get them sponsored.  They would be eligible as refugees, since they were persecuted in Romania and they were also forced by Romania to renounce their citizenship.  This law for “refugee-asylum” still exists in the USA today.

Catholic Charities quickly agreed to sponsor my Grandmother and her family to go to the USA as political refugees. My Grandfather then took their sponsorship acceptance documents from the Catholic Charities and presented them to HIAS.  At this point the HIAS made then wait a couple of weeks asking them yet again to reconsider and make Aliyah; then reluctantly agreed to sponsor them to emigrate to the USA.

They were then sent to wait at a facility in Genoa Italy, and were housed in a one bedroom apartment with several other families for four months. During that time they were given classes in the English language and played games such as ping-pong.  Eventually, in 1964 they were taken by airliner to the USA and landed in Idlewild airport in New York (later renamed JFK airport).  They were then settled by HIAS and the Jewish Federation in Borough Park New York, because they wanted to be in a Haredi Orthodox Jewish community.

My grandparents lived in Borough Park from 1964-1980, before moving to Kew Garden Hills in Queens. Grandma Helen was very family oriented – just like her siblings.  Grandpa Miki was much less so unless it involved his immediate family and grandchildren.

Our mother first went to school at Bais Yakov for a year where she was harassed by the Hungarian Jewish girls for being “a greenie”. They refused to socialize with her because she was “not really Hungarian”.  This schism has disappeared today, but in those days and until the 1980s, many Hungarian Jews from Hungary proper looked down on the more religious Hungarian speaking Jews of Romania and Ukraine (former Hungary).  Fact is that this dynamic existed in Hungary before and during WW2, and was the subject of many disputes among Hungarian Jews who considered themselves more educated and modern compared to the less religious ones.  My mother decided not to attend 12th grade and rather went early admissions to Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University.  She eventually graduated with a BA in Chemistry. Interestingly, she was a classmate with my future mother in-law Josie Kaplan from Bethlehem Pennsylvania.

My grandparents frequently went to the Rebbes of Munkatch and Khuszt in Brooklyn for all sorts of personal advice such as when to marry off their two older children, how my Grandma should dress, where to send my Grandparents children to Jewish schools. Grandma’s sons were sent to Kaminetz Yeshiva with her older son going to Yeshiva Torah VaDass Kollel, instead of going to the US Army Vietnam draft.

Grandma Helen wore a wig to cover her hair, as an Orthodox married woman does, following the customs of her mother. This practice was discontinued by her, when she moved to Queens in 1980.   In the home she would usually wear a kerchief head covering.  She stated, many times, that she regretted stopping to cover hear hair.

Grandma Helen’s daughter Eva (my mother), is a retired operating room nurse, living in San Francisco, California. She has three children and fifteen grandchildren. Grandma’s oldest son is a Dentist in New York with two children and two grandchildren. Whereas, her youngest son is a pharmacist, who is single, without any children.

Grandma Helen stated that she wanted to follow in the ways of her parents. For this reason, Grandma Helen and Grandpa Micki verbalized their disappointment that despite giving their children a good Yeshiva education at Beis Yakov, Torah VaDass and Kamenitz; their children are not Torah observant Jews like them. However, Grandma Helen is very pleased that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, from her daughter Eva, are practicing Orthodox Jews.

Grandpa “Miki” (Nicholas) died at home, in Queens New York at the age of 92 (after unsuccessful CPR, by me) in April 2002. Currently, Grandma Helen is 97 years old and lives in a full-time care facility in NY; she should be well and live to 120 years.

Currently, Grandma Helen has five grandchildren, and seventeen great-grandchildren. One grandson (Mordechai Pelta) is a lawyer in San Francisco, with four children. She has a granddaughter (Chana Nelson nee Pelta) in NJ with four children. Another grandchild (Arie Pelta) is a practicing Surgeon currently living in the Haredi community Ramat Beit Shemesh Israel, with his wife (who covers her hair) and their seven children.

Grandma Helen is a hero and a Shoah survivor. Her Jewish legacy continues to grow!

תהילים קכ”ח

שִׁ֗יר הַֽמַּֽ֫עֲל֥וֹת אַ֖שְׁרֵי כָּל יְרֵ֣א ה’ הַֽ֜הֹלֵ֗ךְ בִּדְרָכָֽיו: … אֶשְׁתְּךָ֚ כְּגֶ֥פֶן פֹּֽרִיָּה֘ בְּיַרְכְּתֵ֪י בֵ֫יתֶ֥ךָ בָּ֖נֶיךָ כִּשְׁתִלֵ֣י זֵיתִ֑ים סָ֜בִ֗יב לְשֻׁלְחָנֶֽךָ:… יְבָֽרֶכְךָ֥ ה’ מִצִּ֫יּ֥וֹן וּ֖רְאֵה בְּט֣וּב יְרֽוּשָׁלִָ֑ם כֹּ֜֗ל יְמֵ֣י חַיֶּֽיךָ: וּרְאֵֽה בָנִ֥ים לְבָנֶ֑יךָ שָׁ֜ל֗וֹם עַל יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:

A song of ascents. Praiseworthy is every man who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways… Your wife will be as a fruitful vine in the innermost parts of your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table… May Hashem bless you from Zion, and see the good of Yerushalayem all the days of your life… And may you see children [born] to your children, [and see] peace upon Israel (Tehillim 128).

 

תהילים קד

אֵֽל נְקָמ֥וֹת ה’ אֵ֖ל נְקָמ֣וֹת הוֹפִֽיַע: … כִּ֚י לֹֽא יִטֹּ֣שׁ ה’ עַמּ֑וֹ וְ֜נַֽחֲלָת֗וֹ לֹ֣א יַֽעֲזֹֽב:… וַיְהִ֣י ה’ לִ֣י לְמִשְׂגָּ֑ב וֵֽ֜אלֹקי לְצ֣וּר מַחְסִֽי: וַיָּ֚שֶׁב עֲלֵיהֶ֨ם אֶת אוֹנָ֗ם וּבְרָֽעָתָ֥ם יַצְמִיתֵ֑ם יַ֜צְמִיתֵ֗ם ה’ אֱלֹקינוּ:

G-d of vengeance, O Hashem; G-d show vengeance!… For the Hashem will not forsake His people, nor will He desert His inheritance… But Hashem was my fortress, and my G-d the rock of my refuge. And He returned upon them their violence, and for their evil, may He cut them off; may Hashem our G-d cut them off (Tehillim 94).

נביא יואל ד

כִּ֗י הִנֵּ֛ה בַּיָּמִ֥ים הָהֵ֖מָּה וּבָעֵ֣ת הַהִ֑יא אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָשִׁ֛יב אֶת שְׁב֥וּת יְהוּדָ֖ה וִירֽוּשָׁלִָֽם:… וִֽיהוּדָ֖ה לְעוֹלָ֣ם תֵּשֵׁ֑ב וִירֽוּשָׁלִַ֖ם לְד֥וֹר וָדֽוֹר: וְנִקֵּ֖יתִי דָּמָ֣ם לֹֽא נִקֵּ֑יתִי וַֽה’ שֹׁכֵ֥ן בְּצִיּֽוֹן:

For behold, in those days and in that time when I return the captivity Of Yehuda and Yerushalayem… But Yehuda shall remain forever, and Yerushalayem throughout all generations. Now should I cleanse their blood? I will not cleanse, when the Hashem dwells in Zion (Yoel 4)

תהילים ט: יג

כִּֽי דֹרֵ֣שׁ דָּ֖מִים אוֹתָ֣ם זָכָ֑ר לֹֽא שָׁ֜כַ֗ח צַֽעֲקַ֥ת עֲנָוִֽים.

For He Who avenges blood remembers them; He has not forgotten the cry of the humble (Tehillim 9:13).

תהילים עט

נָֽתְנ֡וּ אֶת נִבְלַ֬ת עֲבָדֶ֗יךָ מַֽ֖אֲכָל לְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם בְּשַׂ֥ר חֲ֜סִידֶ֗יךָ לְחַיְתוֹ אָֽרֶץ: שָֽׁפְכ֬וּ דָמָ֨ם כַּמַּ֗יִם סְבִ֘יב֚וֹת יְרֽוּשָׁלִַ֗ם וְאֵ֣ין קוֹבֵֽר: הָיִ֣ינוּ חֶ֖רְפָּה לִשְׁכֵנֵ֑ינוּ לַ֣עַג וָ֜קֶ֗לֶס לִסְבִֽיבוֹתֵֽינוּ:… שְׁפֹ֥ךְ חֲמָֽתְךָ֗ אֶל הַגּוֹיִם֘ אֲשֶׁ֪ר לֹֽא יְדָ֫ע֥וּךָ וְעַל מַמְלָכ֑וֹת אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּ֜שִׁמְךָ֗ לֹ֣א קָרָֽאוּ:… וַֽאֲנַ֚חְנוּ עַמְּךָ֨ וְצֹ֥אן מַרְעִיתֶךָ֘ נ֚וֹדֶ֥ה לְּךָ֗ לְע֫וֹלָ֥ם לְד֥וֹר וָדֹ֑ר נְ֜סַפֵּ֗ר תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ:

They have given the corpses of Your servants as food to the birds of the heaven, the flesh of Your pious ones to the beasts of the earth. They have spilt their blood like water around Yerushalayem, and no one buries [them]. We were a disgrace to our neighbors, ridicule and derision to those around us… Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that do not know You and upon the kingdoms that did not call out in Your name… But we, Your people and the flock of Your pasture, shall thank You forever; to all generations we shall recite Your praise (Tehillim 79).

About the Author
Arie E. Pelta, M.D., a Board Certified General and Colorectal Surgeon from the USA , made aliyah with his wife and 7 children in 2013. He is also a active Medical Corps Officer holding the rank of Captain in the IDF Reserves. Currently practicing in Laniado Hospital in Netanya; speciaizing in the surgical care of all problems of the colon, rectum and anus.
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