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Memories of Jewish Veroia by Miriam Mordohai - 12.00

My name is Marie Mordohai. I was born in the year 1911 in Greece, in Veroia, not far from Saloniki. War between Italy and Greece On the 28th October 1940 war broke out. All eligible men were drafted. My husband and my two brothers were sent to the Albanian front. I found myself alone in an empty house with four small children, including an eight month old baby girl. Veroia was practically unharmed by bombings. Some say that the presence of many churches enveloped the town with holiness, which is what prevented her from being destroyed. Many refugees from surrounding areas poured into Veroia and settled on every inch of free space. In December I940, the government decided to discharge soldiers who were fathers of four or more children, among them my husband. He marched home by foot, all the way from the Albanian front. German occupation of Greece Greece surrendered to Germany in March 1941. The occupation was met with great anxiety, especially among the Jews. We heard rumors of atrocities, and work camps. The Germans launched a propaganda campaign to conceal their plans of annihilation, and enforced tight censorship. For example, a couple of relatives who had previously gone to Germany and had been detained there because of the war, wrote to us: "We are all living here very well, but grandma and grandpa are far better off than we are." We understood their message since our grandparents had died several years before. Another sign was that immediately after the rabbi of Veroia was ordered by the Germans to calm us, he fled. Amidst all these troubles, the hunger all over Greece, and our poverty, I found myself pregnant with my fifth child, Joseph. He was born in 1942. The noose tightens The Germans issued restrictions for the Jews, among which was the decree to wear the yellow star. Hiding partisans or Jews was forbiden. A ration system was enforced and distribution was implemented by presentation of identification certificates. Things were very hard for us, too. Baby Joseph, who was starving, because for a long time I hadn't had milk to nurse him. My own health was very poor. One refugee woman, who came from Athens with five children, came begging for help. I had no food to give her, but found a way to dress her children: I used curtains and bedcovers to sew them clothing. She was very appreciative that, in spite of our condition, I had found a way to help her. She lived in a school next door, where she told the school caretaker about me. The caretaker was no other than Evlambia, who had been a servant in our home. When Evlambia heard the story, she came and immediately took Joseph into her arms and began to nurse him. She returned many times to nurse Joseph, and so, saved him. The hideout in Nikos' home Evlambiaís brother, Nikos took upon himself the dangerous mission of acquiring forged identity papers for us. He walked all night to Salonika, to find that most Jews were deported, and that there was no one left to help him. He heard that the last transport would be leaving within a few days, and would pass through Veroia to collect its Jews. He hurried back to warn us. He decided to move us to a hideout where we were to remain for several days, until the transport was over. Meanwhile, he acquired false papers for us: the children were given Christian names; Sara was called Anna; Asher was called Manolis; Shmuel was called Yanakis; Rachel was called Chrisoula, and Joseph was called Boulis. I remained Marie, which is also a Christian name. The children were instructed never to mention their Jewish names, or to tell that they were Jewish. The transport About a hundred meters away from our house was an old Turkish mosque called "jami." Nikos and his family lived in that building. They created an attic underneath the slanted shingled roof, and hid us there. From the moment we entered the shelter, we found the conditions there to be unbearable far beyond what we'd expected. Not only did we live without light and air, but a heavy burden was placed on the shoulders of the people hiding us in addition to the danger to their lives. Meanwhile, the other Jews seemed to disregard the ill omens around them. They continued their lives as if no evil could come to them. They busily prepared for the Passover holiday. The people hiding us began to think that the risk that they undertook was unnecessary. To me, the signs of danger were clear, despite the fact that the difficulties of the shelter were many. The Seder night (Passover Feast) passed with no unusual incidents, but immediately afterwards, the Germans began persecuting and torturing the Jews, especially the wealthy, in order to make them reveal where their riches were hidden. I could heard from my shelter the cries of the tortured. The day of the transport I peeped through a crack, and saw a pregnant woman who began giving birth as the Germans pushed and beat her; she was screaming. Her name was Buena Pipano, the wife of Azaria. At the synagogue, I saw two men jump from the balcony to the abyss below. It was the last day of Passover, the eve of the first of May, 1943. The nazis tortured my family also: my dear sick mother who was dragged from her bed; my four sisters, one of them married with five children; my eldest brother, his wife and his five children. I sat closed in my shelter with my children, hearing their screams; but could do nothing. The death of Shmuel We remained in the shelter well over a year. Although the Jews were deported, the Germans remained. The first days were especially hard, but gradually our presence became generally known, and we began receiving food from people. As time passed, our state of health worsened especially Shmuel' s. A good friend, Eftimia, who kept contact with us, saw our state. She took us to her house, at the far end of Veroia, where we slept on the floor of their only small room. We could sit, though, outside in their backyard. We stayed with them until the day we were betrayed. In the meantime, Shmuel's state worsened. One day, a woman came looking for diseased and undernourished children to help them. Although she knew that Shmuel was Jewish, she offered to bring him to the hospital. Sara went with him and stayed by his side day and night. One morning, she found him missing, and was told that he had died. Shmuel was six years old when he died. The betrayal Several days later two Jewish young men came. I believe that they were sent by the nazis to find us. Immediately afterwards the whole neighborhood was surrounded. We ran away. There was confusion. Sara and Asher disappeared. I took Rachel and Joseph with me, and was led far away from the neighborhood through passages and side streets. A woman I knew opened her door and told us to enter quickly. She hid us in the basement of her house, where we spent the night. When morning came, she went out. We had to leave. I went back to my house and found it full of refugees. Among them a woman who had once been our servant. They were afraid to let us stay with them, because of the Germans. However, she helped me find Sara and Asher. Another woman agreed to take us in her house. In the meantime, Asher was found hiding under a rock since I lost him, and Sara was taken away in a sack by Eftimia's relatives. Later, someone found her, and brought her to us. So finally, I was rejoined with my four children. But no one could any longer hide us. The only alternative was to leave the city. Caught in crossfire At night a group organized to take us out of the city. We walked through side alleys. We continued until we reached a deserted building at the edge of an orchard. We hid there. Every day, someone would come and bring us something: food, a blanket, and clothing. We were there for about a week, when fighting broke out between the Germans and the partisans. Several bullets hit one of the walls, but miraculously no one was hurt. The Pigsty After that battle we decided to move to a safer place. After nightfall, we began the ascent of the mountains. I remember the wonderful sensation of breathing fresh mountain air. All that night we marched, and by morning we reached the top of a hill near a village called Chornova. On one side of the hill there was a cemetery and a church. On the other side stood a deserted pigsty. The partisans had made arrangements with the owner for us to stay there. At every funeral, the children would wait near the church to receive food. Asher would also collect the candles left over from the ceremonies. Occasionally, the village bells would ring to warn us of Germans who were conducting a search. Then, we would run away and hide. When the danger passed we would return. One evening the village bells rang again. This time we ran down a narrow path, until we realized that we were lost. We decided to spend the rest of the night at the same spot. In the morning, we discovered that we were at a field of green beans. We didnít know where we were, or how to return to our pigsty. We stayed there for about a month until the owner of the field arrived. He was amazed to find that we had eaten all the green beans! When we told him we were Jews, he told us that he had been helped to start his business by a Jew, called Papu Yona. This was my grandfather's name, and I knew he'd been a moneylender to farmers. When I told that to the farmer, he was sure it was a sign from heaven to help us. One day Sara met a group of partisans who had come to the village to get food. Among them she recognized a Jew called Yossef Taboch (today he lives in Beersheva, Israel). He said that he was living with his family in a place called Kuklina, under a Christian identity, and that they had opened a store there and lived without fear. They brought us various supplies. The end of the war is proclaimed One day we heard the bells ring. We were very frightened, as we thought the Germans were coming. We saw people approach singing partisans' songs. The partisans came closer, and cried with joy: "The Germans are out, the war is over!" It seemed impossible! We couldn't grasp that the suffering had finally ended . That afternoon, we set off for Veroia. By evening, we reached the village of Kuklina. We were given a place to sleep in a deserted house. The following day we reached the city square, and met my husband's father who, together with his wife, had been saved. The square began to fill with Jews who came out of their hiding places. Among the survivors was one of my brothers and his family. We hoped to find more relatives, but we waited in vain; they all perished. Our house, like all the houses of the Jewish families were filled with Christian refugees. We spent the first night on the staircase, which was the only available space. The following day, a room in our house was vacated for us. Everyone who met us was amazed that we had managed to stay alive with so many small children. Our story was indeed unusual. Praise and thanks to the people of Greece I wish to dedicate a few lines to thank and praise the people of Greece; to those who were willing to risk their lives and their families to save me and my children, a family of seven. They, who for long months hid us in their homes; they who shared with us food, of the little they had, which was hardly enough to sustain themselves; they, who nursed us when we became severely ill as a result of the long, cursed war. They were followed by many Greeks from Veroia and the surrounding villages, who helped in various ways, in spite of danger. I am fortunate to have been born a daughter of Greece! End Our story continues with our emigration to Israel, our illegal boat passage on the aliya ship" Henrietta Szold," the deportation by the British army to a camp in Cyprus, and the struggle to survive in the State of Israel after we finally succeeded to reach our destination.

Myriam Mordohai, 89, lives today at an Old Age Home in Ramat Aviv, Israel.
The original Greek text was published in its full version in Chronika in 1998. It was translated into English by Sheila Mor, wife of Joseph, Miriam's son. The text has been edited and shortened from its original form.


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