Tuesday, April 29, 2014

In the Words of Klara Dobri

A few years ago, one of my Hungarian friends told me that the stories of women were often overlooked, and she asked me to be on the alert. This entry serves as an introduction to Klara Dobri, a courageous and strong woman who cared for six young children while her husband, Janos Dobri, was imprisoned between 1957 and 1963. She managed to support her family by working long hours as a district nurse while additionally caring for ill and aging parents. Due to the terror that crippled social relations in Transylvania, most church members were fearful, and few offered encouragement or support. Here is just a short excerpt from our visit in June, 2003.

Klara Dobri, June 2003

Still in the city of Kolozsvar/Cluj, the dawn of a new day brought the prospect of meeting Klara Dobri, the widow of Janos Dobri known to me by this time for his daring underground exploits. Having met her first in March 2003, I was ready to see her again, though by this time I was aware that it would not be easy for her to retell a painful story.

When we arrived at her door, she welcomed us into her home and waited quietly while the team set up. Her son hovered nearby, concerned, perhaps, that revisiting events of long ago would overtax the stamina of his 85 year old mother. We promised to be aware. Determined to tell the whole story, her voice remained clear and calm and never faltered throughout the interview.

Her first words were, “In our life faith meant a lot. We had a hard life.” With those words, it became clear that we would not hear just her story, but theirs, the story of Klara and Janos Dobri.

*          *          *          *          *

The year 1957 was notable because it marked an intensification of repression in Romania. Though Janos had been interrogated and imprisoned twice after his return in 1948, the evidence presented never established his guilt. In 1957 he was arrested and accused of typing and distributing poems and behaving as a rebel. After the failed 1956 revolution in Hungary, even a semblance of justice disappeared in Romania. Anyone known or suspected of harboring pro-Hungarian sentiments was labeled an enemy of the state. Janos was arrested, sentenced, and sent to a labor camp, part of the Danube Delta system and then later to the Szamosujvar/Gherla prison.

Janos Dobri
With Janos gone, Klara faced the enormous challenge of providing for six children in a nearly impossible situation. They were living in a world where fear ruled. Seminary professors still in their positions didn’t speak to Klara, afraid to be associated with a victim of the system. The seminary provided their lodging; no-one had the heart to throw out a mother and six children, but they provided little else. She fondly recalled the generous encouragement provided by Andras Nagy, by that time retired from the seminary. She also remembered that Istvan Tokes had written a letter on their behalf. However, many of her husband’s former colleagues chose to look the other way when they met her, afraid to risk the attention of the ever-present securitate. During all those years, Klara worked as a district nurse. Because she visited different people at different sites, she had the flexibility to drop in on the children sometime during the day.

Klara described the situation at home. Life was hard for everyone, so we did not have high expectations. There was no time to think. Life must go on. You must give food to the children and you also have to work. Sometimes my brothers and sisters brought food from the countryside. Sometimes a loaf of bread with some fat on it was all we had. 
*          *          *          *          *

When Klara talked about faith she said, “One should trust in the future because, truly, only God can help us in all things. If we trust, he helps us.” When asked whether music and the psalter supported her faith, she smiled and responded, “Even now I have the psalm book beside me. During evening prayers I usually sing a few songs. I have my hymnbook and the Bible beside my bed. Every evening I am engaged with them. Now-a-days I can’t remember all the verses. Sometimes I cannot catch a line and have to look it up. I never used to forget anything, but now, sometimes, I can hardly remember names and . . .. After all, human life ends, and we must acquiesce. But it was without hesitation that she named her favorite, Psalm 25 - Lord to you my soul is lifted. Let me never be ashamed.  I like others too, she added. I used to love singing, but now my voice is gone and I sing only for myself.

As the interview came to an end, Klara asked, “Have you recorded all of this?” When she heard an affirmative reply, she nodded and said, “So this cannot be denied.”

No comments:

Post a Comment