We left for Bucharest with hearts half-alight in hope and half-shadowed in darkness. My relatives gave us some cash for our trip, as we were without any resources. We had the clothes on our backs and one fresh change for each. With nothing to burden us, the trip was made easier. No more layers of clothing on our bodies or swaying carts dangerously overweight with household belongings. We had each other and a profound sense of gratitude. Danger remained with us as our now-constant companion. There was still the risk of air raids in Budapest, and we were advised to clear the city limits as swiftly as we could.

We encountered hundreds of refugees; many could barely walk because of what they had enduredWe walked for hours toward a railroad junction we had been told was our safest choice. On the way we encountered hundreds of refugees; many could barely walk because of what they had endured, yet they were still clinging to bundles of possessions. We understood this feeling. We had experienced it in earlier phases of our journey to survival. We were surprised to see refugees fleeing Budapest in horse-drawn carts and with proper suitcases and crates loaded in the back. Not everyone had suffered the same deprivation in the war, quite obviously. Occasionally we heard the echo of explosions, and I shuddered with the all-too-recent memory of what we had seen and experienced. I had no particular feeling about Bucharest, but I wanted to get out of Budapest.

We finally came to the railroad junction and saw several trains waiting there. We asked other refugees who were milling around if these were cars that would take us toward Bucharest. They all said we were in the right place. They were cattle cars, although this meant nothing to me at this point. I was blind to the irony and meaning of the form of transport we were going to take. I would learn later that these were the cars that had been used to take Jews to slaughter. All I could think of was that I did not have to pretend to be someone I wasn’t, and I no longer had the fear of being asked for papers. We were no longer afraid of deportation, railroad conductors or SS officers. There were no conductors on these cars in any event. And there were no tickets.

We climbed aboard with a group of peasants, a few remaining Gypsies who had not been murdered, and some Hungarian soldiers, along with masses of refugees of assorted nationalities and ethnicities. The clothing worn by the traditional peasants fascinated me. They all dressed in the same style. The men wore jackets with embroidery on their sleeves and lapels. The women were in long dresses, and all wore scarves. They sang songs with lovely melodies constantly, probably to calm their nerves. I picked up the tunes and sang along with them. The car we had boarded had two kinds of “accommodations”—one end of the car had straw on the floor and the other did not; it was standing room only. Mechel, my husband, jokingly referred to them as “first- and second-class” sections. We found room in the straw area and lay down.

I was blind to the irony and meaning of the form of transport we were going to take. I would learn later that these were the cars that had been used to take Jews to slaughterThe ride was uncomfortable in many ways, but there were no complaints from us.

The train stopped for the night just outside a town called Koloshvar, which was in Romania. (Today it is Cluj-Napoca. In my childhood, I’d heard it referred to by its Yiddish name, Kloizenburg, and it was noteworthy in our world because it was the home of the Kloizenburger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusiel Halberstam, a cousin of the Bobover Rebbe.) We got off the train and found a family to take us in for the night. It was a Jewish family, and there was much gaiety in their home. I don’t remember the rest of the family, but the young daughter impressed me. Her name was Gabi and she was pretty and sophisticated.

She was excited because it was the evening of a major wedding in town. The Satmar Rebbe’s daughter was going to be married. Gabi asked me to help her get ready for the wedding. I helped Gabi, and she loaned me a few pretty things as well. It was the first moment of true happiness I had in all those years.

We were invited to the wedding and were delighted to be included. Naturally it brought back thoughts of my own miserable wedding, but it did not detract from my ability to share the joy that filled the air.

The wedding was held in the Rebbe’s backyard on a beautiful night, with a sky filled with stars. There was a fine tablecloth on the table, well-cooked and delicious food, and gifts! And there was not a whisper of fear about gunfire or arrest, or an impending Aktion (the assembly of Jews to ship them to concentration camps). What a beginning to our stay in Bucharest; I happily anticipated good days ahead.

When we returned to the railroad tracks the next day, as we had been instructed by the other travelers, we found a different cattle train waiting there. The passengers were roaming around in the fields, some congregating in groups talking to one another, others just too weak to continue the trip.

We boarded. The cattle cars swayed precariously from side to side. We rode on for another 300 miles to Bucharest, crossing the Carpathian Mountains on the way.

At some point toward the end of our journey I met a young man called David Horn. He was from Upper Silesia near Katowice. He made a most favorable impression on me, and I thought about the wedding we’d just attended and how Gabi would make a fine bride, and he, a fine bridegroom. I contacted her parents once we were in Bucharest, and sure enough, I made a shidduch (match). I’ve made others since, but this one was very special for me because it affirmed that I was alive, and it restored to me my own womanhood.

I looked out at Bucharest with the eyes of a person beginning a new life, not as a terrified Jew waiting to be caught in the Nazi netThe train slowly entered the center of Bucharest. I was startled because I liked what I saw, and of course my eyes saw things differently now. I looked out at Bucharest with the eyes of a person beginning a new life, not as a terrified Jew waiting to be caught in the Nazi net. The city did not appear to have been bombed. Bucharest had been liberated about six months before Budapest, so conditions were far more settled. As we left the train, we saw it was market day. All around the central square, we observed the peasant farmers selling corn flour, a staple in Romania, and huge chunks of sheep cheese.

I shared with Mechel my first impressions of Bucharest. Mechel was chilled by my remarks, for he knew what I did not: that its recent history was one of horror and death. More than 760,000 Jews had lived in Greater Romania before the war. Romania joined the Nazi alliance in late 1940. Jews by the thousands had been immediately mobilized for slave labor. Romania was a fascist dictatorship run by local Nazis who were supported by the Germans. By 1941 there were 330,000 German troops, Wehrmacht Army divisions, inside the country. The Romanian fascist movement and its police enforcers started the seizure of Jewish homes and businesses as early as the winter of 1940–1941.

In June 1941 Romania fought, along with Germany, to invade the Soviet Union. In return, Romania regained territory it had lost to the Soviets and a bit of the Ukraine known as Transnistria. The Romanians deported 150,000 Jews into this zone, and by the time they were forced to relinquish it, 90,000 of them were dead.

To be continued . . .