Maria was one of four children born to poor Gypsy parents in the capital of Moldavia in eastern Romania. The family lived in a mixed neighborhood that included Romanians and Gypsies. Maria grew up in a house with a yard where the family kept a pig and some chickens. Her father made a living by singing and by working at some of the many wineries that dotted the Moldavian countryside.
1933-39: My parents couldn't afford to send me to school. To help make ends meet, my sister, older brother and I helped my mother pick grapes for a local winery. The work was seasonal and we were contracted by the week. We worked hard and long, from 5 a.m. until evening.
1940-44: When I was 16, my father was drafted by the Romanians to fight against the Soviet Union. The following year, Iasi's Gypsies were rounded up by the Romanian police and sent eastward by cattle car. When we disembarked in Transnistria, we were marched to a farm and left in open fields to die slowly. That's how my sister died. My husband, Stefan, managed to run away. By coincidence, my father's unit was stationed nearby and on New Year's Eve of 1943 he smuggled some of us back to Romania on a troop train.
Maria survived the rest of the war in Iasi. After the war, she and her husband reunited and resettled in Iasi.
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