During World War II, Melpomeni Dina was an orphaned teenager living with her two sisters in a one-room apartment in Greece. Recently she met the ancestors of the family she helped save from the Holocaust.
The Mordecai family was a Jewish family who owned their own businesses in Greece when the war began. Miriam Mari taught sewing classes at the fashion store she owned.
One of the students was Efthimia Gianopoulou, Dina’s older sister. Mari gave Efthimia the lessons for free because she knew that the orphans did not have much money.
When Greece surrendered, life was changed forever for Greek Jews. The Mordecai family hid in a false ceiling in an abandoned Turkish mosque for around a year.
Poor ventilation and lack of space led to health issues for the Mordeci family so they needed to find a new place to hide from the Nazis.
Efthimia volunteered to house the Mordecai family in the home she shared with her sisters. The three teen-aged sisters shared what they had with their new housemates.
They farmed a piece of land they owned in order to have enough food. Bithleem, the middle sister, would walk home from the farm with a sack of food to feed all ten people.
Unfortunately, six-year-old Shmuel Mordecai became seriously ill and they needed to take him to the hospital. He did not survive. Shortly after that, someone reported the family to the authorities and they had to find a new place to hide.
Relatives of the Gianopoulou sisters helped the family escape to the wilderness where they remained until the war ended. The sisters provided clothing in order to help the family live in the wild.
When the war ended, the Mordecai family moved to Israel. They were lucky. As many as 70,000 Greek Jews were killed during the Holocaust. That works out to about 81% of the Jewish population in Greece.
Dina was reunited with members of the Mordecai family after 75 years. They met in Jerusalem. Dina had met with some members of the family in the intervening years but this was the first chance she had to meet the children and grandchildren of the family she had helped save all those years ago.
There were approximately 40 members of the Mordecai family present for the visit.
These types of reunions are becoming increasingly rare as the WWII generation ages. Stanlee Stahl is the executive vice president of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.
He believes that this may be the last of these reunions to happen. Most of the remaining members of that generation are too frail to travel to meet.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial recognized Dina as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1994.
This title has been given to over 27,000 non-Jews who put their own lives at risk in order to protect Jews in the Holocaust.
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Dina told reporters that she was deeply moved by the meeting with the descendants of the Mordecai family. She believes that the actions taken by her and her sisters was the right thing to do.