The Holocaust: That other Greek tragedy
By Daniel Santacruz
In 2002, Sephardic House and the American Sephardic Federation, both based in New York, launched the publication of five books about Sefardic and Romaniote Jews in Greece, which it called The Sephardi and Greek Holocaust Library.
The last book of the series, The Synagogues of Northern Greece, is due out at the end of February. (See review in the Books section.) Both organizations have broken ground by publishing the books, four of which are first-person accounts of Jews who witnessed the Holocaust firsthand and survived to write about it.
The series is a welcome addition to the scarce literature of the Holocaust in Greece and sheds light on the atrocities committed by the Nazis there. Unfortunately, the project has gone largely unnoticed by the American Jewish media and the Jewish community. With very few exceptions the books have not been reviewed or mentioned.
Starting on March 15, 1943, 67,000 Greek Jews were deported by the Nazis to
concentration camps including Auschwitz, Birkenau, Mauthausen and Melk. Fewer than 2,000 survived. In Salonika alone, 46,000 were deported from March to August of that year. Only 1,200 came home.
Testimonies of a lawyer, a physician and a community leader The first book of the series, The Holocaust in Salonika: Eyewitness Accounts, published in 2002, is a translation from the Greek and Judeo-Spanish containing the testimonies of Yomtov Yacoel, lawyer for the Salonika Jewish community; Isaac Aron Matarasso, post-war physician for the survivors; and Salomon Uziel, a community leader after the war. Volume II, A Liter of Soup and Sixty Grams of Bread: The Diary of Prisoner Number 109565, is the account of Hainz Salvator Kounio, who was one of the 2,800 Salonika Jews forced to
leave their city on March 15, 1943.
Deported with his parents and his sister, he was 15 at that time. They all survived. The title refers to the daily rations the inmates were allowed at Mauthausen, one of four concentration camps where he was prisoner (the others were Auschwitz, Melk and Ebensee) and the number tattooed on his arm. The book was translated from the Greek by Marcia Haddad Ikonomoulos, who also wrote an introductory note. It also includes copies of official records, a timetable and a glossary, as well as photographs taken by the author’s father, Salvator Kounio, at Ebensee the day it was liberated. Also 15 at the time of his deportation from Salonika on April 2, 1943, Isaac Bourla is the author of Volume III, Chimera: A Period of Madness. Like Kounio’s book, it was written originally in Greek. It’s a gripping account of a prisoner that went from childhood to adulthood under horrendous circumstances.
With great attention to details, he describes his years in the camps of Buna, Birkenau and Buchenwald, until his liberation from the latter at 18 in 1945. His parents and younger brother didn’t survive. Bourla settled in Israel after the war. The only book in the series written by a woman, Berry Nahmia, is Volume IV, A Cry for Tomorrow 76859 . . . Nahmia, who had that number tattooed on her arm, was deported from Kastoria, in the Greek province of Macedonia, on April 1, 1944 when she was 18. Her father, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and half-brothers and sisters from her stepmother were also deported. She was the only survivor. For more information, visit www.americansephardifederation.org. © Daniel Santacruz January 2013