Studio portrait of Isaac Nehama.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 59384
- Variant Locale
- Photo Designation
LIFE BEFORE THE HOLOCAUST -- Greece -- Family/Friends/Portraits
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Isaac Nehama
Studio portrait of Isaac Nehama.
- Isaac Nehama is the son of Dario (David) and Sarah (Kolonomos) Nehama. He was born April 29, 1927 in Athens, where his father worked as an accountant at a Jewish-owned textile firm. Isaac had two younger brothers, Samuel (b. 1930) and Nehama (b. 1934). His parents, who had both grown up in Monastir (aka Bitola) in Ottoman and later, Yugoslavian-controlled Macedonia, did not possess Greek citizenship and lived in Athens as foreign residents. The Nehamas were traditional, Sephardic Jews who observed all the Jewish holidays. The parents belonged to local Jewish organizations: Dario was a member of the Bnai Brith, and Sarah was active in WIZO [Women's International Zionist Organization], but there were no Jewish youth clubs in the capital for the children. While Dario and Sarah spoke Ladino to each other, they conversed with their children in French and Greek. Isaac attended a French Catholic primary school followed by a Greek-speaking gymnasium. He celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in 1940 after six months of preparatory study with his rabbi. Isaac was still in high school when Athens was occupied by the Axis powers in 1941. Because the Greek capital was administered by the Italians, who did not enact racial laws, the Jewish population of Athens did not initially suffer greater hardship than the rest of the populace. Isaac was thus allowed to complete his high school education, graduating in 1942, and his father retained both his position and property. In September 1943, however, the situation took a dramatic turn for the worse. Following the Italian Armistice, German troops immediately occupied Athens and ordered all Jews to register with the authorities. This announcement served as a signal to the local Jewish population to disperse and go into hiding. All were aware of the fate of their fellow Jews in Salonika who had been deported six months earlier. Isaac's father went into hiding with a Christian family in a suburb of Athens, while his mother, brothers and maternal grandmother, Miriam Kolonomos, were taken in by another family. Isaac, who was then sixteen years old, moved in with a Greek friend for several weeks before heading off on his own to the region of Thessaly, which was reported to still be free. When he arrived Isaac was given directions to a partisan enclave in the Pindos Mountains, whose base was located in a monastery. The partisans, realizing that Isaac had no place to go, permitted him to remain with them. This unit of Greek fighters, which was known as the First Regiment of Evzones [mountain soldiers], was part of the ELAS, the Greek Liberation Army. Throughout the war it operated in the Thessaly region, principally around the cities of Trikala and Larissa. Isaac worked mostly as a telephone operator and cipher clerk, but on one occasion, in March 1944, he participated in a sabotage operation against a German convoy. In the fall of 1944 during the German retreat from Greece, Isaac fell ill with pneumonia and was hospitalized in Trikala. Upon his release he was able to return to Athens where he learned about the fate of his family. When he arrived in the capital Isaac found only his father who had survived the war in hiding. The rest of his family had been arrested in late June or early July 1944 in one of their hiding places after being denounced by an informer. Isaac's mother, brothers and grandmother were interrogated at Gestapo headquarters in Athens before being sent to a transit camp in Haidari. There, while awaiting the arrival of a transport of Jews from Rhodes, Miriam Kolonomos died. At the end of July the Nehama family, together with the Jews of Rhodes, was deported to Auschwitz. Though Isaac's mother and youngest brother were sent immediately to the gas chambers, his thirteen-year-old brother Samuel, who was tall for his age, was selected for forced labor. Samuel remained in Auschwitz until its evacuation in January 1945. At this time he was placed on a three-day forced march to a railhead some fifty km. from the camp. There, he and his fellow prisoners were put on trains to various destinations in Germany. Samuel was taken off the train at Buchenwald, where he remained until the liberation of the camp. After recuperating from typhus, Samuel was sent to Bari, Italy. In July 1945 after a broadcast on Greek radio of the names of liberated Greek prisoners who had been interned in German concentration camps, Isaac learned that his brother Samuel had survived. The next day Samuel called from Bari and soon was reunited with his family in Athens. In 1946 Isaac began a course of study in engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of Athens, but when he learned later that year that he had been awarded a Bnai Brith scholarship to study in the U.S. (for which his father had initially applied without his knowledge), he quickly prepared for his emigration to America. Bnai Brith arranged for Isaac to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1953, after receiving a master's degree in electrical engineering, Isaac began his career at the Bell Telephone Laboratories. He served in the US Army from 1954 to 1956. In 1958 Isaac married Paulette Mourtzouros, a Jewish survivor from Volos, Greece. Samuel remained in Athens, where he went to work for the Jewish community after a failed business venture with his father. He immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1968. Dario Nehama lived in Athens until his death in 1966.
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Isaac Nehama
Record last modified: 2003-10-10 00:00:00
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