Livia Dragila: „The Story of My Life“
I was born on February 18,1907, in a small town on the Danube River. I was told that the day was „un ger mare,” even the Danube froze. In my little city there was a high school and a court house. The residence of the nearby villages (nine of them) would come to the city to conduct business and use the court house. There were three churches in the city: one Romanian Orthodox, one Roman Catholic and one Serbian Orthodox Church. The Romanian Orthodox and Catholic Churches were located on the main street of the town. The Serbian Orthodox Church was located on a back street. Once, in 1910, there was a terrible storm and a damn broke on the Danube. Because the streets near the river were along the bank, the Serbian church was flooded and the inside was full of fish.
We had two Romanian teachers in our local elementary school, even though we were under the jurisdiction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We were taught how to read and write in Romanian, but Romanian was only used in our religious classes. All other subjects were taught in Hungarian.
What I remember about life in my city was that in 1914, the army brought a „Big Bertha” into my city. A „Big Bertha” was an artillery piece which was invented by the Germans. The army used the gun to shell the Serbian town across the Danube. Our city was „kitty-corner” from the Serbian town of „Smedesevk.” When the gun was fired, all the doors and windows in the house had to left open. My mother woke up one night and saw the shells burst into flame when they were fired into Serbia. My little city was once called „Terues-Cubin.” We called it „Cuvini.” The Hungarians changed the name to „Kerevora.”
When World War I began, our school was closed and turned into a hospital. My father, who was serving in a Hungarian regiment, wrote my aunt who was living in Timişoara to have me come live with her and to enroll me in school. I was six years old at the time. I stayed with my aunt throughout the war and was a witness to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We were all very excited when the Romanian army occupied our city and we became part of Great Romania.
I attended elementary school and the Girl’s High School „Carmen Sylva.” The educational system was set up in those days in such a way that one went to high school for eight years. After completing those eight years, you would receive your „Bacalaureat.” After that, you could go on to the University for a more advanced education. I could not go on to the University, because my mother was a widow at this time and she could not afforc: to send both myself and my sister to the University.
I cherish my education and I am proud of the education I received at the High School „Carmen Sylva.” I had some wonderful professors. My professor of Romanian was from Moldova. When she talked to us about the Romanian language, poets and heritage, the room was illuminated. Our professor of Religion was Dr. loan Imbroane. He was from a prominent family from Banat. Our professor of French had studied at the Sarbonne in Paris. Today, as I look back, I am very grateful and proud for a wonderful experience.
And so, the time of concerts, balls and excursions had passed. It was time to get married. I married a man whom I had met while I was in high school. He was studying at the Liceul de Băeţi Diacovniovici Loga. It was after I was married, that I decided to come to America. I wanted to go to the country that I had read and heard so much about. It was quite different when I arrived there, in 1929, from what I had heard and read.
Life in America was difficult. We arrived during the Great Depression. My husband, who had studied chemistry, was soon out of a job. We had to live in one room. I remember the first concert we went to see. It was arranged by the „Bănăţana” Society. The „Bănăţana” Society was an independent society with quite a large membership. The majority of the members were from the Bănat in Yugoslavia. They built a beautiful society hall.
In 1931, a group of us decided to form cur own society. We called it „Danubiana,” because most of the members were from cities and towns which were located along the Danube. Soon, members from the „Bănăţana” Society began to join ours and the „Bănăţana” Society was dissolved. In January, 1931, I was elected the recording secretary of the „Danubiana” Society, a position which I still hold today.
My love for my people and my heritage, which was instilled in me by my professors, made me decide to be active in Romanian cultural activities. I encouraged dances, banquets and other cultural events. I also wrote some articles for the America Newspaper. If I am not mistaken, I was the first woman to write articles for America. In fact, they were very small articles asking the Romanians in the United States to purchase Nicolae Iorga’s book on the United States. He came to the United States on the invitation of „Clubul Nicolae Iorga” in 1929.
In 1939,1 went to Romania to bring my only daughter back to the United States. She was studying in Romania at the time. With Europe almost at the brink of war, I decided to bring her home. The return trip almost turned into a tragedy. The trains did not run on schedule. When we arrived in Torino, Italy, we did not know what was going to happen next. I had the presence of mind to go to the United States embassy for help. While I was waiting to see an American official, a man approached me and told me to book passage on an Italian ship. He said that the Italians were friends of Hitler and that nothing harmful would happen to me. I was very frightened when this man told me this.
When I finally did see an American official, I told him about the man and what he told me. He told me to continue with my trip as I had planned. My plans were to go to Bordeux, France and book passage there for home. I was so frightened that I told my daughter that we were returning to Romania to stay with my mother. While I was making my decision, I remembered that I had sent a brown trunk ahead of us to Bordeux. I remembered how my mother cried while she was packing that trunk. I then decided to go on to France in order not to lose that trunk. We then made it safely back to the United States.
My husband and I now reside in Battle Creek, Michigan, after living in Detroit for forty years. We are very active in our local church and cultural affairs. In 1981, we were chosen second finalists at the International Festivale, where we represented Romania. This is something I am very proud of.