Yaacov (Jacki) Handeli was born in 1928 in Salonika, Greece, to an affluent family of six whose roots in the city dated back to the 16th century.
In 1941, the Germans entered Salonika. They implemented anti-Jewish laws, and turned the Baron Hirsch quarter into a ghetto. Handeli and his family were marched into the ghetto, in a humiliating parade.
Two weeks later, the family was deported to Poland, with some 85 people crammed into each train car. After a week, the food and water ran out. Every time the train stopped, the Germans would remove the bodies of the dead and rob the others of their possessions.
It was then that Handeli learnt his first sentence in German: "You won't need this any more."
The train arrived at Auschwitz, and the prisoners were sent to the first selection. Handeli and his brothers Yehuda and Shmuel saw their parents and sisters for the last time, and were then taken to work in the camp.
Like the other refugees from Salonika, they were unable to speak to the Germans or with other Jews in the camp because they did not know Polish, German or Yiddish.
After his two brothers died, Salonika boxer Jaco Razon helped him survive the camp.
In January 1945, the prisoners were sent on a death march. Handeli remembers the snow-covered road dotted with the blood of those who had been murdered, the march to the Gleiwitz camp, and then on to Dora-Mittelbau in open coal trucks, exposed to the cold and the rain, without food or water, until they reached Bergen-Belsen, where they remained until liberation by the British.
In 1947, Handeli immigrated to Israel. He volunteered in Mahal and fought in the War of Independence.
Handeli is the sole survivor of his family.
He and his wife, Rachel, have two children.
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