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elvira kohn

I had many friends both Jewish and non-Jewish. It was a small town and we all knew each other. I don't know how I drew people towards me, but I had many friends and they all liked me.

When I arrived in Dubrovnik it was January or February 1932, a season when less foreign people come, and whoever comes is noticed. And so was I noticed. I met one nice young man who worked in the photo studio. He introduced me to a few people, who then introduced me to a few more, and so it goes.

My good friend was Mara; she was from Dubrovnik and she worked in the book store that was part of the shop where I worked. She wasn't Jewish but she was a very good young woman. Many people were very good and very kind to me.
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After Kolodvorska Street, we moved to Daniciceva Street, and then to King Aleksandar Street, that was the name then, I don't know what it's called today. We lived in a one-story house with three rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. We didn't have running water but we had a well in our backyard. Vinkovci had a gas plant, so we had gas and not electricity. We used it for heating and cooking. Apart from a few fruit-trees and a small garden, we didn't have anything else in the backyard.
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baby pisetskaya

Kursk was an industrial town near Moscow. There were one and two-storied buildings in town. There are two rivers near Kursk: the Seyn and the Tuskar river; and there are mixed woods around the town. Many Jews lived in Kursk before the war. There was a synagogue in town.
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There was a substantial Jewish population in the town at the beginning of the 20th century. They were involved in commerce and crafts. There were tailors, barbers and shoemakers among the Jewish population. There were a few synagogues and a shochet in town. There is a popular park called Sophievka in Uman, it was founded by Count Felix Pototsky at the end of the 18th century.
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Jankiel Kulawiec

Losice was a Jewish town - a shtetl. It was a small town - about 4,000 inhabitants, of which I joke that 99.9 percent were Jews and the rest Poles. [Editor's note: in Losice the Jewish population numbered 2,708 (70% of total population) in 1921, and 2,900 before the outbreak of World War II.] All around the square only Jews lived, and in other quarters Jews and non-Jews lived mixed together. Most of them were very poor, but there were rich ones too. They had wood yards; one was very rich - I can't remember his surname or his first name any more. And the fancy goods stores, and various others. The rich ones stood out, and that's why the Poles have it in their minds that Jews are rich. But no-one saw the poverty. The Jews married among themselves for the most part, but I can vaguely remember that once the daughter of an orthodox Jew married a Pole, and they had to leave Losice, because her father simply renounced her.
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Mico Alvo

To tell you the truth, I didn't really go to Grandmother and Grandfather Alvo's house. I used to go there only on holidays, for dinner. They had two tables, one for the adults and one for the youngsters. We couldn't all fit at one table. It was really nice at dinner, when there was one table with the adults, some fifteen to sixteen people, and one with the youth with more than ten children sitting around and teasing each other.

Grandmother Rachel did all the chores in the house, and she had a maid. She didn't leave the house because she was illiterate and didn't know how to read. When they were about to rent a new house she would ask for a house on a main road so that she could watch what was going on in the street. She would sit in front of the window and watch the people on the street.

I don't know if she did the shopping herself. They didn't go out to shop then, they would bring everything around to the house. The kid from the shop would knock on the door every day and say, 'Good morning, what would you like me to bring you today?'

Then the grocery man would come by with his donkey, then the butcher would ask, 'What do you want to get for tomorrow?' And the same with the fruit seller. She wouldn't go to the city center to do her shopping. She would go only to get other things there like shoes or clothes. And she wouldn't go with her husband, but with her daughter or her daughter-in-law. I know that my mother and my aunt usually escorted her.
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I remember the house where they lived after I was born. It was on Koromila Street at the fourth stop of the tram. They were renting it from an Armenian. It was quite a nice house. At the beginning, before the Great Fire [5], everyone lived down in the center of the city.

The Jews were the ones that suffered most from the fire because the area where they were living, from the White Tower [6] all the way to the city center, burned down. My grandmother and grandfather lived much better after the fire, even though it took them a few years to recover.

They used to tell many stories about the fire. First of all, in the way they would keep track of time: they would say, 'two years after the Fire,', or, 'three years before the Fire'. We say B.C. and A.D., back then it was before or after the fire. They regarded the fire as a starting point, or a turning point, because the whole city of Thessaloniki got ruined.

They all gathered in the houses of the few families that lived in an area that wasn't burned. If someone, let's say, had a house with four rooms, the relatives would come and he would put one family in each room. You can imagine how this was, and under what circumstances they had to live.
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We knew that in the downgraded areas of Thessaloniki like '151' or 'Reggie' there was great poverty. For example, we had a woman that would come when we had to do the laundry. She would come on foot from Vardari to our house, which was four stops. She would start walking around 6 o'clock in order to be at our house at 7.30. She would work all day and walk back home again, so she wouldn't have to pay for the tram. And that was common.

To the settlement No. '6' [46], which was near our house, I used to go sometimes because we knew maids that lived there. I could see how they lived there, four or five people in one room, in shanties. Those were shanties of the Allies. That's why it was called number six. The women would sit outside. Their sole entertainment was when they didn't have work to sit outside and chat with their neighbors.

My parents never used to tell us to be careful when we went there, or not to go there. It wasn't anything harmful. We never heard of anything happening there. On the contrary, they used to tell us, 'Wherever you can help, you should.' Many people would come around our house. They would say, 'I'm in great need, I don't have milk for my baby' And other such things.
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We grew up learning three languages. Our maids were usually Greek, and they were the ones that we would speak Greek with. We spoke French to our parents and they spoke Spanish to each other. With Grandmother and Grandfather we spoke Spanish. With both the grandfathers, but Grandfather Daniel also knew French. Not well, but he spoke it. While my paternal grandfather Haim didn't know French at all. We mostly spoke in French. I started developing my Greek when I went to elementary school.

You cannot imagine how many Greeks, Christians, spoke Ladino better than me! They couldn't work in trade if they didn't. Even the high society spoke Ladino, not only the employees, but also the shop owners.
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Mainly Christians lived in the neighborhood. We didn't have Jewish neighbors. It was a wealthy area. It was full of detached houses of one or two stories, with very nice gardens, and they would be very competitive about who had the prettiest flowers. Three or four houses would have the same gardener, Charito.

We had really good relationships with the neighbors, with all the Greeks of the neighborhood. Their financial situation was about the same as ours, maybe slightly lower. We had really good relations with the family of Germanos, who also spoke French. It was an Athenian family, very aristocratic. Nikolaos Germanos was the one who founded the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair [36]. I remember the first time that the Fair opened, the manager, Nikolaos Germanos, took along Mother and Father in the taxi. He went to the inauguration of the Fair in a taxi! His younger daughter, Alexandra, loved my mother very much and she would come around the house very often.
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My father didn't have many friends, but he had some very good friends. He had Mr. Nehama, who was a professor of his. He was also friends with the brother of Mr. Nehama. He was a manager in a bank and he later married a Christian. He had some other friends that were called Hassid. They were family friends.

Because there were many brothers and sisters, they would meet up every Sunday in one house or the other. They didn't have any time during the week. They only went to the cinema, as they loved the cinema. At the time, the cinema was considered the best entertainment. My grandfather and grandmother didn't go, but Mother and Father would go at least once a week. There were four or five cinemas in Thessaloniki then. They used to say that the Dionysia was the best cinema and that it showed the best films.

Good films were being produced at the time. There were German films, too, which were quite good but Mother and Father preferred the French ones, as they could understand those better and didn't have to read the subtitles. They didn't bring any American cinematography to Thessaloniki at the time. We had French and German films and that was all. The most famous film was 'Imperio Argentina.' This film was not known only by the Jews, but all of Thessaloniki loved it. Of course, another big hit was Eduardo Bianco; he was the one that played the tango. Thessaloniki went crazy over his performance.

In the summer, my parents would go out to the 'Luxemburg' after dinner. It was on the sea side, close to the shipyards. They would go there, listen to music and dance. Sometimes they would also go to Flocas. Flocas was regarded as luxury restaurant. They would go to the White Tower when there was something playing at the theater. Some good plays used to be performed.

They would also go out and eat at the 'Olympos-Naoussa' and at 'Soutzoukakia.' When the 'Soutzoukakia' first opened, I remember, they took us there, too. They told us, 'You will see, we will go to a place that you will like very much.' And then they took us to the Soutzoukakia of Rogoti. And indeed we went and we liked it very much. They didn't take us, the children, out much; it would be the two of them going out mostly. They would leave us at home. They mostly went out on Saturdays, Fridays almost never, because my father opened the shop on Saturdays.
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Rafael Genis

We had Father's butcher's shop on the first floor of our house. The animal was slaughtered and then taken to my father. He took it, then cut the carcass into pieces and got it ready for sale. At first, he had an assistant. When we grew up, we started helping him. There was about one hectare of our land by our house and we helped our parents to work on it. We grew herbs, onions, carrots, potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes to have enough for our family. However, a significant part of the land was leased out by my father. We also had cattle - a cow and a horse. Father loved horses - he fed and cleaned his favorite himself. Thus, we had our own milk, curds, sour cream and butter.
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Like Father's sisters, my mother baked bread, pretzels and there was a wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread in our house. On market days - Wednesday and Sunday - there were large carts of Lithuanian peasants in our yard. They had tea with pretzels sitting at our long table in the yard. When it was cold, they were in our big kitchen on the first floor of our house. Mother was no competitor to Father's sisters Chaya Riva and Golda. On the market day the town was flooded by peasants, who were hungry and thirsty. Both Mother's and Father's sisters had their own regular clientele.
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Our house was on the central street called Kvedarnos. That street name has been kept. Our town was Jewish. More than a half of the three-thousand strong population were Jews. It is hard to remember everybody, but I still can recall some last names. Gorol sold hardware, tiles, rolled iron; Katz dealt in textile. There were three restaurants in our town, owned by the Jews Lurie and Rodinkovich and a Lithuanian, Eliosius. Every Friday, Lithuanian workers went out partying. There was also a Jewish intelligentsia. Jacques was considered to be the best doctor. We bought the medicine in Friedman's pharmacy. There was one synagogue in our town. It was attended by Jews every day, especially on Jewish holidays and Sabbath.
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In 1916 the first-born, my elder brother Dovid, came into the world. Liber was born two years later, Isroel - in 1920 and in 1922 - Abram. On 21st June 1923 I was born. Mother was expecting a difficult parturition, so she left for Klaipeda to give birth there. Thus, I came into the world in Klaipeda and my birth certificate in Lithuanian and German was issued there. I was named Rafael. Another sibling was born in our family. In 1927 a long awaited girl, Tsilya, was born. Everybody adored the baby. The elder ones carried her in their arms and played with her like with a doll. When she grew up, all of us pampered her. We, the elder kids, were made to work about the house and in the garden, and Tsilya was our little princess. Then [in 1929] a boy, Ichil Berko, was born after Tsilya.
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