Photo Credit: Esty Dziubov/TPS
Holocaust survivor lights a torch at the ceremony marking the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah), at Yad Vashem, the world Holocaust center in Jerusalem, May 1, 2019.

More than half of those murdered in the Holocaust were sent to their deaths through an elaborate deportation system developed by an immense bureaucratic infrastructure, which used mainly trains, but also enlisted trucks, ships and wagons, and sometimes forced the deportees to march on foot.

Despite the increasing complexity of the war, its distant fronts and the German Army’s need for means of operational military transportation, the deportation of Jews to their deaths continued ceaselessly and relentlessly until the very end of the war.


Eighty years after the mass transports began shipping the Jews of Europe and North Africa to the brink of extinction, Yad Vashem is dedicating this year’s central theme for Holocaust Remembrance Day to these harrowing journeys to an unknown fate.

In line with this objective, Yad Vashem has uploaded a new online exhibition, entitled “Deportations of Jews during the Holocaust: Stories of the Last Deportees, June 1944-April 1945.”

One heart-wrenching story featured in the exhibition is that of the Hasson family from Rhodes, Italy (later Greece).

Sylvia (Hasson) Berro was born in 1920, the youngest child of Ruben-Reuven and Mazaltov, and had six siblings. The year 1943 marked a turn for the worse for the Hasson family: Mazaltov passed away, and on 15 September, the Germans occupied Rhodes.

On 20 July 1944, the Germans ordered all the Jewish men of Rhodes aged eighteen and older to report to the Gestapo headquarters.

They were told the group was needed for the German war effort, and to bring their identifications cards and work papers. None of those who showed up returned home.

The following day, the women and children were ordered to report to the same place, and to bring their papers as well as food for ten days. There, in the Gestapo headquarters, the detainees, including Sylvia and her family, were kept in appalling conditions.

Three days later, 1,700 men, women and children were taken to the port and forced onto three open boats. On the journey, the boats stopped at Leros port, where the one and only Jew on the island, Daniel Rahamim, was picked up. After being joined by 100 Jews from Kos and one more from Kalimnos, the convoy eventually reached the port of Piraeus, Athens.

In total, the journey from Rhodes to Athens took ten days, with the tightly packed passengers travelling in intense heat with no sustenance. Seven passengers died on board and were thrown into the sea.

Upon reaching Piraeus, the frail deportees were transported by truck to Haidari concentration camp next to Athens. After 36 hours, they finally received a little food from the Red Cross.

A few days later, they were transferred to the Athens Rouf railway station, where the men and women were separated and put on cattle cars for a harrowing thirteen-day journey to Auschwitz. Sylvia later recalled:

“Our only food ration consisted of two lemons, a crust of bread and a mouthful of water during all this time… For the nearly two-week journey, I had to sit on a little barrel in the windowless cattle wagon, with my knees doubled up under my chin…

“At one point the train stopped during the journey and my married sister, Signorou, managed to find me to ask me a favor. I still remember hearing her last pitiful words to me, ‘Have you got a lemon for me to make lemonade to give to the children?’ Regina was five years old, and Jaco turned one on the train journey.”

On 16 August, the day after Sylvia’s 24th birthday, the transport arrived at Auschwitz. Some 1,900 of the 2,500 deportees were selected for immediate death, including most of her family. Sylvia was sent with other women to quarantine. In late October 1944, she was transferred to Wilischtal, a subcamp of Flossenbürg, where she worked manufacturing plane parts. On 13 April 1945, she was sent to Terezin. She was liberated on 8 May 1945 – the sole survivor of her family from Rhodes.

Sylvia’s stories, as well as other personal accounts of these horrific transports, were pieced together from firsthand documentation found in Yad Vashem’s Archives.

The heartbreaking stories also utilize possessions housed in the various Yad Vashem Collections – personal testimonies and artifacts, original photographs and Pages of Testimony, and artworks and diaries created during and immediately after the Holocaust.

“The deportations of the Jews was a quintessential element of the Nazis’ systematic attempt to eradicate the Jewish people and their culture,” says Yona Kobo, who researched and curated the online exhibition.

“Exhibitions such as these, which highlight the personal experiences of Jewish families and communities during the Holocaust, are a vital tool in the fight against Holocaust distortion and trivialization in both the physical and digital worlds.

“While most of the deportees were murdered by the end of the war, a small portion survived against all odds, and managed to start their lives anew in the shadow of the crushing loss and painful memories.

“The stories they leave behind will be their legacy to humanity, ensuring that it will never forget what they endured when racism and antisemitism goes unchecked. Sharing them online is a way to remember them as people: no longer anonymous, no longer a face in the crowd, but rather individuals with names, identities and their own life story.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.