Birthdate: June 20, 1929
Birthplace: Cluj, Romania (previously Transylvania)
Religious Identity: Jewish (not religious)
“Auschwitz… when we arrived you could see fires coming out from the chimneys, huge fires, and this tremendous smell. I heard about it from my school, that this is the matter of killing the Jews.”
Edith Balas was born in a town called Cluj. She recalls it as a civilized place, where she had a wonderful childhood. That all changed when she was 14 years old. The Nazis invaded her town in March of 1944. The family of three was taken to a crude work camp that was in a brick factory. They were then transported to Auschwitz, where they were greeted by another inmate who instructed Edith’s father to lie about her age and by doing so it saved her life. While in Auschwitz she was able to stay with her mother, her aunt, and her cousin Eva. They were then transferred to a camp called Underlooss, where their days consisted of heavy labor; Edith fell ill several times but recovered. One day they awoke to no one in the camp, but the next thing they knew German civilians from the nearby town came and escorted them to Bergen Belsen, which Edith recalls as the most horrible place on Earth. They were liberated a few days later by the British, but were kept in quarantine after liberation due to rampant disease in the camp. Edith’s whole family survived the war, and returned to Cluj where Edith continued her schooling. She then met and married Egon Balas, who was working in Cluj at the time. The couple had one daughter before Egon was arrested and held in solitary confinement for over 3 years. During which time Edith gave birth to their second daughter, who Egon met for the first time upon his release. The family came to the U.S. where Edith was accepted by the University of Pittsburgh as a PH.D because of her previous teaching experience in Bucharest, and then began teaching Art History. She continued doing so at Carnegie Mellon University for 35 years. Edith has organized several art exhibitions on the art of Valentin Lustig, here and internationally, and written many articles and essays in her career. She enjoys reading now that she has retired from teaching, but says that if she was able to she would still teach.
“In a year I was going back to school at University of Pittsburgh, they accepted me as a Ph.D. because I had a philosophical degree and I had taught ancient history for 8 years, and I finished earlier than anybody else, not because of competition but because of competing for myself.”
Read her full testimony here.