One by one, the 40 descendants of a group of Israeli siblings leaned down and hugged the elderly Greek woman to whom they owe their very existence, as she sat in her wheelchair and wiped away tears streaking down her wrinkled face.
Clutching the hands of those she hid, fed and protected as a teenager more than 75 years ago, 92-year-old Dina Melpomeni said she could now “die quietly.”
Sunday’s emotional encounter was the first time Dina had met the offspring of the Mordechai family she helped save during the Holocaust.
The Mordechai family lived in Veria, Greece, near Thessaloniki, where nearly the entire Jewish community was annihilated within a few months in one of the most brutal executions of the Nazis.
When the Nazis began rounding up the Jews for deportation in early 1943, the family’s non-Jewish friends provided them with fake identity cards and hid them in the attic of the old abandoned Turkish mosque. They were there for almost a year, hearing the screams outside of other Jews being rounded up. But eventually they had to leave because their health was declining in the cramped, unventilated attic.
That’s when Dina and her two older sisters took the family of seven into their own single-room home on the outskirts of the city, sharing with them their food rations.
One of the children, a six-year-old boy named Shmuel, became gravely ill and had to be taken to a hospital, despite the risk of exposing his identity. He died there.
Shortly after, the family was informed and Dina’s sisters and their relatives helped them flee in various directions.
Yanai, the oldest, headed for the woods, another went to the mountains, and the mother headed out on foot with her youngest two surviving children in search of another hiding spot.
Dina and her orphaned and impoverished sisters provided them with clothing before their departure. The family reunited after liberation and made their way to Israel, where the children started families of their own.
Yossi Mor, today 77, was just an infant when his family was taken in, but he said he could still remember a few things, such as when his older brother died and the kindness they encountered from their rescuers — who gave them various forms of refuge for nearly two years.
“They fed us, they gave us medicine, they gave us the protection, everything, they washed our clothes,” he said, before gesturing toward Dina. “She loved me very much.”
Mor and Yanai had reunited with Dina in Greece years ago. But the younger generation of their extended family had never met her before Sunday’s ceremony. The two soldiers proudly pushed Dina and Yanai throughout the complex in their wheelchairs.
Sourced via The Japan Times.