New Finds on Greek Jewish
Heroism in the Holocaust
By Yitzchak Kerem1
After the 1990s, when it seemed that most of the major episodes of Greek Jewry in the Holocaust had been researched, uncovered, and published, several new instances of heroism of Greek Jews have been uncovered in the 21st century, due to the recording of oral histories. The reasons for prolonged anonymity and recent uncovering by elderly informants are unique and noteworthy in each case.
Jacko Maestro, who arrived at Auschwitz on 21 March 1943 from Salonika at age 14 in the first deportation of Greek Jews, knew German and became a translator. Within weeks, he became an integral part of the Arbeitsdienst [Labor Service] in Auschwitz, coordinating and assigning work to 16,000 Jewish inmates on a daily basis. He worked in an office in the Politische Abteilung with other political prisoners and even had contact with high Nazi officials. Daily, he supervised the exit to work from Auschwitz, the work groups themselves in the area of the large Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex, and their return to Auschwitz. He was free to go wherever he wanted throughout Auschwitz-Birkenau. He worked under the political prisoner Yeze Pozinski in the morning hours in the Fuhrerbarrack of the Arbeitsdienst.2 There he learned to type. Jacko and Pozinski coordinated the daily camp work schedule based on requests for the specific kommandos [work groups] and registered the details of the prisoners in the card files of the Kartei Department.3 Jacko had the capability to ease conditions for prisoners, and avoid sending them to harsh labor, or even not send them at all to labor and to stay in their bloc. Also, he sent people to satellite camps of Auschwitz (including Warsaw) in order to fill quotas, but also in accordance with requests of prisoners or in order to ease their situation. In such a way, he succeeded in helping many Jewish prisoners survive.
Jacko also saved a fellow Salonikan, Shabetai Hanuka, from sterilization. Shabetai recalled that
One day I was taken to the hospital at night; and he [Jacko Maestro—Y.K.] was surprised because I was not sick. As I walked in the hospital he realized that the Germans for their experimentation were using Jews. I understood that this is what they were going to do with me. But that night a man by the name of Jako Malach4 came and told me that he had placed some money under his mattress. He was to take it to Jacko Maestro who would use it to bribe the doctors. This is what happened and I was taken to the operating room, but instead of experimenting on me, they fixed my hernia.5
Shabetai was spared castration, unlike numerous other Salonikan Jewish Auschwitz inmates.
Maestro worried about the fate of the Greek Jewish inmates, passed on announcements, conveyed notes between family members who were separated according to sex, kommando , or camp, and provided extra food.
He saved many Jews by easing their work assignments,6 exempting them from forced labor, and sending them to the infirmary; as well as finding food for starving inmates. He excelled in black marketeering, and in bribing Nazi officials and non-Jewish political prisoners, who were overseers of Jews in the barracks and in labor. In order to help a Jew and alter the daily work assignment schedule, he would bribe Nazi commanders with money, food products, or vodka (which he obtained through the camp’s black market, from political prisoners, or from free civilian camp workers who would purchase items for him outside of the camp). He would use bribes in order to ease conditions for prisoners or to appease and gain the favor of the Nazi commanders. He would also bribe German soldiers and officers in order to help prisoners avoid being put on trial or receiving punishment for crimes like stealing or for concocted accusations by the Nazis. He defended many ‘Mussulmen’7 and prevented them from being sent to death in the gas chambers. In his rounds through the camp, he would reach the slaughterhouse and take away sausage, which he would later divide amongst prisoners.8
How did this Greek Jew arrive at such an influential position within Auschwitz? Jacko Maestro was born in 1927 in Salonika.9 He studied Jewish and Greek courses seven hours a day in a Jewish communal school. He came from a poor family with two sisters and two brothers, in which the mother did not work, but two of his sisters did in order to provide the family with enough money. He got up early each morning to work at a cleaning job before school, and labored at a restaurant until midnight, which enabled him to take home leftovers for his family. He used to shine shoes at the train station as well. This latter job was of great use to him during the occupation. Though Jews were not normally allowed any contact with Germans, he was able to get close to and speak with them, thus allowing him to learn German. He also learned Italian in this same manner. He would shine German soldiers’ shoes, and offer them gifts to take home to their families in exchange for bread or supplies that were in high demand, like cigarette wrapping paper.
On March 14, 1943, Jacko was arrested with his family and many other residents of the Baron Hirsch neighborhood ghetto, interned at the Baron Hirsch train station depot made into an internment camp, and the next day was sent by train together with some 2,800 Jews on the first of nineteen deportations leaving Salonika for Auschwitz-Birkenau. This was the beginning of the end of the vibrant Salonikan Jewish community, the cultural and rabbinic heart of the Sephardic world. Most would be annihilated in Auschwitz-Birkenau and later during the Death March. Jacko and members of the Jewish community were misled in Baron Hirsch and were told they would be sent to Crakow, Poland, for labor, and that families would not be separated. In Salonika, the Jews were conservative, families did not want to break up in order to hide, and they did not foresee extermination at the hands of the German Nazi machine. The Salonikan Jewish leadership did not advocate active resistance, but some 5,000-7,000 local Jews fled to Athens between 1941 and 1944, and at least several hundred fled to the partisans in northern Greece, but only two Jewish families were known to have hidden in Salonika during the German occupation in 1943-1944. This was because the large local population of some 100,000 vehemently anti-Semitic Greek Orthodox Asia Minor refugees arriving after 1922 in the framework of the mass Greek-Turkish population exchange had tried and succeeded in the 1920s and 1930s in inciting anti-Jewish legislation and anti-Semitic hatred in the local press, as well as instigating mass violence against the local Jewish community.
Jacko and the Jews of the first Salonikan transport spent about seven days in horrible conditions packed into cattle cars. Once they arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, they were separated into groups of men, women, and children. His mother asked a neighbor to watch over him, so he ended up in the group with the adults. He was only 14 at the time. At this point the Germans tried communicating with the Greek Jews and were getting very frustrated because they realized no one could understand them. One of the friends of Jacko asked him what they were saying, and when he translated, his friend told him to step out of the line and let the Germans know that he understood. The soldier called him up and made him translator. Jacko’s group was brought into Auschwitz I (which was like paradise compared to the death camp Auschwitz II/Birkenau that was right next door), stripped, showered, and given clothes and shoes. They were then sent to quarantine for about 40 days.
The first night, they were warned by other inmates not to put the blankets over the heads because they were treated with very harsh chemicals and would make them sick. The next morning, those who had not listened and had pulled the blankets over their heads felt very sick and had a difficult time getting up When people inquired about their families, the veteran camp inmates pointed to the smoke stacks and told them what happened to their families. This first morning in Auschwitz, a prisoner was beaten to death in front of Jacko’s group. There were no illusions as to what type of place they were now in. They were given brown water, bread, butter, and jam for their daily rations. Jacko was now told to teach the group the commands for roll call, how to march, and how to salute. It was an odd sight, a 14 year-old boy ordering around groups of grown men. Some of the prisoners were taken for important or hard work, and were beaten because they could not understand the directions.
Jacko was in charge of dividing people according to their skills. He was chosen by Jeze Pozinski, a Polish political prisoner who was a translator (in charge of assigning people to their work kommandos), to be an official translator.10 Jacko was taken to live with the political prisoners and official translators and Pozinski told him to help himself from anything he needed from his closet. Since Pozinski was a political prisoner, he was allowed to receive care packages from home. Jacko was brought into Auschwitz headquarters and given a desk in the office with Pozinski and three other people, Jacko being the first Jew allowed to work there. Their job was to decide who worked where. He made cards with the names of the kommandos and how many people were needed in each, because he needed to make sure each kommando had the proper number of people each day.Jacko was thus able to move people to an easier kommando if there was a vacancy, and he could listen to the radio and get updates on what was happening in the war.
Jacko’s daily schedule went something like this. Once the kommandos were arranged and everyone went to work, he ate breakfast. This was not the normal meal of the Auschwitz inmates, but a full breakfast. Jacko would then go to the post office, to get the mail.. People would write Auschwitz to request slave laborers, Jacko would arrange for the workers, and the S.S. would arrange the guards to go with them.11 He would then go to the girls who worked with the cards to check the cards for workers with the needed skills and put together a new kommando. Jacko also learned from Pozinski how to bribe the guards and work the system.12 Next to his office was the cafe of the higher-up S.S. officers, which had a radio with the news, and where the waiter would turn up the volume so they could hear in their office, while telling the S.S. it was so he himself could hear it better.
Jacko was never struck in his entire time in Auschwitz except for one occasion, when Jacko saw the head of the camp trying to enter, and the gate was stuck, so the head of the camp told Jacko to run and tell someone to unlock it right away. He ran and told an S.S. officer to come immediately and open the gate. The officer hit him and yelled at him for daring to tell him to hurry. When Jacko returned to the head of the camp he told him what happened. Later, he overheard a conversation between the two of them. The head of the camp was yelling at the other officer, telling him the order to hurry came from himself, not from Jacko; and how dare he keep him waiting? He was now going to send him to the front lines where he would most likely die.
There are many stories of people whom Jacko saved, and a few of them can be related here.
Yaakov Mano, for example, had spent two weeks in a bad kommando and asked to be moved to an easier one, so Jacko succeeded in moving him. Mano considered that this act saved his life and regarded Jacko as an angel in Auschwitz. Jacko also managed to put one man into the group that prepared food for the S.S. (the first time that a Jew had worked there).13
Once, when Jacko went to look at Birkenau, a man he knew, Emmanuel, signaled to him that he was in the line for gassing and asked for help. Jacko walked up to the S.S. officer and said he needed Emmanuel. All he had to do was give the officer four bottles of vodka and he saved the man’s life. There was never a time he turned down a request for help:he always found a way. He also managed to get medicine for Jewish prisoners from the pharmacy that served the S.S. personnel.14
On one occasion in Auschwitz, in the Strassen Kommando [road paving work group], Jacko received from some Greek Jewish female inmates gun powder in a rag wrapped within napkins and papers and he brought it to the Shuh-Kommando15 whence it was passed on to Birkenau to be later used in the revolt by Polish and Greek Jewish inmates, on 7 October 1944.
In late January 1945, things changed, as the German officers at Auschwitz sent the prisoners on the Death March. Jacko left Auschwitz riding on a roller wagon carrying the card files of Auschwitz and hid his brother Daniel in the wagon since he was too sick to walk. Jacko was in Mauthausen for less than a week, and then arrived at the labor camp of Melk.16 There the prisoners were hollowing out caverns in the mountains. Jacko was assigned to use an air drill, but he was too small to control it and would just fly around. He was now made a runner. His job was to take broken drill bits to the blacksmiths and return with fixed ones. He did this for about two weeks, until he met someone who knew the Greek doctor in the hospital. This person brought Jacko to the doctor, told him they were both Greek, and requested that he help Jacko. The doctor was not Jewish, but did what he could. All he could offer him was to live in the hospital, so he did not need to work and was a little more comfortable.
In the Death March phase, Jacko had been at Mauthausen17 for less than a week, worked at Melk in Austria for three months, with an air hammer, and was liberated at Wells near Lambach by the American Army.
A few days before the liberation, there were a lot a bombs falling and the Jews with Jacko thought they were going to die. When they were freed, the group still had it hard as they had no food.18 Jacko heard about a group of non-Jewish Greek former prisoners, and went to find them to see if they would help him. There, he saw an old man he recognized from his work at the train station back in Salonika. The old man helped Jacko out and brought him to Italy. He eventually found his way to Israel in 1946.19
Jacko’s sister Esther Maestro (later Sidikario) also rescued Jews. In three instances in Birkenau, she removed from Bloc 25 large groups of girls who were destined for the gas chambers by having them jump out of the windows and hide in a nearby shack,thus saving them.20 Jacko sent cigarettes and oil to Esther in Birkenau. The oil was for rubbing to avoid sores. The sick girls would hide in upper bunks from selection and Esther gave them oil to rub on their bodies. The Germans sent an inmate to gassing even if they detected one sore. Esther's rescue deeds are too numerous to describe in this article, but below is one episode at the beginning of her imprisonment in Auschwitz-Birkenau:
At the beginning there were Greek women from the second transport in a different bloc, and the house mother [Bloc Eltester in German – Y.K.] had difficulties to organize them, since she did not know the language. She told on them that they cause the typhus disease. They made a large selection and took all the Greek women to Bloc 25. Also I was amongst them. The house mother told me that I am the translator of the Bloc, and that I am clean, and that my brother is the work coordinator of Auschwitz. She returned me to the Bloc. Bloc 25 was a collection bloc to be sent to the crematorium. When we arrived, Mengele issued an order that every pregnant woman must register, and they received porridge with milk. All the hungry women registered in order to get milk. The girls were collected and sent to Bloc 25. I succeeded to take out of the row Bella Torres, Rachel Levi- Cohen, and Allegra (she died a few months ago). We succeeded to transfer them to the hospital of "Union." Afterward, I was called to come to Bloc 25. I brought with me the housemother, and I said that they were from my family, and in exchange for a cigarette I took away three women.21
Due to the emotional toll of the memories, suppressed for decades after the liberation, and distancing between himself and his immediate family members, Jacko did not reveal his story to the outside world. Only recently, after the passing of his wife and with advanced aging, has Jacko made his story accessible to researchers and the media.
Two groups of Salonikan Auschwitz inmates were sent in August and October 1943 to the destroyed Warsaw Ghetto to clean it up and build an Auschwitz satellite labor camp there. The Salonikans, as ‘foreigners' who had no knowledge of the Warsaw Jewish past, were the first group sent from Auschwitz to Warsaw to build the initial barracks in the camp. The Salonikans totaled some 1,000 of the 3,683 Auschwitz inmates in the Warsaw camp that were sent there in 1943.22 There were also Jewish inmates of Dutch, French, and Belgian origin.
We have known for some twenty years of the failed escape attempt from Gensha23 of the Salonikan Shaul Senor and his hanging, but one Salonikan Jew did succeed in escaping. Through the revealing of photos taken of Salonikan Jewish prisoners in Warsaw found recently in the archives of the Maidonek death camp,24 the identity of Shaul Senor and another one of the inmates, Gabi Ben-Ouzilio, was traced. Although the latter had passed away in Haifa several years ago, through the testimonies of his children and a widow of a first cousin, Moshe Ben-Ouzilio, who had escaped with other Salonikans through the sewers of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Polish resistance revolt after August 1, 1944, it was revealed how Gabi had escaped with two other Jews, one being a French Jew named Weinstein and the other a Salonikan Jew named Matalon, from the Warsaw Ghetto in the spring of 1944 and wandered through Poland for many weeks.25 While hiding with a Polish Gentile family, he was reported to the authorities in the summer of 1944, and was sent by the Germans to Auschwitz. Upon arrival in the death camp for a second time, Gabi was sent to Bloc 26 and was to be put on trial and executed. Jacko intervened, gave him the clothes of a Polish political prisoner and he further mixed in with the political prisoners, rather than the Jewish prisoners.26 Gabi survived, was liberated, and made aliyah to Israel. He established himself in Haifa, but changed his name to Ben-Ouziel, which led further to his obscurity and anonymity, before his death in 1964.
Moshe Ben-Ouzilio, when escaping from the Auschwitz Warsaw Ghetto camp Gensha with other Salonikan Auschwitz inmates like Baruch Almaliah, had to cross Warsaw from the former ghetto area to the new city.27 Escaping German shooting, Moshe and Baruch took an injured Polish officer by stretcher via the sewers.28 The water reached their chests and they had to hold the stretcher high above the water level. When they left the sewer, they had to run from street to street to avoid German bombing. Furthermore, in order to avoid detection as a Jewish prisoner, Moshe erased his number and triangle from his hand, and was left with a scar. He joined the Polish resistance, and after the liberation, he found his cousin Gabi in Warsaw after the latter was liberated. Moshe was on hachshara [pre-aliyah agricultural training] in Athens at the Patission hachshara farm and came to Palestine illegally on the Haviva Reik boat in June 1946, with other Greek Jewish Holocaust survivors and illegal immigrants.29 Moshe established himself in Haifa, changed his last name from Ben-Ouzilio to Ben-Ouziel, married Daizy Kapon, a Salonikan-born immigrant established in Haifa since 1933, and died of an aneurysm in 1960 at the young age of thirty-nine.
Salonikan Auschwitz and Warsaw camp survivor, Peppo Gerassi, who also is the gabbai of the Haifa Salonikan synagogue Heichal Rabi Haim Haviv at 126, Allenby Street, knew both Moshe and Gabi in the Warsaw ghetto and in Haifa years after the liberation. Peppo, who was in Warsaw from October 1943 until late July 1944, identified Gabi and Shaul Senor in the Warsaw Ghetto camp photo in prisoner pajama-like uniforms.30 Peppo noted that, in his opinion, Shaul in the picture was too thin and was taller in actuality, but sixty years later this may be an instance of fading memory. Peppo also added the following details.
Shaul Senor had made aliyah to Kibbutz Beit Oren in the late 1930s, but had returned to Greece to bring his Salonikan bride back to Eretz-Israel. He was stuck in Greece due to the war, where he was drafted to fight as an officer against the invading Italians in Albania, and the ensuing German occupation, according to Peppo. Other informants provided more information about Shaul Senor’s activities (see below). Regarding Gabi, Peppo noted that after he escaped from Warsaw he was roaming through the Polish forest and was caught by German soldiers. He told them he was a Greek Orthodox Christian, but they saw the number on his arm, knew he had been a Jewish prisoner in a concentration camp, and sent him back to Auschwitz.
As described above, in August and October 1943 non-Polish Auschwitz inmates were sent to clean up the destroyed Warsaw Ghetto.31 Chosen for their unfamiliarity with Warsaw and its Jewish past, the Salonikan Jews were the largest ethnic Jewish group there.32 The first group, 500 Salonikans and 2 Polish doctors, were sent to build the Gensha camp on the rubble of the destroyed ghetto.33 They mostly dealt with tearing down walls, blowing up cement structures, and clearing away the rocks, bricks, and rubble. Most of the Salonikans lived in Bloc 5 in Gensha.34 A second group of 500-600 Jews, mostly Salonikans, arrived in October 1943. Two weeks later another group arrived - mostly Greek Jews, but also many Dutch Jews. With time arrived other Jewish prisoners from France, Holland, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Hungary.35 On January 15, 1944 the severe, continuous typhus epidemic began, killing some 50-60 Jews daily.36
Shaul Senor, whom our informant Peppo already mentioned above, was described in other interviews as having made aliyah to Eretz-Israel as a halutz [pioneer] and after returning to Salonika in the late 1930s to organize aliyah groups, tried to escape from the Auschwitz satellite Warsaw Ghetto Gensha camp, with the help of his Polish girlfriend, who worked in the laundry work group with him, and the Polish resistance. At the last moment, after he killed two German guards and took their weapons, he was caught and later executed about a month later on 25 June 1944 in front of all the prisoners in a dramatic scene.37
Most of the 4,000-5,000 prisoners were cleared out of the Warsaw ghetto camp in late July 1944, and led on a forced march through Germany to Dachau.38 Many of the Salonikans in this group ended up working in the Dachau satellite camp of Muehldorf and its sub-camp Waldlagger several kilometers away in the forest.39
Those who felt they could not walk on the march had been ordered to appear at the camp infirmary, and on that night of 27 July 1944, they were shot to death by the Germans along with some 250 sick prisoners who had been interned there previously. In the next days most of the remaining prisoners in Gensha were occupied with the task of removing the executed corpses and emptying the barracks and stores.40 Mostly Greek and Hungarian, as well as Czech, Dutch, and Slovakian Jewish prisoners, had been transferred to Gensha at this time from the Pawiak prison. According to the research of Kassoy, a crematorium had been built in Gensha and had been ready for use since June 1944, but had not yet been activated.
Some 400 Jews remained in the ghetto and when the Armaya Kraiova (AK) Polish resistance movement, one of the two major Polish resistance movements, began their revolt on August 1, 1944, most of the Jews were caught in the crossfire and died. A group of 17 Salonikans escaped and joined the Polish resistance. Some fought in the Vigri Battalion (of the Polish Scouts) in their battles in Warsaw. Alberto Levi actively recalled for researchers his stories of escaping the camp through the sewers of Warsaw. He also worked in a hospital treating the injured in battle with the Germans. His brother, Dario, escaped the camp at the outset of the fighting; looked for shells to use in order to shoot from the captured German tanks, which no one present in the Polish resistance knew how to operate; and this former Greek army tank gunner shot the first shells at the Germans in the attack on the Gensha camp.41 Alberto Levi became an officer in the AK and performed many sabotage missions against German installations in the Polish countryside.42 About a hundred Jews rescued from Gensha fought house-to-house in the Old Town under a vehemently anti-Semitic National Armed Guard Forces [Narodowe Sily Zbrojne, NSZ], which compelled the Jews to carry out unnecessary and dangerous suicide missions. `When it was discovered that Sergeant Bedek of the NSZ shot the advancing Jews from behind, one of the Greek Gesióka (Gensha – Y.K.) men executed him.43 In consequence of being sent on suicide missions, some left the movement and joined the more hospitable A.L. (Armaya Ludova) movement, where they fought in the course of a month of battles at Stara Miasto in the Strono-Wego P.P.S. Battalion. On October 3, 1944, toward the end of the revolt, Gavriel Cohen, a former high officer in the Greek army, died in battle with most of the other people in his unit after they crossed the Vitsula River. The group of 17 fell prisoner again to the Germans, but escaped through the windows of the train.44 After fighting valiantly in the Jewish Wigry Platoon against the Germans and not surrendering to them, the few surviving Jewish fighters hid in the ruins of the Old Town, including the Greek Salonikan Jews, Isaac Aruh and Dario Nusen, who hid in a big bunker dug in the destroyed debris between Sliska and Sienna streets.45 Alberto Levy as an officer in the AK and his brother Dario also fought valiantly in Warsaw in the second Polish resistance revolt, which ended in early October 1944, after standing off against the Germans for some sixty-three days.46
Edward Kossoy, in his research on the liberated Auschwitz Jewish Gensha survivors who fought with the Polish resistance against the Germans in Warsaw, has additional depictions of the role and fate of involved Greek Jews:
Quite a few of the fifty Gesiówka men, some of them Greeks, who were liberated at the Umschlagplatz in the very first hours of the uprising by a Kedyw (HQ Diversions Command) unit, joined another Kedyw unit—the Nalecz company. This later became a battalion under the command of Lieutenant (later promoted to Captain) Stefan Kaniewski. Kaniewski and his soldiers, among them the Gesiówka Jews, held up against the incessant attacks of German armour, air force, and artillery for two weeks, using the ruins of three Warsaw landmarks (Radziwill Palace, Bank Polski, and Simon's Mall) as strongholds. The price of blocking German entry into the Old Town was heavy: the strongholds held out until the last days of the Old Town, but then the Nalecz battalion ceased to exist.
After the surrender six of the surviving Greek Gesiówka fighters (Baruch, Sami and Yacov Arditi, Josef Nahmias, Yakov Malah, and Yacov Parente) left Warsaw with the general evacuation ordered by the Germans. But then, on the advice of two passing Catholic nuns, they fled and boarded the still-functioning suburban Grodzisk electric train. As they were asking for tickets, to their astonishment, they suddenly heard the question: Amchu? Upon their appropriate response to this Jewish code word, they were advised to get off at one of the next stops because of the persistent German screenings. Following that advice they fled into the forest adjoining the rail line.
There five of them, hoping—as so many others—for imminent arrival of the Red Army, prepared a primitive shelter under the trees. They had to remain there for four and a half winter months. The five paid a Polish cobbler from the near village to supply them with food. The sixth, Josef Nacmias, posing as a Greek Christian, found a Polish lady for whom he worked in exchange for food and shelter. After the arrival of the Russians, all six were again reunited; however, shortly thereafter they were imprisoned as alleged ‘fascists’ together with the Germans, Ukrainians, and Russian traitors. Even the evidence of their tattooed Auschwitz numbers was of no help. It was only after the final unconditional German surrender, in May 1945, that they were finally liberated. When they were released from the well-guarded Russian refugee camp, they were finally allowed to return to Greece.47
The Salonikan Jews Arie Isaak, David Cohen, and Ishai Moshe, after the fall of the Nalecz battalion in theOld Town, hid together with other Jewish and Polish fighters in a self-built bunker until the arrival of Polish and Russian
liberators in January 1945.48
Steven Bowman published this depiction of the whereabouts of the Salonikan Jews during the Polish underground revolt beginning on 1 August 1944:
On August 1, 1944 , with the Russians approaching the east bank of the Vistula, the signal was given for the various underground organizations in Warsaw to rise in revolt. The strongest group was the Armia Kraiowa, under the leadership of General Bor-Komorowski . The battle lasted for two months while the Russians waited patiently across the river for the Germans to destroy the Polish Resistance. The Germans wrought terrible carnage, massacring Polish civilians, among them Jews. The Greeks who remained in Warsaw have their own memories of the revolt. A number of Greek slaves were housed on the outskirts of the ghetto area in the military prison on Djika Street. With the other prisoners (Hungarians, Rumanians, and Poles), they were freed on the first day of the revolt and sent to the front lines to dig defensive trenches. Polish anti-Semites harassed them as they faced Nazi artillery fire. This is confirmed by Albert Levi, who participated in the revolt and claims that the Greeks took an active part in the fighting-we recall that many had seen service in Albania and through their reckless disregard for their personal safety provided inspiration for some of the rebelling forces. Levi himself joined the defenders' medical corps. During the revolt the Greeks separated on the advice of Isaac Arukh, so that some might survive to chronicle their fate. Levi records several battles and even the formation of a Greek contingent that fought under its national flag. Ultimately only twenty-seven of them survived the war.
Greeks could be found throughout the ghetto during the revolt. Bernard Goldstein recalls a Greek pickpocket who entertained his comrades with his skills in the main bunker at 26 Vspulna Street. Michael Zylberberg notes Greeks hiding in the cellar at 13 Franciscan Street , opposite the headquarters of the officer in charge of the young Poles. Isaac Arukh (No. 124338) recalls fighting in Starowka (the Old City) near the Bank Polska with the Second Division, a place where many of his comrades fell. He survived in a bunker along with David Cohen and Jesse Moissi.49
Avraham Giladi, formerly Albert Gilidi, a twenty-three year old Salonikan deported to Auschwitz/Birkenau, was transferred to the Warsaw Ghetto Gensha camp, fought in the Polish revolt in August 1944 in the Zoska scout battalion, and escaped from the Old Town after its fall on 2 September 1944 through the sewers to Mokotów. He succeeded in reaching Russian lines by swimming across the icy Vistula River.50 He eventually returned to Greece by train and foot. After the war, he worked for the Joint Distribution Committee in Greece, moved to Israel in 1948, joined the Israeli Foreign Ministry and established the Israeli diplomatic legation in Athens. His story was too painful to tell and he never revealed it publicly. Since he had little contact with other Salonikan Jews in Israel and shied away from the Greek Death Camp Survivor Organization in Tel Aviv, he was never prompted by fellow Salonikans to recall his memories and he remained unknown to researchers. He died in 1993, but his story was recently uncovered in a genealogical investigation by the author of this article when U.S descendants of the Gilidi family were searching for relatives of Salonikan origin.51
The above cases enhance my theory that increased distance from the given historical period strengthens knowledge and perspective. All three stories were uncovered by researchers decades after the Holocaust, and not initially initiated by the survivors. Time has been needed for these new sources to unfold and for scholars to understand the diverse events and the sequence of and changes in the German occupation and Polish revolts. Also the discrepancies between the general Ashkenazi narrative and the particular Jewish Greek and Sephardic narrative require time and attention in order to reconcile differences, gaps, and contradictions. Furthermore, the finds shed light on future avenues for enriching knowledge of the unfortunate events of the Holocaust. Despite our loss of aged eye-witness informants, additional archival sources from Eastern Europe, the Red Cross, and Balkan governmental archives have come to the forefront in the last two decades and will continue to provide additional insight into the history of Greek and Sephardic Jewry in the Holocaust. As time proceeds, increased cooperation between Polish and Eastern European archives, and the West and Jewish institutions and researchers, contributes to a strengthening of Holocaust research and historiography in general, and research on Salonikan, Greek, and Sephardic Jewry in particular.
Notes:1. Yitchak Kerem is a researcher and lecturer affiliated with Aristotle University of Salonika and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He edits the monthly e-mail publication Sefarad, the Sephardic Newsletter, currently in its 21st year, and is the founder and chairman of the Californian Foundation for Jewish Diversity and Jerusalem non-profit organization The Heritage House for the Sephardi and Mizrahi Communities (Beit Maksim) which is organizing to establish an all-encompassing Sephardic/Mizrahi museum and cultural arts center in Jerusalem.
2. Jürgen Matthaüs, Approaching an Auschwitz Survivor: Holocaust Testimonies and Transformations (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) 21.
3. See Lore Shelley, Secretaries of Death, Accounts of Former Prisoners Who Worked in the Gestapo of Auschwitz (New York: Shengold Publishers, 1986) 3-10, 42-54, 370.
4. JakoMallah was a Salonikan Jewish inmate in Auschwitz who later was one of the Salonikans transferred to the Warsaw Ghetto and who participated in the August 1944 Polish resistance Revolt in Warsaw. Unlike Jacko Maestro, Jacko Razon the boxer, Dr. Samuelides, Dr. Cuenca, and others, he was not known for altruistic rescue activity.
5. Haim Asitz, Yitzchak Kerem, et.al, The Shoa in The Sephardic Communities, Dreams, Dilemmas & Decisions of Sephardic Leaders (Jerusalem: The Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem, 2006) 49.
6. Yitzchak Kerem and Bracha Rivlin, "Saloniki", Pinkas Hakehillot Yavan (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1999) 217-299
7. ‘Musselmen’ were those reduced to skin and bones, who looked like skeletons, and were selected for death by gassing.
8. Yitzchak Kerem, “Maestro, Jako”, Shoa, Enciclopedia Del Holocausto (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem and E.D.Z. Nativ Ediciones, 2000) 339.
9. Yitzchak Kerem, "Maestro, Yaakov", Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd edition, Vol. 22. For background of childhood of Jacko in the Baron Hirsch Quarter see biographical details of his mentor Ovadia Baruch in the film "Yehi Zichrecha Ahava, Sipuro Shel Ovadia Baruch" ("May Your Memory Be Love, Story of Ovadia Baruch") Yad Vashem and the Center for Multimedia, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, 2007, and Yigal Shahar, Ho Madre, A Love Story in Auschwitz, Aliza and Ovadia Baruch in Auschwitz (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2002). [Hebrew]
10. Gidon Greif, Yaakov Jackito Maestro – The Good Angel from Auschwitz (Copenhagen: Introite Publishers) .[Danish, in press]
11. Maestro was referred to as a "High ranking member of a work detail" in the glossary of Heinz Salvator Kounio, A Liter of Soup and Sixty Grams of Bread, The diary of prisoner number 109565 (New York: Bloch Publishing Company for Sephardic House, 2003) 218.
12. Netty C. Gross, "A Greek Tragedy", The Jerusalem Report, March 31, 2008.
13. See Aharon Mano, The Secretary (Ra’anana: Docostory, 2008).[Hebrew]
14. Aharon Rubin, "But He Was My Angel", Insert Issue And I Rescued, Rescuers and Survivors Meet For A First Time, B'Kehila, Maayanei Yeshua Medical Center, Tel Aviv(Passover 2010) 49-53.[Hebrew]
15. Salonikan female Auschwitz inmate Erika Kounio Amariglio wrote about messengers who commuted back and forth from one camp to the other and many of them worked in the Shuh-Kommando, Bloc 10, or in Union-Metallwerke where Rosa Robota and others smuggled gunpowder into Auschwitz, whence it was passed on for the revolt. See Erika Kounio Amariglio, From Thessaloniki to Auschwitz and Back, Memories of a Survivor from Thessaloniki (London and Portland, OR: Vallentine Mitchell, 2000) 75-76, 86, 103, 115-117.
16. For details on Greek Jews in Melk see Heintz Salvator Kounio, I Survived Death: The Diary of Number 109565 (Thessaloniki: Aoaoni, 1981) 102-142.[Greek]
17. See Steven B. Bowman, The Agony of Greek Jews (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009) 111.
18. After liberation, an American army officer noticed that Jacko was in poor health and sent him to the hospital in Lembech, where he spent several days.
19. Filmed Interview with Jacko Maestro, Bat Yam, Israel, Spring 2004.
20. See Doris Furstenberg, ed., Jeden Moment war dieser Tod, Interviews mit judischen Frauen die Auschwitz uberlebten (Dusseldorf: Schwann, 1986) 99-112, and Shmuel Refael, ed. Routes of Hell, Greek Jewry in the Holocaust, Testimonies (Tel Aviv: The Institute for the Research Of Salonikan Jewry and the Greek Death Camp Survivors Organization in Israel, 1988) 289-296.[Hebrew]
21. Excerpt of testimony of Esther (m. Sidikario) Maestro in Refael, 293. "Union" refers to "Weichsel Union Metallwerke"; the munitions factory in Auschwitz III.
22. Edward Kossoy, "The Gesiówka Story: A Little Known Page of Jewish Fighting History", Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 32 (2004) 323-350.
23. Other names for the Auschwitz Warsaw Ghetto labor camp are Genshya, Genshovka, and Gesiówka.
24. Maidonek Archives, ZIH – II-10-33.
25. Interview with Daizy Ben-Ouziel Rothenberg, Haifa, 10 March 2004.
26. Interview with Jacko Maestro, Bat Yam, Israel, 18 July 2006.
27. Yosef Ben, Greek Jewry In The Holocaust And The Resistance 1941-1944, (Tel Aviv: The Institute for the Research of Saloniki Jewry, 1985), 157-165 [Hebrew].
28. Interview with Daizy Ben-Ouziel Rothenberg, Haifa, 10 March 2004.
29. Yitzchak Kerem, "Greece and Illegal Immigration, 1934-1947", in Itshaq Gershon, ed., Shorashim Bamizra'h, Vol. IV, (Efal: Yad Tabenkin, 1998) 241-282.[Hebrew]
#30. Interview with Peppo Gerasi, Haifa, 10 March 2004.
31. Lavon Institute for the Research of the Labor Movement, Archives, Tel Aviv, 104IV-89/141,
32. Yitzchak Kerem, "Forgotten Heroes: Greek Jewry in the Holocaust", in Menachem Mor, ed., Crisis & Reaction: The Hero In Jewish History, Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Symposium of the Philip M. and Ethel Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization held on Sunday-Monday, October 10-11, 1993", Center for the Study of Religion and Society. (Omaha, Nebraska: Creighton University Press, 1995) 229-238, and Yitzchak Kerem, "Sephardic and Oriental Testimonies: Their Importance for Holocaust Commemoration and Memory", in Richard K. Roth and Elisabeth Maxwell, eds., Remembering For The Future, The Holocaust In An Age Of Genocide, III (Hampshire, UK : Palgrave, 2001) 142-149.
33. For details on the Gensha camp and its activities in cleaning up the destroyed Warsaw ghetto see Yosef Kermish, "The Destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and its Demolition", Yediot Beit Lochmai Hagetaot, Nos. 5-6 (April 1954) 17-21.[Hebrew]
34. Interview with Solomon Hagoel, Thessaloniki (Salonika), Greece, 17 September 1986.
35. Yad Vashem, 03/4150.
36. Ben, 157-168 [Hebrew].
37. Interviews with Albert Levi, Tel Aviv, 8 and 25 June 1986, and 12 August 1986; Isaac Senor, Tucson, Arizona, October 1993, and Shabetai Menachem, Jerusalem, 25 March 1991..
38. Yad Vashem 03/2690
39. Ibid. See also Survivors of the Shoa, Archive, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, Interview by Yitzchak Kerem with Gabi Kamhi, Tel Aviv, 15 June 1995.
40. Kossoy, 3, 7-8.
41. Yitzchak Kerem, "Forgotten Heroes: Greek Jewry in the Holocaust", 235.
42. Yad Vashem, 03/2691.
43. Kossoy, 14-15.
44. Alberto Levi, op. cit.; "Eitzleinu Bamishpacha Haya Muvan, Shetsarich Lehatsil Hayehudim", Maariv, 21 June 1966., 7; Bowman, "Jews in War-Time Greece", Jewish Social Studies 48 (Winter 1986) 45-62; Refael, 259-276, 307-312; Shmuel Krakovski, Jewish Fighting in Poland against Nazism, (Tel Aviv: Hotsaat Sifriat Hapoalim, Yad Vashem, and The Institute of Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1977), 311-349, [Hebrew]; and Yad Vashem, Archives, 03/2692,03/2689.
45. Kossoy, 18.
46. "How Warsaw Fell", Lavon Institute for the Research of the Labor Movement, Tel Aviv, 104IV-89/141,
47. Ibid., 18-19.
48. Beit Lochamei Ha-Getaot, Archive, 520/2.
49. Bowman, 110. See also Yad Vashem, 03/2691.
50. Kossoy, 22. See also Michael Matsas, The Illusion of safety, The Story of the Greek Jews During the Second World War (New York: Pella Publishing Company, 1997) 257-263.
51. Like Giladi, other Salonikan Auschwitz survivors, from Gensha, who had Auschwitz prisoner numbers tattooed on their arms, were at risk of being slaughtered by the murderous bands of Dirlewanger and Kaminski SS units, and some twenty Greek Salonikan Jews were successfully led to the Russian-held right bank of the Vistula River by AL guides. Ibid.