Rena Gani

Rena Gani

Born: August 15, 1919

Preveza, Greece

Rena and her family were Romaniot Jews, a group that had lived in Greek cities and the Balkans for more than 1,100 years. The town of Preveza, located on the Ionian seashore, had 300 Jews. Rena's father had a small textile shop and her mother stayed at home to care for Rena, her sister and her three brothers.

1933-39: When Rena's family moved to the nearby town of Ioannina, she completed Jewish primary school there. The school was sponsored by the French organization Alliance Israelite Universelle, and she learned French, Greek and Hebrew, as well as mathematics, history and social studies. By the time she began secondary school in 1933, her parents moved back to Preveza. In Preveza she studied at a Greek public school.

1940-44: The Germans invaded Greece in 1941, but Preveza was not occupied until March 1943. One year later, Rena and her family were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Poland. Her parents were sent directly to the gas chamber. Her brothers were sent to work at the crematorium, and Rena to dig ditches. One Sunday when they didn't have to work Rena asked the head of her block, a Polish Jew, if she could visit her brothers at their nearby barracks. Infuriated, she snarled at Rena and slapped her in the face. Several weeks later, all of her brothers were killed.

Rena was sent to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp for women, and liberated during a death march in May 1945. She later immigrated to the United States.