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Super Senior: Klara Calitri

Published: Nov. 12, 2020 at 1:45 PM EST
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CORNWALL, Vt. (WCAX) - When you walk into Klara Calitri’s home in Cornwall, two things strike you. First -- her easy-going smile. “If you don’t look sad, you feel better too,” Calitri said.

The second observation -- her rooms are overflowing with art. “These are what I did for the Shelburne Museum,” Calitri said.

From ceramics to paintings, The 98-year-old is still making memories. “I just love a lot of things and a lot of them have really good memories for me,” she said. “My first joy are my children. My second joy are my art.”

Her love of the finer things goes back to her native Vienna, Austria. Her mother owned a fashionable clothing store and her father was a banker. But at 16, Calitri’s world came crashing down when the Germans invaded the country. “I thought, ok, I’ll go away from Hitler, I will go to my grandparents in Czechoslovakia -- which I did,” Calitri said.

But the war came there too. She figured it was better to go home. But life would become even harder for the Feiner family because Calitri’s dad was Jewish. “Middle of the night they used to come, the Gestapo,” she said. “They came and arrested my father.”

He was eventually released, but lost his job. The German’s then took her mother’s store and their apartment. It was a clear sign the family had to flee. “This was for leaving the country,” Calitri said, showing the family’s passport.

With the help of her granddaughter, Meredith Martin-Mayhew, Calitri opens a box of painful memories. She says she was called a “Mischling.” The term the Nazi’s used for people of mixed Aryan and Jewish blood.

“What do you think about when you see that symbol? It’s awful,” Martin-Mayhew said.

“The less I think about it, the better off I am,” Calitri said.

Even after eight decades, the bright red “J” for Jewish still bleeds through the page of her father’s passport. However, the documents gave them freedom and they eventually made it to the U.S. “We came in the middle of the winter in ’39, one storm after another over the ocean,” Calitri said.

She was 17 and spoke little English. But in her adopted country, she thrived. Calitri married Junius, raised three children, and had a long career in education. She was the first woman to teach German at New York University.

“She chooses to see the good and a positive life and experience for herself and those around her,” Martin-Mayhew said.

“I think all my life I had something to prove. As far as I’m concerned, I proved it,” Calitri said.

Reporter Joe Carroll: Why did you have something to prove?

Klara Calitri: Well, I was supposed to be a no-good Mischling, you know, and I wanted to prove that being a Mischling maybe was a good thing.

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