The Kalef Family
My grandmother, Matilda Kalef, was the pillar of our family. She was widowed when she was 25 with three children, then two died and only one remained — my father, Avram. He became ill with diabetes and muscular atrophy, which confined him to a wheelchair. Grandmother worked from morning until night, in the house, at our stores, and took care of Father, too.
Grandmother’s brother, Jakov (center), in front of the family store on Terazije Street. He was a central figure in the Jewish community. He and Grandmother were partners in this store, but later she had three stores of her own, two of which she had to sell to pay my father’s medical bills. All our employees ate and lived with us, but in separate apartments. Grandmother cooked for everyone.
My mother was born a Catholic in Slovenia. She met Dad in Belgrade. She didn’t care that he was confined to a wheelchair. He didn’t care that she wasn’t Jewish. But she converted, they married, and theirs was an intense, loving relationship. Until the Germans murdered him.
Here I am with my sister Rahela (who became Breda) before the war. We went to a Jewish kindergarten and then to a public school. When we were at home with Mother we always sang together. My sister sang soprano and Mother and I sang alto.
Here we are, my sister and I, with Father Andrej Tumpej, the priest who saved our lives. Breda is third from the right, I am fourth from left. Father Tumpej was made a Righteous Gentile after the war because we asked the Israeli Holocaust Memorial to recognize him for the hero that he was.
Two pictures of my cousin, David Kalef, who lived next door to us on Gospodar Jovanova. On the left, he is in a clown costume for Purim, a Jewish holiday. On the right, he is in his work clothes when he was forced to clean up the streets after the Germans invaded in 1941. David was murdered, so was everyone else in his family. Not one survived.
My wedding picture. I met Onton Cerge during the war in Banovo Brdo. After the war we didn’t keep any Jewish traditions. We never put pressure on our daughter, Edita, to identify herself as a Jew but our granddaughter is quite involved with Jewish life.
My sister, Breda, performing with the Israeli Opera Company in Tel Aviv. In honor of Father Tumpej she kept the name that
he gave her. She became one of the most famous opera singers in Serbia, performing with stars like Placido Domingo. I was always so proud of my sister and her success.
Matila Kalef – Three Promises
The Kalefs were one of the Belgrade’s oldest families, tracing their roots back more than 300 years. Then the Nazis swept into Serbia in 1941…
While scores of relatives were being shot and gassed, Dona Bat Kalef fled with her two daughters, Breda and Matilda, to a Catholic church in Banovo Brdo. “Can you protect us?” she asked the priest. Father Andrej Tumpej did indeed save Dona and her daughters, and this film tells their story.