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elvira kohn

The two brothers, Sandor and Emil, Emil's family and Elza and her husband were taken to Auschwitz and murdered. Olga survived in Belgrade.
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When the war broke out in Croatia in 1991 [see Croatian War of Independence] [13], I wasn't afraid for some reason. I wasn't afraid of any catastrophes and disasters. Once someone called me on the phone and said threateningly, 'What are you still doing here, why don't you go where you belong?' I replied, 'I live in my apartment! Where should I go?' And he said, 'You have lived long enough!', and hung up. That scared me and disturbed me. But he never called again. He must have found my last name in the phone book and wanted to scare me.
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Today people say that the Italians didn't really kill anyone directly in the camp. My answer to that is: the Italians did and didn't kill in the camp. They killed indirectly. They killed by forcing us to work, by giving us small amounts of food, by giving us orders, by treating us like a lower race. They were cruel.

Often the inmates who had small children were given half a liter of milk for a child. The commandant of the camp who was among the worst, saw a mother with her child in one hand and a bottle of milk in the other, approached the mother, took the bottle from her and spilled the milk. They were cruel in these ways: starving us, mistreating us, scaring us, forcing us to work.
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In May 1943, when the internment camp on Rab [6] was built, we were transferred from Kupari to the Island of Rab. There were no religious or observant inmates and no one observed any Jewish traditions or laws. At least I don't remember anyone doing so.

The Island of Rab was also under Italian rule. There were two camps: one for Slovenes and the other for Jews. Slovenes were imprisoned by the Italians just like we were. The two camps were strictly separated and no communication or contact between the two camps could take place.

There was one man, a Slovene, who was an electrician and who was ordered to fix some electric failures or something similar in our camp. He was the only one from the Slovene camp that we had some contact with but even that was very rare and limited since the Italians kept their eyes on him while he carried out his duty.

The Jewish camp, called Kampor, was divided into two camps: the Dubrovnik camp, where I was with my mother and other Jews from Dubrovnik, and the Kraljevica camp. Jews who managed to run away from Zagreb, Karlovac, and the surroundings arrived in Crikvenica and were interned by Italians in Kraljevica, just a few kilometers away from Crikvenica.

After a while, they were transferred from Kraljevica to Rab and were interned in the camp next to ours. The two camps, Dubrovnik and Kraljevica camp, were separated and each was enclosed with a wired fence. We were allowed to meet with Jews from Kraljevica camp during the day but only from 12 noon to 2pm, during the hottest time of the day.

At other times, it was strictly forbidden to meet. There were cases of parents being in one camp and their children in the other, depending on who was where when the war started, and at least they could meet for a short time during the day. I was lucky that I was with my mother.

There were around 1200 Jews in Dubrovnik camp and perhaps the same number or maybe a bit more in Kraljevica camp. We were accommodated in the barracks; in Kraljevica camp, there were wooden barracks, and in Dubrovnik camp they were made out of bricks.

The barracks were long and somewhat narrow. There were some 30 people in one barrack. The beds were bunk-beds: one person sleeping on the top and one on the bottom. The beds were one next to the other, on both sides of the barrack.

The toilets were outside, far away; to go to the toilet was like going on an excursion. The toilets were in one place and everyone from our camp used the same facilities, but there were a few toilet bowls, not just one. There was water in the camp, but for some weeks the central unit that supplied water was broken so cisterns with water were delivered to the camp. We received one liter of water per person per day, and that had to be enough for drinking and for personal hygiene.

We got a small amount of food which wasn't enough to keep us for the whole day. It was also disgusting. For breakfast, we got coffee that wasn't real coffee but some mishmash that tasted awful, and a piece of bread for the whole day. That piece we divided into three parts so that we also had a little piece for lunch and a little piece for dinner.

For lunch, we were given some soup, dried vegetables brewed up with old and foul-smelling oil, or pasta with oil. Pasta was usually served for dinner; thick black macaroni with oil. Even today, when I see someone pour oil over his food, I feel disgusted. Sometimes we were served goulash with meat and potatoes, but only small amounts of meat.

Every one of us had his turn to work in the kitchen; it was like a duty call, an obligatory call, perhaps once or twice in a week. We only helped around the kitchen to prepare the food, but the cooks cooked; we didn't. I remember once it was my turn to work in the kitchen and that day goulash with potatoes was served. The soldiers brought large baskets filled with already cooked potatoes and we were supposed to peal off the skin.

When the soldiers came to collect the potatoes, they looked inside the basket, then looked at us and asked: dove sono gli potati? [Italian: where are the potatoes] They gave us cooked potatoes to peal, and of course we ate more than half of the amount, who wouldn't have? We were hungry! The soldiers were very upset and from then on they always gave us raw potatoes to peal, and it was impossible to eat raw potatoes.

We usually woke up around 6 or 6.30 in the morning. The breakfast was brought to our barracks by the soldiers at 7am and by then we already had to be up and ready for breakfast, that is that horrible coffee and a piece of bread.

After breakfast, we each had our obligations that had to be fulfilled during the day. In the camp, everyone had to work or do something else during the day. The Italians weren't forcing us to work in a particular place; we could choose where we wanted to work. It looked as if it was voluntary work whereas we were actually forced to do something, it was just the place that we could choose. But sometimes even the place of work was determined.

There was something like a tailor's place where women who wanted to work there went. Buttons fell off from soldiers' uniforms or other things like that, so women went to do these jobs. Whoever worked there would be given an extra portion of food; this was like voluntary work, we weren't forced to do that.

Out of pure spite, I refused to sew buttons on soldiers' uniforms and never went to work there. Then, the Italians always built some roads and men usually went to dig and build these roads. That was hard physical labor. Men who worked there were also given an extra portion of food.

There was also a medical clinic in the camp, and usually the imprisoned Jews who were doctors worked there. In addition, there was a school for small children to teach them how to read and write so that they wouldn't remain illiterate. The inmates who were teachers worked there and taught children the basics in language and mathematics, the elementary things. The Italians allowed this.

I worked in the hospital. On the coastal side, in the town of Rab, which was four to five kilometers from the Kampor camp, there was the Hotel Imperial, which served as a hospital. Whoever wanted to work in the hospital could do so, and I volunteered. Every morning, Italian soldiers took a few of us on the truck to the hospital and brought us back in the afternoon.

We usually helped nurses in sterilizing bandages and preparing medical utensils. The patients who were treated in this hospital were the inmates from the Kampor camp. My mother sometimes worked in the tailors' place but most of the times she helped in the kitchen.

Lunch was served between 12 noon and 2pm. We had to go to the kitchen to collect our portion of food and then return to the barrack to eat there. During that time, we were also allowed to meet with the Jews from Kraljevica camp. We usually had the afternoons off. Depending on the nature of the work, sometimes someone had to work in the afternoon as well, but usually we had time off. Sometimes the Italians took us to the beach; they allowed us to go swimming.

They allowed 20 or 25 people to go to the beach, so we rotated. If more people went, it would have been more difficult for them to keep their eyes on us, so only 20 or 25 went at a time. It was around one or two kilometers to the beach and we walked. The Italians watched over us and guarded us very strictly and rigorously.

It was one of the Italian specialties to count us; they counted us again and again. We always had to line up and they counted and counted, before we left, while we were walking, while we were on the beach, when we walked back; they permanently counted us!

After we came back from the beach, we had off until 9pm. We usually walked around, many of us knew each other from before or we became friendly during our imprisonment so we walked and talked. At 9pm, the lights went off and we had to be in our beds in the barracks. The barracks weren't locked during the night.

The guards guarded them and walked around the camp during the night so that no one would even try to escape. It was very hot in the barracks especially during the night but the worst were the bedbugs. Our barracks were full of them and they drove us crazy. Those bugs bite and are very annoying so it was difficult to sleep at night.
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We were first taken to the hotel Vrek in Gruz, a few kilometers from Dubrovnik. There we stayed for two months and at the beginning of January 1943 we were taken to Kupari. There were around 1200 Jews.

Kupari is about twelve kilometers from Dubrovnik and there we were interned in a Czech hotel that was situated on the seaside. It was a large hotel that was delimited with wire. We were only allowed to walk within the wired fence. The Italian soldiers were all over; there were also Italian guards who kept their eyes on us all the time.

They didn't allow us to go beyond the fence or to the coast because they thought that someone might swim away. So we had to stay inside the hotel or walk just a little bit around it. We received food but I rather not recall that: it was dried vegetables in oil and a piece of bread.

Then we had to cut this piece of bread in three parts, one for breakfast, the second for lunch, and the third for dinner. A friend of mine from Zagreb sent me a package with some food; we were allowed to receive one package per month. But even the food she sent me had to be dry so that it could be preserved.
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I didn't feel much anti-Semitism in Dubrovnik before the war. Perhaps right before the war started, anti-Semitism was felt more individually than collectively. My boss, Miho Ercegovic, had one partner named Gesel. This Mr. Gesel told my boss that he must fire whoever was Jewish. He knew I was Jewish.

So my boss, who was very inclined to me, had to fire me but he did so only officially so that he wouldn't get into trouble. He still let me work 'unofficially' for him and I continued to do my job and take photos and that way I could earn my living. This was just when the NDH was proclaimed a state and the Ustashas came to power.

We were forced to wear a badge since the NDH was proclaimed in 1942. There were other discriminating laws implemented against Jews: in addition to wearing the badge, we were forbidden to work in state and public services, and we were deprived of the freedom of passage. We were allowed to go to the beach or to the market only until a certain time of the day; a curfew was imposed on us.

In Dubrovnik, the state power was in the hands of the Croats, i.e. of the Ustashas, and the military power was in the hands of the Italians. It was our luck that the Italians were in power there. The Germans, in collaboration with the Ustashas, tried to take us to their concentration camps, but the Italians made clear to them that they were in power in Dubrovnik and that it was Italian right to do what they wanted to do with us. And because the military power was greater than the state power, we were, in a way, put under the protection of the Italians.

The Jewish community informed all the Jews living in Dubrovnik, the Jews who by accident happened to be there, and the Jews who came to Dubrovnik to run away or hide, that on a certain day in November 1942 we would be taken away and that we could take with us what we thought was necessary. I was with my mother. We were taken aboard a large Italian passenger ship and many people of Dubrovnik came to see us off.

Among them was my boss Miho Ercegovic. When I saw him, I approached him and returned his camera. And he said, 'No, you keep it, and whatever happens will be captured on film.
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I recall well one event in Dubrovnik: in April 1942, the NDH was proclaimed an Independent State of Croatia [5]. On this occasion, a great ceremony and celebration took place in Dubrovnik. All the high-ranking officials of the NDH came to Dubrovnik and requested that this ceremony be photographed.

Apart from me, there were two more men in Dubrovnik who worked as photo- reporters; however, that day they were already busy working elsewhere. By then Jews already had to wear a badge. Everywhere else in Croatia, Jews had to wear a yellow star but in Dubrovnik we wore on the left side of the chest a brass-like yellow badge within which was the black letter 'Z' [Zidov=Jew].

My boss told the officials that other photo-reporters were busy but that signorina [Italian for Miss] Elvira - that's how they used to call me in Dubrovnik - was available to take photos. 'If you don't mind that is. You know, she is Jewish', my boss said to them, and they replied that they didn't mind as long as the whole event was photographed.

The main ceremony took place in front of St. Vlaho church, and all the officials stood on the stairs of the church. Professor Kastelan and his sister were among the officials and many other functionaries and deeply religious Catholics. The ceremony began and I started to take photos. I had a Leica then. I stood there and took photos with my Leica on one side and the badge on the other.

After a short while, I noticed that the sister of this Professor Kastelan whispered something into his ear and they both looked at me. They stared at me for some time, and, as I noticed this, I slowly started to move back towards the crowd.

I wanted this to be unnoticed, and I moved slowly and disappeared into the crowd. Soon the sister came down the stairs, walked through the crowd, came straight up to me and asked me to stop taking photos immediately. At her request, I stopped and left the event.
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Mico Alvo

What the Greeks really didn't like at the time was that the Jews would speak Spanish and French to each other. And they used to say, 'But you are Greeks, why do you speak in another language?' And they couldn't understand that this is how they were brought up. They weren't Greeks; they suddenly became Greeks. They lived in Greece but Thessaloniki was then Turkish, it wasn't Greek, which the others couldn't understand. And the truth is that the Jews didn't know Greek. Since they hadn't been taught the language, how could they have known it? This brought some friction between them at the beginning.

Until 1940 relations between Christians and Jews were a bit tense. Not between the children, because the children that were going to school then started learning Greek anyway. The teachers were proud that the Jews were learning Greek. Then they started getting jealous because they would learn Greek better than the Christians. However, most of the tension was created by the generation of my parents. I could feel it. Many times on the tram I could hear two men speaking to each other in French and someone saying to them, 'Why are you speaking in French? Aren't you Greek?

You couldn't make them understand that when they grew up this wasn't Greece. My father spoke about incidents like that with my mother. There was a time when anti-Semitism grew, especially here in Thessaloniki. Not so much in other places in Greece, but mostly here in Thessaloniki. When the events took place. When Metaxas [32] came, everything stopped.
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In February 1943 [74] they put all Jews in a ghetto. One couldn't live wherever one wanted in the city. You had to live in certain neighborhoods, the ghettos [75], which Greek gendarmes were guarding and they had put civil guards on duty, too. It was the area around the Community offices. This area started at Androutsou Street and went further than where the Community was, to Evzonon. Everyone was in that area because that was an area where many Jews lived already. They had taken an area and guarded it so that no one could get out.

Besides that, we were all wearing the stars. Later, when I left, I found out that it was the easiest thing to take off your star and throw it away and get up and leave. No one would say anything to you. The Germans were very smart and associated everything they did with fear. The only measure that they were taking was to make sure you were scared. They said that if anyone tried to leave they would shoot them in cold blood. That was enough for no one to even try. If you were to take your star off and the gendarme saw you, he wouldn't come and ask you for your ID. Because there weren't only Jews in the ghetto, there were also Christians. Whoever was living there hadn't been thrown out of their houses, and they didn't ask them for papers or anything. So the terrorization of the Germans was based on fear.

Some Jews left the ghetto. The ones that could just left. It happened two or three times that someone saw them and killed them on the spot. Among them was a good friend of mine, Maurice Errera. At the cemetery there is a grave of six chaps, who were the same age as I, who they caught during their attempt to leave. They weren't caught by the Germans, someone gave them in. And they caught them and executed them straight away. That was enough to terrify all the rest of us.

I was living in the ghetto. We were at Miaouli Street. The Germans wouldn't let you go. They would make us do many things. Everyone had to declare all their assets. They ordered some young men to collect all these declarations, and I was one of them.

They set up an office for us at a school nearby. And people would come to fill in their declarations, and we were helping them to fill them in correctly.

The Germans had made lists of forty or fifty of the most distinguished members of the Community and they said that they were going to be their hostages. Among them was my father. They said, 'If any of these people leave, we will kill as many.' Their mentality was threatening. And my father thought, 'Twenty young people to be killed because of me?
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They had taken my uncle to forced labor, close to Katerini [71]. They had taken all the Jews there for the new railway and the road they were building. Our customers from Katerini were bringing him food. We had customers that we knew from before the war, and they were bringing him food. My uncle worked until they paid the ransom. For a couple of months. Then many of the doctors became involved by giving you a certificate that you were unsuitable to work. They issued such certificates. I think this is why Solomon could leave. He managed to get a certificate stating that he was unable to work.

From my family no one else went to the local forced labor camps. I worked in a factory. There was an occupied factory that was making wooden boxes. It was close to the railway station. It belonged to a Jew; I think his name was Cohen. At Santarosa Street, they were making embrasures. There were many factories making embrasures at the time. They didn't make any plastic ones then; they were all made out of wood. I worked for about a month and a half. Until the Community had to pay the ransom.

My job was to cut and nail crates. They were crates for fruit. A kind of a carpenter's job. We would start early in the morning. Sometimes the tram was operating and sometimes it wasn't. When we knew that there was no tram coming the next day we had to get up an hour earlier to walk from the 4th stop of Martiou to get there, and an hour to get back. We would go there, we would get some food to eat, and we would finish. We would start at 7:30 to 8 in the morning and we would finish around 5 in the evening. The working day would last eight hours.

The factory didn't have many Jews. German cars were coming to load things up. We were supervised by both Jews and Greeks. Their behavior was good, normal. Both younger and older people worked there. To work in a factory like this at a time when there was forced labor, you had to have a way in, that is, you had to pay. In comparison with the railway tracks, this was a piece of cake. I don't know how my father arranged it. He knew someone in there, maybe he was a customer of his, and he chose the workers. He said, 'I want this one.' I don't know how it happened, but it was regarded as great luck.
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My brother went down to Athens to take his exams for the Polytechnic in June 1942. They called us all to gather at Eleutherias Square [70] on 1st or 11th July, I don't remember the exact date. There many things happened... It was the first call for forced labor: to go and be drafted for labor. And the Germans transformed it into a feast. They had people photographing all around the balconies of the buildings that they had occupied. They would make you do gymnastic exercises; they would beat you up, two or three died from the beating. And they also had the women soldiers that were called 'Blitzmädchen.' This is a compound word: 'Mädchen' means lady and 'Blitz' means thunder. When we saw this happening we called my brother and told him, 'Don't come back to Thessaloniki.' And from that time on he stayed in Athens.
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In 1943 they took over our factory and then they arrested me and my father. Until then we were working at the factory. Because there was no electricity we worked there only at night. And we were trying to get hold of raw materials. We had five or six workers working of the thirty that we had in the beginning. Anyway not all of the machines were working anymore. We didn't have the raw materials; we didn't have any moving power. We didn't have petrol. We had gas with wood. We would start the motor on wood.

The products of the factory were in great demand. We didn't produce all the products. We produced nails and a few other things. I remember the nails were made out of wire. But because we had no wire, this is what we did: We went to the junkshops and the old warehouses; we bought barbed wire that was available in large quantities. We would buy it, we would untangle it and take the prickles off and we would turn it into normal wire, which we then took and cut to nails. You can imagine how much that would cost. Even so, we still had a margin for profit. We sold that at the shop, the Germans weren't taking this for their army needs.

Apart from that, we had set up a wheat mill at the factory. Because starvation had started and there was already great shortage. They would come and we would put the wheat on the mill and make flour, for people to make bread at home. They never paid you. You wouldn't accept a payment but you would get a small percentage for the milling. I don't remember what percentage we were getting for the milling.

During the occupation they had recommended to me some secret houses [non- registered brothels]. These were much cleaner and nicer, and one could find nice girls. Many girls went there out of pure necessity because they didn't have any money. And it was completely different from what we knew from the professionals. I remember at Proxenou Koromila Street there was Mrs. Pipina. She had really nice girls and a nice environment. It wasn't like you had to go to the lounge and choose. Sometimes I would be on my way from the factory and I would get in the mood, and go. That time of the day you wouldn't find anyone there and it was...
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Grandfather Alvo had already died, only his wife was still alive. Grandmother Alvo died during the occupation from natural causes. I think it was in 1941 or 1942. She was ill, she had cancer. They already knew what kind of illness cancer was. We all lived in our own houses. We hadn't all gathered in one house. Two or three days after the Germans came in, we left our house. At the beginning we went and stayed at my aunt's, my mother's sister, Lily. We were a bit crammed there.

Afterward, we moved into the apartment on top of where my aunt lived; it was for rent so we rented it out. That was the house on Skopelos Street which was the parallel street to Papakyriazi. We stayed there until they turned it into a ghetto. They forced us to go and live in the ghetto. The ghetto was introduced in February 1943. From April 1941 until February 1943 we lived in this house on Skopelos Street.

In the new apartment lived my mother and father, my sister, me and my brother, who was studying for the Polytechnic. He studied in 1941 to take exams to get in. There was hunger then. There was nothing around in the summer. I went to the shop at Ionos Dragoumi Street, my brother stayed in the house and was studying, and my sister went to school.
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When the Germans came to Thessaloniki, a friend of mine, a school friend who used to live nearby, and I thought, just out of curiosity, 'Let's go out and walk to the White Tower to see what is happening.' We would walk as far as we could. The first Germans that came to the White Tower square were some motorcyclists. They had trucks that were following with machines that were printing out the occupation marks [paper money issued by the German authorities]. I think that one mark was fifty drachmas. And when they paid you with this currency, you were obliged to accept it. That's what they called occupation marks. Because they were saying that the country that has been occupied should maintain the armed forces that had come here to protect it. That was the first thing that made an impression on us. I think that they were giving sweets to the children, as propaganda.

When the Germans came in, they started making up orders. They ordered the Jews and afterwards everyone else, to give in all the radios and all the bicycles. They pretended that they needed them. The radios, so we could no longer listen to the news. We were listening to the BBC then. They forced the Sailing Club to turn away all the Jews. From the Marine Club, too. Less from the Marine Club because it was more reserved, but there were many Jews at the Sailing Club. The Germans told them there, 'You will throw them all out.' Alright. Then they went and they seized all the boats.

As soon as the Germans came in, they put signs up in many stores 'Jews are not welcome in this shop.' Mainly in patisseries such as Flocas. Some store owners put them up. It was something that the Germans wished, but not all the store owners put them up. This didn't last very long though. In a month's time they had taken them all down again. They thought that it was compulsory, but when they saw that it wasn't they all took the signs down again.

Two days after the Germans entered, a paper from the 'Kommandantur' [commandant's headquarters] arrives, saying that our house was seized. The Germans had chosen around 50 or 60 houses, the best ones in Thessaloniki, for the officers of the higher division to move there. In many families they occupied one room, where one or two officers would live and one would have to take care of them. Not to feed them, but to keep their rooms clean and tidy. Of course all this for free, nothing in return.

Our house was one of the nice houses. They took it because we were Jews. They told us, 'We give you four hours to empty it, take with you only your personal belongings, nothing else, and leave.' Where furniture or anything heavier was concerned, we couldn't take any of that. My mother went really mad, because for a housewife, the most important thing is her house. She didn't know what to take and what to leave behind. And the poor woman never saw her house again. They turned our house into an officers' club, an officers' mess. Because it was such a nice house, it had a piano, a garden, furniture, everything.
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I remember the death of Mordehai Frizis [65]. All the newspapers in Thessaloniki and Athens wrote about it. They would discuss it and say, 'all the Greeks are fighting together for freedom.' It was written that he was the first officer of a higher rank that got killed. Then it was mentioned that Muslims in Thrace had died, too. It also said that all united, with no difference of religion or ethnicity, were fighting for freedom and the country. I remember that well.

This was quite a positive thing to hear after the situation with Metaxas, who didn't recruit Jews in the EON. He would recruit them in other cities but not in Thessaloniki. Everybody wanted to get in the EON. We mostly wanted to get in it because we didn't want to be any different from all the rest of the people. Not that we were fond of fascism and the rest of it. Because Metaxas, one the one hand, had a really excellent attitude on account of the war, but on the other hand, what he did with beating people up and stuff like that was another story. We knew from the security police what the people who were regarded as communists went through. The word was spreading around. They were sending them to islands into exile. And many were Jews who were leftists. We knew that fascism was fascism. But then everyone had changed in favor of Metaxas.
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