Adela Klein

Q: What’s your name?
A: My name is Adela Klein

Q: And where were you born?
A: In Budapest

Q: Did you grow up with your family there?
A: Yes

Q: Who was in your family? Who did you live with?
A: My parents, and we were 8 siblings.

Q: Did you grow up in a Jewish community?
A: Yes, sort of.

Q: Did you go to a Jewish school?
A: Partly, Jewish schools after a while were closed and we had to continue with schooling, so we were sent to public school.

Q: What kinds of activities did you do before the war?
A: It was not too much activities because anti-Semitism was all over, and our doing was very limited.

Q: Even when you were very young?
A: Even if we wanted it, it was very limited, they did not accept Jewish people in public places, so if you did something, they accused you that you were anti-German, so you better be quiet and unseen. And we lived, we tried to live to on Irish papers, but then it got really dangerous. Then we became Jews, we went to the ghetto, and before the ghetto we got the schutz passes. But it was very interesting; we never heard that name Wallenberg there publicly. Because he probably didn’t want his name to be used publicly. But we knew somebody very important was behind it, and he saved a lot of people because that schutz pass gave you courage to run. You felt you had something that would protect you. How much did it protected you, well… But we survived. And I think we owe that to the schutz pass, we owe that to Wallenberg, definitely.

Q: Do you know how you got a Schutz pass?
A: Well I’ll tell you, those people, Wallenberg’s people were dressed in German uniforms, and they’d ride their cars in the streets. And just as they saw a Jewish person that was really in need, they just gave it to them, from the car. But they were actually dressed as Germans, we knew, even Jewish people were with them; they all were dressed in German.

Q: Do you know if there were also Gentiles working with them?
A: Probably, but a lot of Jewish people were there, extra gentiles helped him out.

My schutz pass was given by a lawyer who we knew before the war, not personally but we knew he was Jewish, he was working with Wallenberg; he had a lot of people working with him on the underground. In the ghetto, the ghetto is again the same thing, whatever he could do he did. But the ghetto was a terrible, terrible place. People died, and people were 30, 40 in a room. The dead in one corner, the living in the other corner. They barely had time to remove the dead. Luckily it happened in the winter, and the bodies were frozen. But when spring came most bodies they tried to remove, but of course that was after liberation, otherwise it would be a terrible epidemic. And we went away from Budapest as soon as possible, it was very unsafe, health wise to be there. Because an epidemic could break out any time. You could see dead people mountains high. Mixed: Jewish, Russian, German. It took months and months to bury those people. It was something you never ever forget. Luckily, we were all saved. We left Hungary very early in the war and came to America.

Q: Was the Schutz pass an individual one for you, or did your entire family have one?
A: No, they just gave us Schutz passes without names, because he didn’t know any names. He just saw you in the car, riding, would see that you are in need of it, and he gave it to you.

Q: And you said that in the beginning you didn’t even hear Wallenberg’s name?
A: He kept a very low profile, because they were afraid that they would catch him and kill him. Whatever he did, he did it quietly, without a name.

Q: Did you ever see him later?
A: No, no, but I know that he was working on a project to take young children to Switzerland. It was also his undertaking. And a lot of people went on that train to Switzerland. We did not go; it was too complicated for a large family to be separated, we wanted to stay together. Which was not right, we should have gone. But luckily we survived. Which was really very, very rare, that a family should stay and survive together.

Q: Did you hear about the safe houses that he made?
A: Yeah. I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard of them, sure. The Swedish houses, yeah. It was not as bad as in the ghetto. They weren’t as crowded, and they had more food. But it was very hard to get into those houses, because they were limited in the amount of people. Most people ended up in the ghettos.

Q: Do you know how Wallenberg got food and clothes to give to people?
A: No idea how he got it. I read about him, and I know about him and he was a remarkable person. And we all owe our life to him. And for us, he was holy.

Q: If he was in the room right now and you got a chance to talk to him, what would you ask?
A: I thank him that he saved my family.

Q: And what would he want to say to you?
A: I think he would be happy that he did it. He would not regret it. He was really a remarkable person. We all owe him a lot. His memory should be holy forever.

Q: What happened to you and your family afterwards?
A: After we were in Austria for a while, we got a visa to go to America. We arrived in America in 1951. We were in Austria for four years waiting for the visas to come to America. Austria was not so bad, because we were under the Americans. The Americans provided everything and they saw that we should come to America. Coming over was very primitive, in these little war boats, but we made it.

Q: And your whole family came?
A: Yeah. My parents were there and one of my brothers. But we came out as a whole family.

Q: How did what happened to you during the war affect your relationship with your religion, or your family’s relationship with your religion?
A: We more or less kept the religion. Not to the extreme, but it was possible, with food and everything. We tried to eat kosher, but… it was not 100% kosher. We tried to avoid things that were not forbidden. But it was not so bad, Austria was not so bad. But in America, we started again from the beginning.

Q: Do you talk to your children or grandchildren about Wallenberg?
A: Yes, they want to know. They insist that they interview me. And I have to tell them the tales of how I survived and how I was hiding because the street was full with Germans and I wanted to survive.

Q: And you tell them about what Wallenberg did?
A: Yes, sure. They know about it, from school. The new generation is very interested in it. They know that there’s not too much time for us. They want to continue. My children, I share with them everything. The grandchildren are not interested; they came to me to be interviewed.

Q: Are there any other specific stories?
A: I’m not strong enough to repeat it. You have to be in a certain mood. Today I’m not.


Interview: Aliza Klapholz, Daniela Bajar, Adam Esrig
Transcription: Sharone Tobias