My grandmother, Chana, was born in 1924 in a Czechoslovakian village called Strobochova. She became “Bobby” when I was born, and she became a grandmother for the first time. Bobby’s parents were Chaya and Moshe Klein and they had seven children. Bobby was their 5th child. She had 4 brothers and 2 sisters. They were a hard-working, middle-class family. They raised chickens, ducks and cows, and owned several fields where they grew corn and potatoes. They sold eggs, milk and vegetables at the market in the warmer months, and when it was too cold for the harvest, Moshe supplemented the family income by selling wood. As a young girl, Bobby’s chores were feeding chickens and milking cows. But what she really loved was to bake. She and her mother would spend hours together baking challah, rugelach, and all types of cookies and cakes. Her love of baking would be renewed years after the war, when she would land a full-time job working at a bakery, in of all places, Cleveland, Ohio.
When Bobby was 14, her father got very sick. Bobby had just finished 8th grade but she had to quit school so she could stay home to help her mom care for her younger brother, Joe, and younger sister Pessele. Her older sister, Miriam, had to stay home as well to help. Her three older brothers – Herschel, Andor and Zoli – had been drafted into the Army, and so they were not around. Bobby would later find herself helping with the family business too.
Bobby’s family was part of small community of orthodox Jewish families living in their modest Czechoslovakian village. Even though Jews were the minority, the village was integrated with Jews and Christians alike. Jewish children were required to go to public school until high school, Jewish families could practice their faith openly, and Jewish business owners had the same opportunities as anyone else. That is until 1939, when life for the Jews of Strobochova would be changed forever.
In 1939, Germans began their occupation of Czechoslovakia and antisemitism became rampant. Jews were now required to wear the Yellow Star of David on their clothes, making them easy targets for incessant harassment and beratement. They were no longer allowed to ride buses and trains, their children were forbidden from attending public schools, and Jewish business owners were relegated to doing business only with other Jews.
Moshe Klein was no longer able to sell his produce at the farmer’s market. Even worse, the workers hired to work in the family’s fields quit because they refused to work for a Jew. He had no choice but to shut down his business. The family was struggling to make ends meet. All Jewish businesses were struggling. Kosher slaughterhouses were also shut down, and Jews had nowhere to buy Kosher meat. Moshe was a smart businessman. He hired a trained slaughterer and began selling Kosher chicken and beef to other Jewish families.