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40 years of active presence

Saturday, June 10, 2023


    Shelly Cohen was one of the few children of Thessaloniki who, from the balcony of their home, saw the Germans arrive as occupiers in her native city on 9 April 1941. Soon, the little girl would leave her carefree childhood of playing games on the street and learn that her name was now “Kaiti Konstantinou”. One Wednesday afternoon in March 1943 she would say goodbye to her parents and, for the last time, to her grandfather and aunts – whom she would never see again – and board a train by herself, to travel to her Uncle Manolis in Athens. If, in her own words, the train was the road to death for most Jews, for her it was the road to life. After two days and nights of anguish and panic that she might reveal her real name, she arrived in the capital. Fifteen days later, her parents joined her there.

    Ultimately, Solomon, Regina and Shelly Cohen survived thanks to Konstantinos Kefalas, a paper merchant, who offered to pay whatever was needed to hide them, and the president of the Pharmaceutical Association of Athens, Lambros Karamertzanis, who had contacts in the resistance. The two men were not random cases of Christians offering solidarity, as they were also helping other Jews, the Siakki and Antzel families. Until the Liberation, the Cohens changed shelter 17 times to escape the myriad of dangers, including blackmail by Greek agents of the Gestapo. One of those safe homes was owned by Lela Karagianni, a resistance heroine who was executed in September 1944. Forced to go out for shopping and burdened by the daily risks, Shelly realised how quickly she had grown up. The liberation, which was announced by the members of the resistance shouting through paper cones, left her ecstatic. The return to Thessaloniki was a challenge to make a new start. It also left her with bittersweet memories of playing games in the street with her cousins, which were now firmly in the past.

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