Yolanda Avram Willis
b. Salonika, Greece, 1934
My stories start with my family's flight from our home town when Italy attacked Greece, but most of them focus on the period of the Jewish Persecution, from early 1943 through our liberation in October 1944. I was six at the war's start, eight when we went into hiding, and ten when we were liberated.
My immediate family—my parents, younger brother and I—first left our home city, Larisa, in central Greece, seeking safety from the Italian bombing of local military installations, beginning with the declaration of war in October 1940.
In April of 1941, immediately after Germany attacked Greece, we attempted to leave for Egypt via the island of Crete. My father used to listen to the BBC and thus anticipated the Jewish Persecution, given the inevitable German victory and occupation of Greece. Three days before our planned escape from Crete to Egypt, where the government and royal family had already fled to safety, the Nazis made a massive bomber, glider, and paratroop attack on Crete. It was the first airborne invasion in military history and took the British, who had a naval base there, completely by surprise. A Nazi-occupied island was the last place for us to be. So a few months after going to Crete we reversed our direction, heading back to the mainland and the Italian controlled zone.
When we reached Athens, in the fall of 1941, we expected to disappear into the relative anonymity of the capital. However, the famine of the winter of
1941–42 drove us back to much better-supplied Larisa which, like Athens, was occupied by the Italians.
Larisa had an ancient Jewish community, where my late grandfather, Moushon Avram, was legendary as a businessman, banker, philanthropist, and beloved president of his people. When the persecution in Salonika became unmistakable, early in 1943, we knew we had to leave Larisa again to avoid the unthinkable but inevitable hour when my father, as one of the leaders of the Jewish community, would be forced to register Jews and thus cooperate in their capture and deportation.____________________