David Boder conducted this interview with Manis Mizrachi on August 12, 1946 in Paris at the offices of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The interview was conducted in English. Mr. Mizrarchi was born and raised in Salonika, Greece, the most prominent Sephardic Jewish religious and cultural community in Europe at the time. It numbered some 56,000 Jews on the eve of World War II. Mr. Mizrachi was the only child of a fairly well-to-do family. His father was a sales representative for several companies importing various goods from abroad.
The Germans conquered Salonika on April 9, 1941, but it was not until March 1943 hat the deportations to Auschwitz Birkenau began. These were proceeded by humiliation, slave labor for some and systematic expropriation. On the eve of the deportations, there was widespread poverty, malnutrition and disease in the community.
Before the German conquest of Greece, however, Mr. Mizrachi and his family had fled to Athens, the capital of the country. Athens became part of the Italian zone of occupation. The Jews in Athens were treated by the Italians in a benevolent manner. Mr. Mizarchi's family also relied for safety on Manis' fathers Spanish citizenship. Spain, under fascist dictator Francisco Franco, remained neutral during World War II. The Germans occupied Athens after the fall of Benito Mussolini's fascist Italian government in September 1943. In April 1944, those Jews in Athens who held Spanish citizenship were deported in a grueling and ghastly journey to Bergen Belsen concentration camp in Germany where they were interned in the so-called neutral camp for prisoners who were nationals of neutral countries. As English troops were closing in on Bergen Belsen in April 1945, Mr. Mizrachi and his family were deported to the Theresienstadt camp in Czechoslovakia but were liberated by American soldiers from the deportation train. Tragically, Mr. Mizrachi's father died of typhus on the family's day of liberation, and his mother died shortly thereafter. Mr. Mizrachi also contracted typhus but survived. At the time of the interview, he was studying radio in hopes of emigrating to the United States.
Mr. Mizrachi's story reveals the suffering and loss experienced even by those Jews who were fortunate to possess citizenship from neutral countries. Though Mr. Mizrachi luckily survived, he had experienced great tribulations and was alone in the world.