Esther Cohen, Greece’s oldest Holocaust survivor, has passed away at the age of 96.
On March 24, 1944, at the age of 17, Cohen along with other Romaniote Jews from the city of Ioannina in northern Greece, were rounded up at the city’s main square. They were then transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The last time she saw her parents and siblings was at the gates of Auschwitz.
“The last time I saw my parents was on the railway platform in Auschwitz, where we were separated. I remember that as they were driven away in the back of a truck, they shouted out, ‘Girls, defend your honor.’ One day when our heads were being shaved by one of the prisoners, she asked me what had become of my parents. I said that I didn’t know. She pointed to the flames coming out of the crematorium and said, ‘There they are, burning’,” she previously told Ekathimerini.
Cohen’s escape was a matter of pure luck. She was in the infirmary and was hidden by a German doctor of Jewish descent when SS officers took everyone from the ward and marched them to the crematorium. After the concentration camp was liberated she learned that the only other member of her family to have survived was her sister. Everyone else had been exterminated.
One of Cohen’s most emotional public moments was when she met German President Joachim Gauck in Ioannina, in March 2014.
He embraced Cohen in tears and apologised to her for the Nazi atrocities against Jews.
She told him that “after we die, people must realise that man should not be inhuman,” while the photograph of that embrace made international front-page news.
Cohen’s funeral service will take place on Thursday.
The Holocaust was the World War II genocide of the European Jews. Between 1941 and 1945, across German-occupied Europe, Nazi Germany and its collaborators systematically murdered some six million Jews, around two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population.