Tante Alice, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Cross Cultural Solidarity

 "Tante Alice" was my maternal grandmother's sister. Alice and Yvette had the same father, Solomon Camhi, but different mothers. Tante Alice's mother had died and Solomon remarried my great grandmother Victorin Cahmi. And it seems that Victorin was so loving to Alice, that her other three children had no idea that Alice was not Victorin's own daughter so much so that Shabetai, her eldest son, asked his mother in French,  "mother,  am I not your real child too?"

And Alice the eldest and Yvette the youngest of the Camhi brothers—Alice, Sabby, Mario and Yvette –were close and shared a strong sisterly bond to old age.

Brotherhood was one of the major values of the Camhi family, and indeed the bond that the four brothers had was exemplary in the solidarity and support they provided to each other. Yvette and Alice lived across from each other, and when Alice needed something she would get out in her balcony in Athens, Greece and call her sister with her distinct accent, stressing the Y of the Yvette: Yyyyvette. And Yvette would respond to the call.

During the second world war, when Alice lived in Smyrna, today's Izmir, Turkey she helped rescue her sister, by arranging a marriage blanc with a Turk whom my grandmother never met.

During those years, and till the end of the war, Yvette lived under the protection of her older sister.  

The Camhi sons had joined the resistance. Sabby went in hiding in villages helped out by Giorgos Mavros, who was a textile merchant as was their father Solomon. Mario who had a pioneering Zionist spirit, helped rescue Greek Jews of the Noar Haivri movement, via  Evoia, Greece to Palestine.

My father's family though the Nahmias from Ioannina, Greece had a less fortunate ending.  Avramis, Sam, and Solomon Nahmias' families perished in Auschwitz. Only my grandfather's  Moisis Nahmias 's nuclear family survived.

Moisis' family was rescued with the aid of many Greek Orthodox families.

In 1943 when he was recovering from an operation that he had in Athens, Moisis was visited by a close friend from Salonica, Moise Yakar. Moise spoke about the Germans, the ghetto and transfers of Salonican Jews. Moise told Moisis "write immediately to have Anna and the kids sent to you to Athens."

The five member family, Moisis, and Anna the parents and Mazal Tov, Iakovos and Herbert all managed to survive the Holocaust in hiding in Athens pretending to be Greek Orthodox .

Greek Orthodox people opened their hearts, and homes to them.

Anna, Moisis and Herbert hid together, with  Phaedra and Giorgos Morfis, and their daughters Panaghiota and Ourania in the Roof neighborhood of Athens.

My father Iakovos was all by himself at the beginning at the home of Giannis Aivalis a friend of his father and later, past the war his business partner.

Mazal tov who got the Greek name Eftychia during the war stayed with Maria and Mimis Aggelopoulos an acquaintance of Aivalis. And a few months later, my father Iakovos, moved to that house too, where they pretended being their relatives from the village.

Moisis Nahmias had to change hiding places often as there was a traitor who had spotted him alive in Athens. Moisis, Anna and Herbert moved to the house of Leandros and Ketty Spiliotopoulou, on Dafnomilis street.

Then the whole family moved together to the house of Argyro and Demetris Spiliotopoulos family on Spyridonos Trikoupi 11. That was a big house and had room for all five of them along with the kids of the Spiliotopoulos family Aristidis and his wife Aglaia, Theodoros, Aias and Maria.

Undoubtedly my father survived due to the friendship and solidarity of these Greek Orthodox families provided to my grandfather and his family. And it is thanks to their spirit of brotherhood, their bravery and risk taking that we are alive today!

What the Holocaust has taught me is to pass on the gift of cross cultural solidarity and brotherhood that was handed to my family. To have good will for people less fortunate than myself and in need of protection.

And it is my intention to forward the opening of heart that my family received back in the Second World War to today's persecuted.

On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day let us its survivors around the world be a force of cross cultural and cross religious solidarity, a force that builds bridges, and creates heart to heart connections beyond color, nationality and religion.

Let us, the survivors' descendants offer to fellow beings that which our parents and grandparents sought:  a helping hand, a supporting word, and a brotherly cooperation to save a life.

Let us learn to extend brotherly cooperation to sisters and brothers we don't share the same blood with, the same religion with, the same color with, the same culture with, as deep down, we all know, that cross cultural brotherhood is the only antidote to the scourge of war, and medicine for peace!