Bouena Sarfatty (Part III)

Bouena left a rich legacy of poetry in the Sephardi and Jewish communities for generations to come.

Greece 390 (photo credit: OFIR ADANI)
Greece 390
(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 survivors displayed.
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 home.
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 support.
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 building.
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 14, 1946.
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.
While a 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 English.
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.
The author 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).