Throughout my life, there were 15 different addresses where I lived, most of them before the war [WW II, trans. note]. I was always a tenant. I always lived in two rooms with my family. Only once we lived in a three room flat and we sublet the third room in order to manage paying the rent. We lived in a basemen apartment, in the attic, in shared flats. Back then, there was an unwritten rule: people used to move out and change tenancy in late April and late October [probably due to the fact that some families went to the countryside during the warm months, ed.n.]. There were “for rent” announcements posted on the streets, on the houses. It wasn’t like nowadays, when we have the adverts. Our landlords would live in a house in the same courtyard or in the same small block-of-flats. In these small blocks, each floor would have only one apartment with two-three rooms. The main condition for the tenants was to pay the rent on time. Usually, if you managed to do that, everything was all right. My parents were extremely correct in this aspect. […] But I must add that the landlords used to raise the rent periodically: a while after moving in, the landlord would ask for a higher rent. If we couldn’t pay the new rent, we had to move out. That’s why we lived in 12 different houses in that period and we moved out 12 times! It’s said that moving out three times produces losses and damages equal to a house fire. […]
The first house I remember – must have been around the year 1920. It had a 40-50 metres long yard with a wooden fence. In the backyard there was an orchard with wax-cherry trees. We were six families renting in that yard, three on the left side and three of the right side – the landlady and five tenant families. Detail: the landlady and Mrs. Victoria were Christians and other four families were Jewish. The Jews were speaking Yiddish; so Mrs. Marinescu, the landlady, learnt Yiddish along with her fellow tenants. Our apartment had two rooms: a bedroom and a so-called living room where all the household activities were taking place. The bedroom had a window, the living room didn’t, so the light was coming in through the door; the door was half wooden and its upper side was glass, so the light could come in. Our kitchen was somewhere on the left side of the courtyard – each family had its kitchen randomly allocated in the yard. The shed was far in the backyard; purchasing and storing firewood was really vital and difficult. The toilet – without running water – was the furthermost in the backyard. Back then it was called “privată” [private]; there were two or three toilets in the yard, if I remember correctly.
I remember the furniture: in the bedroom there were my parents’ bed, two more beds, a wooden wardrobe and a sort of storage box. In the living room there were a table and some chairs, a small buffet and a washstand; the latter was a tripod with a washbowl in the middle and a place to hold a cup. We would use the washstand and the washbowl to wash up, not only in the morning. The living room was the only room where we could afford to make fire and keep warm […].
In front of the house, there was a gas lantern. Every night a man working for the town hall would come to light up the lantern. Every morning, he would come to put it out. That’s how street lighting worked back in those days. The house address was 7 Goleşti Street.
During winters, our main problem was how not to freeze. […] As there was no stove in the bedroom, we would use many blankets to cover ourselves up. We were also worried about the water pomp in the yard, hoping it would not freeze; all the tenants in the yard depended on it. To keep it from freezing, we would wrap it around with straw and blankets. Still it would sometimes freeze; and then we had to break the ice so that the water flow would be unblocked. These memories date back to 1925-26.
I was born in a house on 53 Unității Street, the Jewish quarter in Dudești neighbourhood [Bucharest]. The house was relatively high, solid, made of brick, and contrasting with the surrounding houses. It had an iron fence, a yard and an orchard. Initially, around the time I was born and before our house was partly confiscate, the entrance was covered by a marquee. […]
The first bedroom had a window with wooden shades which could cover the window completely; a big window, and a small one facing the orchard with very beautiful roses. I had my small bed near my parents’ bed, and my sister had a couch to sleep on. Later on we gave up the couch. The house had five rooms and a hall: the first bedroom, the second bedroom, then two small rooms, the kitchen, the bathroom, shower and toilet. We had two exits towards the yard. The second exit was through the kitchen, towards the paved yard. In the yard we used to make the magiun [a special sort of jam], which was then deposited either in the well stocked storage room, or in the cellar.
The kitchen had a small tin boiler. At some point, the boiler broke and became useless. We had a cast iron cooking stove and cupboards and a cooler. Back in the days, the cooler functioned with ice, so we would buy ice for it.
I vaguely remember: the paved yard had two water pumps with hoses attached so we could water the orchard. My mom was doing this work and she really cared about the garden. Besides the roses, we had so many different flowers.
The whitewashed storage room with wooden exterior looked really nice, so we used it as sukkah during the Sukkot celebration [Feast of Tabernacles], to have our feast there. We even organized a wedding in the yard! The house had a metallic staircase which used to be very stable and a sort of attic more like a loft. It was made of bricks as well as the house, and it was suitable for housing someone. But in fact that’s where we kept the books, a lot of them. My dad was passionate about having books and our bookshelves were insufficient, so he would store the books in the attic.
After the cuziștii [supporters of A.C. Cuza extreme right-wing party] beat my grandma to death and destroyed his house, my grandma moved in with us in Bucharest. So initially we were four people in the house, plus Valeria, who was sort of a maid and nanny, brought by my mom from Bucovina. Valeria was no older than 15. She had her own room on another side of the building in the same yard, but she didn’t like it there, so she arranged a bed for herself in the kitchen. She would sleep in this special bed which could be turned into a table. She didn’t like being isolated so she slept in the kitchen, where it was nice to be, especially as it was closer to the jars with goodies in the kitchen cellar. Later she had a boyfriend and she would take him to the cellar. But of course, she had to go back to Bucovina in 1941, when the Jews were forbidden to have maids. It was difficult for her to separate from my mom. Valeria was close to my mom, and my mom was a kind soul and had always made her feel at home. She felt really good with us and wept a lot when she had to leave. And then you know the times that followed…
I was born on Olteni Street, in the Jewish neighbourhood of Bucharest, in a house where I lived alone with my parents. When I was two years old, we moved on Rahovei Road, in a house with many Jewish people. I was very young, I hardly have any memories from back then.
We moved in a house on Amfibiilor Street, still in Rahova neighbourhood. My mom was always unhappy with the places we were living in, and that’s why we were always moving out. My dad was never unhappy with the places we were living in. Then we moved on Herescu Năsturel Street; then in the central commercial district, on Șelari Steet, where I went to kindergarten. We had a flat on the highest floor of a house. My dad’s tailor workshop was there as well. The workshop was called “Manole and Ionas”: Manole was my dad; Ionas was his associate, his best childhood friend.
I attended the first grade at the Catholic School, and the next grades at Voința School – which was a Jewish school. Then we moved in Moșilor neighbourhood, on Silvestru Street. We stayed at my godmother’s, and it was really bad as my mom didn’t get along well with her. Next we moved on Dragoș Vodă Street, then on Episcop Radu Street, then on Ștefan Mihăileanu Street, near Lumina [the Light] High-School, the Jewish High-School.
*This text was published in G.A.P. 14 and represents the point of departure for the theatre play Uncertain Home – A Subjective History of Housing, a project by Vârsta4 collective, directed by David Schwartz, 2016.