Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla joined the Sephardic Heritage International on January 28th for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, where he shared his Greek Sephardic family’s story of tragedy and survival during the Holocaust.
“It’s a story that had a great impact on my life and my view of the world, and it is a story that, for the first time today, I share publicly,” said Bourla during the January 28 virtual event. “Many Holocaust survivors never spoke to their children of the horrors they endured,” he added.
Bourla’s parents were of 2,000 survivors from a community of 50,000 nearly eradicated by the Holocaust in Thessaloniki, Greece where he was born. He began by retelling the story of his father.
“My father’s family, like so many others, had been forced from their homes and taken to a crowded house within one of the Jewish ghettos,” recounted Bourla. “It was a house they had to share with several other Jewish families. They could circulate in and out of the ghetto as long as they were wearing the yellow star.”
“But one day in March 1943, the ghetto was surrounded by occupational forces and the exit was blocked. My father and his brother (my uncle) were outside when it happened. Their father (my grandfather) met them outside, told them what was happening and asked them to leave the ghetto and hide because he had to go back inside as his wife and two other children were home. So later that day, my grandfather, Abraham Bourla, his wife Rachel, his daughter Graziella and his youngest son David were taken to a camp outside the train station and from there, left for Auschwitz. My father and uncle never saw them again,” Bourla recounted.
He explained how his father and uncle were able to escape to Athens. Thanks to local police who were helping Jews escape from the Nazis, they were able to obtain fake IDs with Christian names.
“When the Germans had left, they went back to Thessalonki and found that all of their property and belongings have been stolen or sold. With nothing to their name, they started from scratch, becoming partners at a successful liquor business that they ran together until they both retired.”
Bourla then followed with his mother’s story.
According to Bourla, his mother was well known which caused her to hide at home “24 hours a day” out of fear of being recognized on the street and turned over the Germans. She left the house very rarely, but it was during one of her rare ventures outside that she was captured and taken to a local prison.
“My Christian uncle, my mother’s brother-in-law, Costas de Madis approached a Nazi official and paid him a ransom in exchange for a promise that my mother would be spared,” Bourla said.
“However, my mother’s sister, my aunt, didn’t trust the Germans. So she would go to the prison every day at noon to watch as they loaded the truck of prisoners. One day, her fear had been realized, and my mom was put on the truck. She ran home and told her husband, who then called the Nazi official and reminded him of their agreement – who said he would look into it. That night was the longest night in my aunt and uncle’s life because they knew that next morning, my mom would likely have been executed.”
“The next day, my mom was lined up with other prisoners. And moments before she would have been executed, a German soldier on a motorcycle arrived and handed some papers to the men in charge of the firing squad. They removed my mother from the line. As they rode away, my mom could hear the machine gun slaughtering those that were left behind. Two or three days later, she was released from prison after the Germans left Greece.”
Eight years later his parents met by way of matchmaking, through which they agreed to get married, according to Bourla.
“My father had two dreams – one, that I would become a scientist and two, that I would marry a nice Jewish girl. I’m happy to say he lived long enough to see both dreams come true,” Bourla said.
Source: The Jerusalem Post
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