Jack Cohen

Memphis, Tennessee

Born: 1932 Chalkis, Greece

Survivor: Greece

“On one hand, you cannot hold a grudge for the rest of your life; on the other hand, you cannot forget,” admits Jack Cohen, who lived with his parents, brother, and grandmother in occupied Greece during World War II. He recalls, “I don’t remember any anti-Semitism before the war started. We lived a very quiet, religious life.”

In 1941, following the invasion of Greece by Germany and its allies, Jack’s village was in the Italian-occupied zone. His family kept a low profile. His father kept them well informed, Jack recalls: “He spoke seven languages so he could translate radio news broadcasts and let us know what was going on.”

In 1943 the Germans began arresting Greek Jews. Jack remembers, “Father contacted the underground resistance movement. They led us into the mountains during the night to safety.” The Greek Orthodox Archbishop instructed monasteries and convents to shelter any Jews who sought help. Jack’s family hid in a monastery for nearly two years. When the Germans closed in, the family fled to a village in the forest. “My grandmother was captured there and we don’t know what happened to her.” He adds, “Townspeople reported that she was Jewish.”

When the Germans pulled out, the family returned: his father to his ruined business, Jack to three years of missed schooling. Their home had been occupied by strangers. Jack says, “Nothing felt the same again. I was quite bitter for a long time, especially about my grandmother. Eventually you just get on with the rest of your life but you cannot imagine the loss—the pain. You just have to teach people about what happened. It is all you can do.”