Holocaust survivors reunite with Greek rescuer in fading ritual

Forty Israeli siblings who survived the Holocaust met the 92-year-old Greek woman who helped save their lives decades ago.

The reunion took place Sunday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Israel on Sunday in a once regular ritual that's been fading because of the advanced ages of rescuers and survivors.

During the reunion, there was not a dry eye in sight as siblings Sarah Yanai and Yossi Mor, whose family name had been Mordechai, hugged Melpomeni Dina, the woman who saved their lives during the Holocaust in Greece, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“There are no words to describe this feeling,” Yanai, now 86, said. “It is very emotional for us to be together again.”

Melpomeni Dina holding the hand of an Israeli girl during a reunion at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Melpomeni Dina holding the hand of an Israeli girl during a reunion at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Sunday. (AP Photo/Patty Nieberg)

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Holding the hands of those she hid, fed and protected as a teenager over 75 years ago, Dina said she could now “die quietly.”

Sunday’s emotional reunion reportedly was the first time Dina had met the offspring of the family she helped save.

The Mordechai family lived in Veria, Greece, a small city near Thessaloniki, where nearly the entire Jewish community was destroyed within a few months in one of the most brutal executions of the Nazis.

In early 1943, when the Nazis started rounding up Jewish people for deportation, the family’s non-Jewish friends were said to have hidden them in the attic of an old abandoned Turkish mosque. They said they were there for almost a year but had to leave because their health was deteriorating in the unventilated attic.

Once a regular ritual, such reunions have been fewer and farther between due to the advanced ages of rescuers and survivors. 

Once a regular ritual, such reunions have been fewer and farther between due to the advanced ages of rescuers and survivors.  (AP Photo/Patty Nieberg)

It was then that 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 sparse food rations for nearly two years.

“The risk they took upon themselves to take in an entire family knowing that it put them and everyone around them in danger,” Yanai said. “Look at all these around us. We are now a very large and happy family and it is all thanks to them saving us.”

While living with Dina and her sisters, one of the Mordechai children, a six-year-old boy, became very sick and even with the risk of exposing his identity, had to be taken to a hospital where he died. Shortly after, Dina and her orphaned and impoverished sisters reportedly helped the family escape and even gave them clothing before they took off.

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 place to hide, the relatives said. The family reunited after liberation and went to Israel, where the children built families of their own.

“They fed us, they gave us medicine, they gave us the protection, everything, they washed our clothes,” Yossi Mor, now 77, who was just an infant when his family was taken in, said during Sunday’s reunion.

Dina told reporters on Sunday that what she and her sisters did was “the right thing to do,” the Post reported.

Mor and Yanai, who reportedly said they were “very emotional and excited” about the reunion, had gotten together with Dina in Greece years ago, but the younger generation of their extended family had never met her before Sunday’s ceremony.

Melpomeni Dina, center right, posing for a group photo during the reunion at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

Melpomeni Dina, center right, posing for a group photo during the reunion at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Patty Nieberg)

“I’d heard so much about it growing up and it’s really special to finally put a face to the name,” Mor’s grandson, Imri Dor, said Sunday.

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He reportedly added, “She is a great inspiration, I hope that I will have the same courage.”

About 6 million Jews were killed by Nazis and their collaborators during World War II. Over 27,000, including more than 350 from Greece, have been recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations,”  Israel’s highest honor to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jewish people during the Holocaust.

The honorees' names have been engraved along an avenue of trees at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. Only a few hundred are believed to be alive now.

“This is probably going to our last reunion, because of age and frailty,” Stanlee Stahl, the executive vice president of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, which sponsored the event, said.

Stahl added that her organization has been doing such reunions every year since 1992.

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“Either the survivor has passed on, the righteous has passed on or in some instances either the survivor or the righteous gentile is unable to travel,” she said, choking up.

Similar reunions of long-lost siblings or other relatives sponsored by Yad Vashem also are said to be coming to an end.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.