Holocaust survivor recounts life story

By Nikki Grossfeld

Rena Abravanel Greenup, a Greek Holocaust survivor, was scheduled to speak at the Hillel House at the University of Massachusetts on Wednesday night to share her experience, but due to an illness, she delivered her lecture via a cell phone and speakers.

The lecture was presented in honor of Yom HaShoah, also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, on April 8. Hillel has hosted functions throughout this week, leading up to this lecture which was advertised as “a new perspective on the Shoah.”

Greenup was born in May 1936 to an Ashkenazi mother and a Sephardic father in Salonika, Greece, the most densely Jewish populated city in the world before World War II. In 1940, at age four, German Nazis invaded Greece, causing Greenup, her mother, her uncle and her father to move to Athens to go into hiding and “get lost there.” A Greek general who assisted the family in hiding informed Greenup and her family when searches and raids were occurring and warned them when to flee.

In an attempt to protect the safety of their friends, Greenup’s parents rented a small apartment in Athens using Greek Orthodox names. Instead of Abravanel, which was their Jewish name, it became Tsolakis.

Throughout the course of the war, Greenup and her family lost touch with their relatives in Salonika, but occasionally heard of new measures being taken, such as the rabbi in Salonika providing the Germans with a list of all of the Jewish families in the city upon request. The same event occurred in Athens, but the rabbi did not comply.

Towards the end of 1944, Greenup’s father took the family to a farm in a small village outside of Lavrion, Greece where they took a boat for an intended escape to Turkey. After 10 days of drifting through stormy waters, “we saw a very huge, dark and inhospitable rock from afar,” said Greenup. Past the rock, they saw another piece of land that was a beach.

“My mother kept saying ‘Go to the bad one! Go to the bad island!’ but no one listened.” As they got closer to the beach, a German U-boat came out from shore to see who was approaching. They were all immediately sent to the prison in Lemnos, the beach they had seen from the boat. Greenup discovered later that if they had gone to “the ugly island,” they would have reached Turkey.

After being held for three months in prison cells, it was discovered that Greenup’s family was Jewish. However, an Austrian Gestapo commander agreed to protect the family for the duration of his tour by keeping them in Lemnos in exchange for their remaining valuables. During this, the war ended.

After the war, Greenup and her family returned to Salonika, Greece where their villa had been inhabited and ravaged by the Gestapo officers.

Greenup ended her lecture by saying, “We ran out of time, but I have so much more to tell you … I saw death with my own eyes. Many times.”

About 30 people attended the event, the number that Carrie Lieberthal, event and outreach coordinator, was expecting.

Nikki Grossfeld can be reached at [email protected]