In what is apparently the last few encounters between rescuers and survivors of the Holocaust, the Mordechai family met Melpomeni Dina, one of the sisters who had sheltered them. This 92 years old woman was more than happy to meet the children and grandchildren of the family she and her sisters had once sheltered from sure death.
75 years ago, Dina and her sisters risked their lives to protect this Jewish family from Veria, Greece. She received the 1994 Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial award for being one of the “Righteous Among the Nations”. It has been given to over 25,000 non-Jews who had risked their lives to protect the Jews during the Holocaust.
Miriam Mari and Mentes Mordechai were a business family before WWII started. Mari had a fashion store and conducted sewing classes for local women. Efthimia Gianopoulou, one of Dina’s sisters wanted to learn but had no money. So Mari gave her sewing lessons but never charged her. And the Gianopoulous did not forget this kind gesture.
In 1941, when Greece sided with the Axis Powers, the Jews in the country realized their future. When the persecution started in the country, the Mordechai family had to hide from the persecutors. Initially, this family of 7 lived in the ceiling of an old Turkish mosque with false identity cards. But the place was too small and there was no proper ventilation. They suffered from various health problems and needed to shift immediately.
When Efthimia heard about this, she and her sisters decided to shelter the family. The 3 sisters were orphans and lived in a house with only one room. They were still just teenagers and loved on the outskirts of the city. They decided to share their food with the family and even farmed on the little bit of land they had. Bithleem, the middle sister, often carried food for all the 10 people from the farm to the house on her own back.
But the Jew family could not stay in hiding there for long. One of their sons, Shmuel became ill and died in a hospital. And soon after, the family was reported to the Nazi authorities. The relatives of the 3 sisters managed to get the Mordechais to the Vermio mountains where they were in hiding till the end of the war. The sisters even provided clothes to the Jew family to help them survive better. Later the family settled in Israel.
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum reports that nearly 70,000 greek Jews died at the hands of the Nazis till 1944. They represented 81% of the total Jewish population in Greece.
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Yanai, with her brother Yossi Mor, met Dina a few years ago. But in November 2019, they brought their family of 40 members to meet Dina in Jerusalem. They bought their children and even the grandchildren to meet the woman who not only sheltered them but also helped them survive the whole ordeal. The two siblings, quite old themselves now, are more than happy to meet Dina once again. They recognize how it was the efforts of those 3 sisters that helped them survive and now they are such a large family.
The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous organizes such reunions of the survivors of the Holocaust and the non-Jewish people who protected them. But with time, such encounters are decreasing. Most of such rescuers are either too old to travel and meet or have passed away in so many years. The Executive Vice President of the organization, Stanlee Stahl believes this encounter of the Mordechais and Dina is probably the last of such reunions.
During the meet, Dina told the reporters how she was deeply moved to see the large and beautiful family of the Mordechais. She is happy that she and her sisters did the right thing in protecting the family back then. Dina told the Associated Post that now she will be able to “die quietly”.