Melpomeni Dina is a Greek woman who hid the Mordechais, a Jewish family of six, in her one-room apartment during the Nazi deportation of the Jews of Greece in 1943. On November 4, 2019, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Melpomeni was reunited with the siblings she saved. It was the first time they’d seen each other in 75 years. Also present on the joyous occasion were the Jewish siblings’ 40 descendants, all of whom owe their lives to Melpomeni.
The Mordechai family lived in Veria, Greece, near Salonika, which boasted thriving community of Jews who’d settled there after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. The Germans invaded Greece on April 9, 1941. For a time, it appeared that persecuting Greek Jews was not a priority for the Nazis. That false sense of security ended on July 11, 1942, known as “Black Shabbat.” All Jewish men between 18 and 45 were rounded up and forced to do humiliating physical labor at gunpoint. They were then ordered to build a road for the Germans in an area infested with malaria. Within two months, 12% had died of exhaustion and disease.
But the worst was yet to come. The Nazis began deporting the Jews of Greece to death camps. Over 90% of Greece’s Jews were murdered. Only the Jews of Poland experienced a greater devastation of their community. When the Nazis started rounding up Jews, friends of the Mordechai family hid them in the cramped attic of an abandoned Turkish mosque. They hid there for a year, and could hear the desperate screams of their fellow Jews as they were arrested, and sometimes shot on the spot.
Although the Mordechais were temporarily safe from the Nazis, spending 24 hours a day in a tiny, filthy, unventilated attic took a toll on their health. They could not survive in that hiding place much longer. So Melpomeni Dina and her two older sisters rescued the Mordechais in the dead of night and transported them to their own one-room hovel on the outskirts of town. This put them in great danger. They knew that if the hidden family was discovered, all of them, including the Dinas, would be killed. The Dina sisters shared their meager wartime food rations with the Jewish family. Sadly one of the Mordechai children, six year old Shmuel, became sick and died. Soon after, an informant told the Nazis about the hidden Jewish family, and the Mordechais were in immediate danger. Melpomeni and her sisters helped them escape, some hid in the woods and others in the mountains. The Dinas provided them with clothing and supplies.
Miraculously, the five Mordechais survived the war and reunited after liberation, then moved to Israel. The children grew up and raised families of their own. None of the Mordechais or their descendants ever forgot the heroic Greek sisters who rescued them. Yossi Mor, 77, was just a baby when his family was taken in, but he grew up hearing stories about Melpomeni and her sisters. “They fed us, they gave us medicine, they gave us protection, everything, they washed our clothes. They loved me very much.”
Melpomeni Dina, the last surviving sister, is 92 years old. In the first week of November, 2019, she was brought to Israel by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous for a reunion at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. These reunions of rescuers and rescued have taken place every year since 1992, but 2019 is the last year because there are so few left. Forty family members gathered to honor Melopomeni. Yanai, the oldest Mordechai daughter, marveled at, “the risk they took upon themselves to take in an entire family knowing that it put them and everyone around them in danger. Look at all those around us. We are now a very large and happy family and it is all thanks to them saving us.”
One by one, the forty members of the Mordechai family and their descendants approached Melopmeni in her wheelchair, leaned down and kissed her, as the tears streamed down her withered face. Yanai said, “It is a very emotional feeling, I can’t describe it. We were hidden in her house. She saved all my family. Six persons… you can’t imagine how dangerous it was for her, for her family, to keep us all. What can I say. They saved our lives.”
As the family members hugged and kissed her, Melpomeni said, “”Now I can die quietly.”
Tthe Talmud says, “One who saves a life saves an entire world.” For saving the six Mordechais and all of their descendants, Melpomeni Dina and her sisters indeed saved a world, and for this we honor them as this week’s Thursday Heroes.
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Photo credit: AP