May 23, 2012
Jack Seror didn’t know what to do. He was 25 and knew he had to leave Salonika; it wasn’t safe for Jews. And now a contact from the Greek resistance had come to fetch him. Jack stood with his parents in their living room, crying. They hugged, kissed and hugged some more. “We have to leave,” the contact said. Half of Jack wanted to stay with his parents; the other half wanted to escape. Finally, his father, with tears in his eyes, said, “Go. And remember, if you survive, to say Kaddish for us.”
Jack was born Oct. 15, 1917, in Salonika, Greece, the fifth of six children of David, a milk wholesaler, and Mazeltov Seror. The family was religious. On Friday nights, after Shabbat dinner and singing, Jack recalls that his father always told a new story about a character he remembers as Johah.
Jack attended an Alliance Israelite Universelle school through seventh grade. After that he worked in his uncle’s dry goods store and then for an insurance company. But in March 1940, he was drafted into the Greek army. Eight months later, Italy invaded Greece. Then, as the Greeks drove the Italians back into Albania, Jack’s unit was sent to the Bulgarian border, where the Germans were advancing.
After the Germans took control of Salonika, on April 9, 1941, Jack’s unit was sent to southern Greece to continue fighting. The Greek army, however, was soon disbanded, and Jack returned home, mostly walking and occasionally riding a bus, from Thebes to Salonika. The trip took five weeks.
In Salonika, Jack just tried to survive. His older brother Albert had been killed fighting the Italians. His father, no longer a milk wholesaler, was working as a deliveryman. Jack sold carob syrup.
The situation worsened. On Feb. 6, 1943, Jews were ordered to wear yellow stars. On the streets, Jack witnessed Nazi round-ups. He also saw photos of cattle cars carrying Jews in a Belgian magazine that was soon confiscated from the newsstands by the Nazis. He told his parents the Nazis were planning to kill the Jews. His father answered, “Passover will be here in a couple of months, and God will not let us perish.” Jack didn’t believe it.
In March, the Nazis enclosed the area adjacent to Salonika’s railroad station with barbed wire, calling it the Baron Hirsch camp or ghetto, and transferring Jews there. A few days later, cattle cars arrived, and on March 15, the first transport left for Auschwitz. Two days later, another transport departed. At that point, Jack knew he had to leave.
Jack and his contact from the resistance picked up Jack’s sister Katy from a neighboring village, and they made their way to Grevena, a small city in the mountains of northwestern Greece. Jack’s resistance group, about 35 men, was headquartered there.
Katy and the other women stayed near Grevena. Katy’s job was to sew shirts out of the parachutes used by British soldiers who were dropped into the mountainous area to assist the resistance fighters.
Jack’s group trekked from village to village, from one hill to another. “We were scared. We were always thinking about what we left back home,” Jack said. But they never talked about their personal lives. Instead, everyone had a fake name, including Capt. Bourna, the leader, rumored to be a Greek army officer. Jack was Alekos Saridis.
Every morning, Jack’s group did aerobic exercises, followed by chores — including fetching water, cooking the ever-present lentils, helping villagers — and then combat training. Plus, they were always watching for enemy soldiers. “We went there to survive, but we also knew we had to fight the Germans.” Jack said.
Jack’s group didn’t directly encounter any Germans, though one man, sent to deliver shoes, never returned. And Jack’s younger brother Haim, in a different resistance group, was killed fighting Germans.
Finally, in October 1944, the Germans retreated from Greece. Jack’s resistance group disbanded soon after, and he and Katy slowly made their way back to Salonika, arriving in early 1945.
Jack and Katy were the only survivors in their immediate family. Overall, 96 percent of Salonika’s almost 60,000 Jews perished.
Jack secured an accounting job at a social club for British troops. “It was very good to be able to be human again,” he said. There he met Katie Zinda, who worked in the gift shop. After a six-month friendship, they fell in love and decided to marry. Katie, who wasn’t Jewish, converted, taking the formal name Sarah.
Jack and Katie were married on Sept. 9, 1949, with 10 people in attendance. “People were so sure the marriage wasn’t going to last that we didn’t get any presents,” Jack said.
On July 9, 1950, their son David was born. Just over a year later, destitute and wanting to start over, they immigrated to the United States, settling in Boston in October 1951, where they were helped by Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Jack found temporary bookbinding work at Houghton Mifflin and also worked at a warehouse. Their son Marc was born Aug. 16, 1952.
But the winters were brutal, and the family moved to Los Angeles in February 1952. Jack took a warehouse job for a year and then worked for a calendar company. In 1959, he and Katie purchased a small grocery store, Quinn’s Market, near Glendale. In 1966, they sold it and purchased another grocery store in Venice. “We worked hard, six and sometimes seven days a week,” Jack said. They sold the store in 1979.
Jack and Katie also worked hard for Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. “Jewish Family Service was very good to us. We wanted to pay back for what the Jewish people did for us,” Jack said.
Katie died in May 2010. Today Jack, 94 and legally blind, walks, listens to tapes from the Braille Institute and visits with his grandchildren every week. He also travels by bus every Saturday from his Culver City home to the Westside Pavilion, where he visits with other Greek survivors. Of the original group of 30, four remain.
“I am thankful for what we accomplished,” Jack said.
JewishJournal.com is produced by TRIBE Media Corp., a non-profit media company whose mission is to inform, connect and enlighten community