(photo credit: OFIR ADANI)
Bouena served in various capacities as a Greek partisan, some of which were
routine and others dangerous.
For example, while in Veria, she was a
courier who secretly exchanged bags with another partisan. Another task of hers
while in the underground was to gather information while posing as a cook in a
German kitchen in Crete; her group captured the commandant there and delivered
him to a British submarine for interrogation in England. She also smuggled
numerous Jewish children to Palestine via Turkey and Syria. She took care of
babies and wounded individuals she found along the way, and participated in
daring maneuvers en route to Palestine.
Bouena returned to Greece in June
1945 with the UNRRA; for all intents and purposes, she was a dietitian working
at a camp for displaced persons. In addition, she was an agent for an
underground escape route for survivors and refugees hoping to reach Palestine.
Her experience at Siderokastro, the camp that received many survivors of
Bergen-Belsen, was quite stressful. She had difficult dealings with the
non-Jewish staff and was rather taken aback at the hostility many of the
After completing this mission, she decided to return
to her home town.
This proved to be a shocking experience. She knew that
her older brother had left many of the family’s belongings and funds with
various Greek friends and associates. She hoped to retrieve whatever was
possible, but was stunned by the hostile response she encountered as she
approached neighbors, bankers and former friends. Some of the beautiful
embroidered articles the Sarfatty women had made were unabashedly being used by
Greek women in public; her demands that they return them were not met
graciously. She traced the contents of her own trousseau to a farmhouse, where
the owner’s wife’s hostility was restrained only after her husband came
Bouena roamed the city in a state of despondency, having lost her
family, her home and most of her possessions. Nevertheless, she opted to make
herself useful, especially since the Jewish community was in dire need of
As young people, many of whom had been hiding in the surrounding
areas, began to return, they needed direction.
One of Bouena’s
contributions was to help organize a group wedding for couples who could not
imagine marrying without any family present. By bringing them all together, the
rabbi, Michael Molho, found an appropriate solution. Bouena helped make dresses
for the brides, bake cakes and decorate the hall in the Matanot La-Evionim
In the meantime, she found romance herself, marrying the
quartermaster who had been with her at the DP camp. She and Max Garfinkle, a
founder of Kibbutz Ein Hashofet, were married at the Monastir Synagogue on July
The couple then returned to the kibbutz, but it was not an
appropriate milieu for a Salonikan Sephardi woman. While she knew some Hebrew,
she was far more comfortable speaking Ladino, French or Greek. As a result, they
left, settling in Montreal for the rest of their days.
French-speaking city seemed to be a better choice, the Sephardi community was
relatively small at this time. The truth is that Bouena did not receive the
recognition she deserved from her fellow Jews. Nevertheless, she remained
devoted to her roots and to the Sephardi culture, spending endless hours
recording refrains, expressions and songs and composing her own coplas, or poems
in Ladino. She also wrote a memoir, which she had translated into
The two major collections of poems that she composed in the
1970s dealt with life in Salonika in the 20th century (over 400 verses) and the
Nazi takeover of the city (99 verses). Her perspective is unique and invaluable,
especially because there were so few survivors from Salonika, relatively few
Saloniklis who were partisans and even fewer women involved in literary
activities. Her memory was phenomenal and historically accurate. In short, these
collections are a rare find in the world of Ladino poetry.
Bouena died on
July 23, 1997, leaving a rich legacy for generations to come.
is a professor of Jewish history at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies
and the academic editor of Nashim. Her forthcoming book is An Ode to Salonika:
The Ladino Verses of Bouena Sarfatty (IUP, March 2013).