Klara Gottfried Reif's parents, Herschel and Ethel Gottfried, owned a flour mill and a general store in a small Polish town. Klara could speak five languages. As a young woman, she took an interest in fashion, and enjoyed travelling. On a trip to Vienna, she met Dr. Gerson Reif, a young dentist. After marrying in 1925, the couple settled in Vienna and the first of their two children was born in 1927.
1933-39: After the Germans annexed Austria in 1938, they effectively prevented Jewish dentists from practicing. Forced to abandon his successful practice, Klara's husband grew increasingly depressed. In September 1938, he was found dead, probably a suicide. In May 1939, Klara and her two children sailed for Cuba on the St. Louis. Turned back by Cuba and the Americans, the ship returned to Europe. The Reifs found haven in France.
1940-44: After the Germans invaded France in 1940, Klara and her children fled south to Limoges, which was not occupied by the Germans. She was traumatized by the shock of losing her husband and becoming a refugee. She was in France, but couldn't speak French. She had two children to care for, and food was very scarce. Once Klara heard that eggs might be available on a nearby farm so she set out from Limoges, children in tow. They walked for several hours to get there and back, only to discover when they got home that the eggs were rotten.
In 1941 American relatives, the Klinghoffer family, helped arrange passage for Klara and her children to the United States via Portugal. The Reifs settled in New York.