Iakov Maestro was born in Thessaloniki in 1927. His father, Isaac Maestro, died in 1934, leaving the family with no means. The whole family, therefore – his mother Gratsia, née Soures, his brother Daniel, and his two sisters – were forced to work to get by. Iakov worked from the age of seven as an assistant in a grocery store. The family lived in the so-called butchers’ shacks (parapigmata) in the Baron Hirsch neighbourhood, near the old railway station, which was turned into a transit camp for the deportations of the Jews of the city. With the exception of his older sister, who was already engaged and lived outside the area, the whole family was arrested and taken to Auschwitz in the first transport of 15th March, 1943. Iakov was held in Auschwitz and then in Mauthausen. He was liberated on 5th May 1945 and in 1946 emigrated to Palestine under the British mandate. He settled permanently in Israel and in 1949 married Esther Silvas, a Jewish woman from Thessaloniki who had emigrated there before the war.
He was interviewed in 2010 by Alexis Menexiadis and IasonasChandrinos at his house in Israel.
Excerpt from the interview:
Baron Hirsch neighbourhood
They fenced it in and turned it into a ghetto. People could not come and go. I can’t tell you much about it because I was on the first transport. We got onto the railway cars. One week in the train without food; nothing. Only twice they let us out to do what we needed to do. And we got to Poland. The whole family in the same railcar. Apart from one sister who wasn’t with us. […] When we got there, they split us up. All the men under 45 were put in the same place. The same for the women. The rest – old people, children, women – they were put straight into trucks. And from the trucks, straight to the gas chambers.
In the camp
We were in Block 9A [in Auschwitz I]. All the Greeks who arrived together. No others got to Auschwitz. They went to Birkenau. And we were fortunate to be in Auschwitz, because compared to Birkenau, Auschwitz was – how can I put it – paradise.