Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

David Kahan - August 14, 1995

Pre-war Life

Could you tell me your name please and where you're from?

My name is David Kahan and I was born in a little town called Gheorgheni in Romanian and in Hungarian it's called Gyergyo Sent Miklós.

What part of Romania?

This uh, was in Transylvania.

Um, tell me a little bit about life um, Jewish life in uh, in your town before the war.

I will try. It was a fairly small town. I believe the population was about 15,000 souls and uh, I think we had about uh, around 200 Jewish families, perhaps uh, a thousand souls altogether. Uh, life was not too bad compared to some of the anti-Semitic uh, happenings that happened in, that happened in Poland or Russia and the Ukraine. Uh, the largest number of people who lived in Transylvania were Hungarians and since they were occupied by Romania, they were a minority. Uh, the population was maybe eighty, eighty-five percent Hungarian, maybe ten percent Romanian and maybe a few percent Jewish. So uh, I didn't suffer too much from anti-Semitism. There were bigots, kids at school who used to beat you up, you are Jewish or they used to pull my payes, which I had. But uh, we had a, my father was a, a Hebrew teacher and we were rather poor, six children and life was quiet, poor, I didn't know any better. I would say fairly happy.

What was your father, your parents' names?

My father's name was Moshe-Chayem uh, and Hakohen. He came to my hometown from Sighet, where there was a large family of the Kahans. As a matter of fact uh, I asked Elie Wiesel once if he knew my family and he said that he lived next door to my grandfather in Sighet. My father was from Sighet and uh, he had a large family. As, as far as I know, none of them survived. My mother came from Kosice, Czechoslovakia and uh...

What was her name?


What was her name?

Oh, her name was Raizel-Toba, in Yiddish, Rose is what we called her.

It, it sounds like your family was fairly Orthodox.

Yes, yes, my, my father was, my family was Orthodox. My father had a beard and used to uh, wear a hat all the time and uh, always a yarmulke and I would say almost like Hasidic clothes, you know long black robe and things like that, yes.

Um, the, the Jewish population in, in uh, Gheorgheni?

Gheorgheni, yes.

Um, was it all Hasidic or all Orthodox?

No. Yes, we only had one synagogue and the synagogue was Orthodox and I believe that was um, in general in Romania particularly in the small towns. The larger towns, some of them were like Tirgu Mures. Uh, they had already had a full congregation. The wealthier uh, class of the Jews were slowly trying to assimilate a little bit and they didn't quite go along with the Orthodox uh, way of uh, praying. So in, so in Tirgu Mures there was a Reform Synagogue, but in our town it was only Orthodox. Uh, there were perhaps, let me see now, I, I don't think there were a dozen Jews, maybe six or seven who had beards like my father. The, the rabbi, the shochet, you know the ritual slaughterer and he was also the cantor and maybe two or three others. I would say that a half a dozen actually dressed like Orthodox. The rest of them were um, more modern, the business people were more modern, but uh, and then we had of course uh, some of them who perhaps didn't believe an awful lot. But uh, we only had one synagogue and, and more or less it was an Orthodox community.

What, what would you have done as a child? Um, did you go to public school or did you go to...

Yes. As a child, well um, my father being a Hebrew teacher I recall that I was three years old when he already taught me to the Alef Bet, the Hebrew alphabet. Uh, I went to public school, Romanian public school, when I was six years old until I was fourteen. That was a required law to go school...

What would a day have been like in your life as a ten-year-old?

As a ten-year-old, hmm, interesting. I have to go back a long time, since I am sixty-six now. Mm, I do remember the daily struggle even so. We didn't know any better. I remember that my father wasn't making enough money, my mother always had to handel, they say in Yiddish handel. Uh, to help out to survive she was, was, she was uh, had a good business head. I recall one time she was importing, she knew someone who lived in Hungary and that was an area where they had a lot uh, uh, of geese? No, the bigger one. The small one. Yeah, geese. Geese. So she imported geese from there. We sold it to the rich, rich Jews in town. They, they loved their goo...goose livers. I, I remember I used to deliver that to them. She was always doing something on the side. She went to Budapest and bought sewing materials and uh, then she came back and sold it to the peasants in our area. So I remember my mother was always busy, always trying to see that the kids are fed. It was a struggle. Uh, so basically I used to go to public school in the morning. I remember unfortunately my clothes were hand-me-downs, they were, they were uh, I've forgotten English  patches. Patches. They were patched a lot. Uh, I had, I had shoes when I went to school and then when I came from school I had to take off my shoes to preserve it. Then uh, after I had some lunch I went to cheder and I spent there 'til about five o'clock. And then I came home, played with my boys. Uh, when I was ten years old in the summertime I got a part-time job in one of the sawmills. Our city's whole industry was sawmills. And I was working there some light work to, to help my parents survive. It was, it was difficult.

Were you a soccer player?

Unfortunately I never had a chance to play. I played with some of my neighborhood's boys and we made a--our ball was made from rags. We couldn't afford a, a real soccer ball, so I never--I went to a few, as I got older, I went to a few soccer matches. That was the main sport.

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