Nino Barzilai was a Greek Jew born in 1892 in Salonika, Greece, a thriving center of Sephardic Jewish culture. His family was originally from Portugal. From 1916 to 1936, Mr. Barzilai lived in Spain where he was in the jewelry business. He then returned to Salonika where he worked selling fabrics for women's clothing. At the time of the interview, Mr. Barzilai was married with a fifteen year old son. The interview was conducted in Spanish in a home for adult Jews in Paris.
Following the outbreak of war between Greece and Italy as a result of Italian aggression, Mr. Barzilai and his family fled to Athens. After the German conquest of Greece in April 1941, Athens was in the Italian zone of occupation. Mr. Barzilai was able to obtain Portuguese citizenship (Portugal was a neutral country during World War II) for himself and his family and continue in the women's clothing business. The Barzilai family and other Jews in Athens lived under relatively mild Italian rule until Italy capitulated to the Allies in September 1943 and the Germans took over the city.
Despite having obtained Portuguese citizenship, Mr. Barzilai, along with a number of other Athenian Jewish males, had to endure five and one half months of slave labor under German occupation. Then, in early 1944, he and his family were deported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. They were interned in the so-called "neutral camp". As the British army approached the camp in March, 1945, the Barzilai's were evacuated along with others but were liberated by the American army from the deportation train.
At the time of the interview in a Parisian residence for Jewish refugees, Mr. Barzilai and his family had decided to remain in France. He had found work as an electrician, and his son was being trained in carpentry. He was very grateful for help given to him and his family that enabled them to begin to rebuild their lives.
Mr. Barzilai and his family were among the fortunate handful of Greek Jewish survivors. Their survival was based in large measure on the fact that they had obtained Portuguese citizenship and along with others with citizenship from neutral countries were interned in Bergen-Belsen under much better conditions than prisoners elsewhere in the camp. They enjoyed better nourishment and sanitary conditions and were subject to less cruelty. Yet, as testified to by the detailed lists of Greek Jews murdered in the Shoah which Mr. Barzilai gave to Boder, he had not forgotten about the bitter fate of the great majority of his Greek co-religionists.