Pruchno (Schwarz), Judith
Judith Pruchno was born in Sibiu, Romania, situated in the middle of the mountains between Hungary and Romania. Because of the location, her father attended Hungarian schools and her mother went to German schools.
Judith was born in 1935 to a well-to-do family. Her father was learned, religious and self-made and they lived in a very large house (the dining room table seated over two dozen people) with her grandparents and an uncle. Her grandfather was William Adler and her grandmother was Ida, who died when Judith was very young. Her grandfather then remarried a much younger woman, Rosa, whom her mother detested and, on occasion, refused to eat with the family when Rosa was present.
Judith and her siblings, one sister and two brothers, always had nannies to take care of their every need.
The family had a staff of servants including, not only the nannies, but cooks and laundresses as well.
Eventually her uncle, Emanuel, brought his wife, Mebi, and their children, Leah, Edith and Judas to live with them. Although they lived a very comfortable life, Judith’s mother remained a modest woman who was multi-lingual and had many Gentile friends.
Her mother also had a brother, Benjamin who was married to Libby. Their child, Eda now lives in Paris.
Another uncle was David Adler who was catatonic. Judith, who knew nothing about him, found him by accident when she worked as a nurse practitioner at the hospital where he was a patient.
The Adler family made a match for David, but the marriage lasted only a short time.
Her paternal grandparents were Francis Mantel and his wife Chava. He was a land owner and her father was sent to the yeshiva at the age of three. Her great-grandparents were the Schechters.
Mr. Mantel went to the synagogue every morning in a horse and carriage. Their city was beautiful and very cultural with a popular museum and symphony orchestra and, although the Jewish population was only about ten per cent of the general population, they supported these cultural endeavors.
Her two maternal uncles were not business minded and her grandfather was on the lookout for a smart man to marry his daughter and to help him run his businesses, scrap metal and real estate.
Grandfather made a match for his daughter and Judith’s father immediately began to work with his father-in-law.
She overheard her parents talking about Hitler and never was frightened until one night when she was sleeping in a room with her sister and the “Fräulein,” (their Nanny). Two huge Iron Guards shoved their way into their home and pushed her grandfather into their bedroom and beat him in front of them. She remembered that her mother was wearing a beautiful lilac peignoir (dressing gown) and screamed “Don’t touch my children.”
The guards left, taking with them family crystal and silver.
Even at that time, there weren’t any schools for Jewish children. Her older brother went to cheder and her sister and younger brother were home taught by tutors who insisted they learn many languages.
They had a phone, which was rare, and she heard her father talking about Jewish families being hung in the butcher shops and the signs outside that read “Buy Kosher Meat Here.”
The children played in the park. Her mother told her that her posture was poor, so she made her walk with books on her head. The Fräulein made her do difficult exercises and then gave her massages. On her way home from the park, they stopped for sandwiches and then a short visit to the Fräulein’s church.
In 1941, when Judith was six, the Nanny quit because the Germans told her that she must not work for Jews. When she left, she told Judith’s parents “watch over my four leaf clovers.” Judith’s mother couldn’t take the children to the park because there was a curfew for Jews. They didn’t have this problem when they went with their Nanny. At this point, Judith told her parents that she didn’t want to be Jewish any longer.
Her paternal grandmother lived with them. She loved Judith and hated Judith’s mother, who was very cold and uncaring to Judith.
At this point, they were forced out of their home and into a small apartment. Her grandmother said that “Goyim prayed to a naked man on a cross and ate dirty pig meat.” Judith again said she hating being a Jew.
Her father read forbidden books such as Upton Sinclair and Thomas Mann. She was told that she was the first child in their family to be born at home because the Nazi’s wouldn’t permit Jews in the hospitals.
The night she was born, her father was arrested and the OB/GYN was hung in the town plaza.
Her father went to a work camp and they never knew when he’d be home or when they’d be thrown out of the apartment. So, he bought a small cottage on the outskirts of town. Early in the morning her grandparents, aunt, cousins and parents took a streetcar and left for this cottage. It was springtime and they took warm clothing in a suitcase. The cottage was located between a cemetery and the German headquarters. Her Dad said “no one would believe that Jews would have the Chutzpah to live there.”
They lived as personae non gratae. There was very little food, but they always had something because her mother was “incredible” as she stretched ½ pound of hamburger to serve twenty people, by adding so much filler (bread).
They all slept on cots and on the floor and stayed there, playing in the cemetery especially on days when there were funerals. The children would take the flowers off of one tombstone and decorate all the stones.
Her siblings were the only children she ever saw and her grandparents whispered about letting the children escape by being adopted. They all kept their suitcases packed, just in case, and kept chocolate in the lining. Her mother said that if they were starving, only to eat one piece of chocolate at a time. Judith thought this was a fantasy . . . (1943-44).
During this time, her father worked in the city, sometimes being gone for days. The Romanians had given their biscuit factory to the Germans to be used as a crematorium.
One night, he came home and gave her mother five pills, in the event that the Germans would find them. She thought they were poison (cyanide). When her father told her Mother about the pills, Judith said her mother sobbed and became frightened. Later on, her mother said that Judith imagined this.
Fräulein came to visit, mysteriously finding out where they had gone. She washed and bathed them and gave them lots of love. She said she hoped the train she would take home would be bombed because she didn’t want to live in this terrible world any longer.
They were told that the Russians were coming and they fled, back to the city apartment. She remembers the Russians with their black boots and guns. Her grandfather’s factories were taken away, but the Romanians hired her father to keep their books. She was then nine and couldn’t write because there were neither pens nor paper.
The war ended and because her Father was a socialist, he still believed that his way was correct. The Russians were anti-Semites and so the family secretly practiced their Judaism. Judith could then speak German, Polish, Romanian, Russian and English. She didn’t want to learn Hebrew, still being ashamed that she was Jewish.
In 1947, her father said that socialism was utopia and registered for an exit visa, just to get out. However, they didn’t leave until 1962, when she was twenty-four.
Under the Communists, they were brain-washed with no time to think or communicate with others. When she ate lunch with ten people, at least one of them was an informer for the Russians. They talked about America, saying that everyone took drugs and the black people were beaten on the streets and that the American children were taking drugs, given to them by their mothers. They were shown propaganda films.
Her parents said she must marry a Jew, but she still hated the Jews and wanted to marry a Romanian man. She was then fixed up with a Jewish engineer, but, although they were just friends, they decided to marry and got an apartment, just as her exit papers arrived. Ivan, her fiancé, was beaten and told her to leave.
The family left for Vienna, without anything except a small suitcase with underclothes and some preserves her mother made and a jar of something like baba ghanoush. She was wearing the first coat she got when she was engaged and her mother had sewn a fur collar on it. The guards took her father off the train and searched the food, smashing the jars while looking for jewels. They cut off her fur collar.
The people in Vienna greeted them as if they were celebrities. Jewish people there took care of them, giving them food and clothes. Her brother decided to go to Israel and her sister stayed in Europe.
From Vienna, she went to Paris and had a room in the red light district. Her father went to shul where he made lots of friends. Because she was so stressed she became ill and had a hard time getting a U.S. visa.
Her family finally arrived in America and came to Detroit where the Jewish Center gave them a house near 12th Street, which she said was horrible and dangerous.
Judith left for New York where she met and married a medical student, Dr. Eugene Schwartz, had two children, Debbie and Daniel. The doctor diagnosed himself with leukemia and died in his early fifties, after a three and a half year hospital stay. Debbie is married and has eleven children; Daniel, who is a lawyer and a part time cantor, has three children.
Judith’s second husband is artist Sam Pruchno, who has two children, Judith’s “chosen” children. Judith and Sam reside in suburban Detroit.
Interviewer: Donna Sklar
Format: Video recording