Hunter College H.S. Holocaust Survivors

The Second Generation - Holocaust Survivors From Greece

- Susan Modiano Frenchu ‘72

Susan’s parents were survivors from Greece. The number on her father’s arm was “just a part of him.”

Both my parents were Holocaust survivors.

Neither of my parents would make a big deal about their story, but they shared experiences freely when asked. My father always said that it’s important to tell the story, not only so that people will know what happened but also to honor those who did not survive. Because my father believed in he importance of sharing these stories, I‘m going o try to tell the stories of my parents.

My father, Isaac Modiano, was the youngest child in his family, born after six brother and sisters – Albert, Susan, Fortune, Mordo, Charlie and Nehama. Their parents, (my grandparents) Solomon and Victoria, raised the family in Demotica, a small town in Greece, where Jews and non-Jews led separate lives in terms of schooling and worship, but were integrated into the daily life of the community. Solomon made feta cheese and halvah. The whole family delivered his products and worked in his store. My dad always said, “It was a good life.”

My dad was an adult when the Germans took his family along with all the other Jews in the town. I can tell many stories about what happened: How on the transport train that took them to a concentration camp, his sister hid her engagement ring in her mouth when the guards came through the train to take their jewelry. I can also tell stories about the selection in the concentration camp when only three brothers were spared, about the starvation, the experiments and the arduous work in the camps, and about the German civilians who were shot trying to give bread to the prisoners who were being marched through their town.

While my dad never diminished the suffering he experienced, he had a way of telling the stories that sometimes made you laugh, because that was my dad’s personality. In addition to being hard working and generous, my dad always seemed to find the laughter. I learned from him to judge people as individuals, not by their race. I also leaned to argue and to laugh—and that everything you learn is good. Education was a priority and teachers were to be respected.

The number on my father’s arm was neither hidden nor displayed. It was just a part of him. If someone asked he would show them, but I don’t remember hearing anyone ask. Just as I knew his eyes were brown, I knew that the number was just a part of him. I knew about that number and that he had been a prisoner in a concentration camps. I think perhaps I was told in age appropriate way when I was young. I was not given horrific details until I asked. He was never secretive or ashamed and was always willing to answer questions from me or anyone. When he played cards at the senior center, he was often introduced as a Holocaust survivor to students from the high school across the street.

My mom, Stella Casuto, grew up with her sister Lena and her brother Maurice in Larissa, a different town in Greece. Their dad, Rabbi Isaac Casuto, and their mom, Daisy, expected them to behave as the children of a Rabbi should. My mom generally expected to meet these expectation and continued to met them throughout her life.

My mom said she had an easy childhood, but my mom never seemed to think anything as hard. She accepted life as it came, and while she was aware of difficulties and hardships, she did her best to find goodness and happiness in every situation. When asked about the war years, I once heard her say, “We didn’t have to go to school. That’s every child’s dream.”

As in my father’s town, Jews and non-Jews in Larissa respected each other and intermingled, except for school and religion. When her town was occupied by the Italians, Mom remembered that being fine. She said that the Italians became part of the community and even went to weddings and bar mitzvahs.

When the Jews heard that the Germans were coming, my grandfather, mom’s father, the rabbi, led anyone who wanted to go to a monastery in the mountains, where they hid for a year and a half. As a child I always knew that my mom’s family survived by going into hiding and that the rest of her family, who were in Salonica, a different part of Greece, were taken to concentration camps and were killed. As I got older I asked more questions and I got more details. My grandfather would have said they survived with the help of God – and the Antartes, the Greek resistance fighters. I also heard stories about British troops that wee not too far from the monastery and how my grandmother walked down into some villages to do dressmaking for non-Jewish families and was paid with food.

My mom and my dad each went back to their respective towns after he end of the war. Again I have many stories, both good and bad, about how they were treated when they returned. Eventually they both came to America in search of a better life, because “the streets were paved with gold” in America.

My mom came with her family at the age of 16, when her aunt found a job for her brother, (mom’s father.) My dad came alone as an adult through a Jewish organization. They eventually met in New York and were married in 1952. They had three children, my older brother, Albert, my younger brother, Victor, and me, the middle child.

Although I was the daughter of Holocaust survivors, I was never embarrassed by this and never felt I missed out in any way of beng a typical American kid. People have told me that I don’t seem like the child of survivors, and I think that’s because my parents didn’t act like the stereotype of survivors. My parents never seemed to be angry or bitter about what they had endured. They were both appreciative and happy in the lives that they got to live. My mom didn’t tell stories the same way my dad did, but like him she believed in the power of telling her family’s stories. Her story always ended, “and we all lived happily ever after.”

 

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