Sammy and Stella Monina lived in Athens with their two daughters, Victoria (later Benouzilio), born in 1942, and Rina (later Edry), born in 1939. The deportation of the Jews of Greece began in March 1943, and within several months the Jews of Thessaloniki were deported to Auschwitz, and the community was almost completely wiped out. Until September 1943 Athens was under Italian rule, but then the Germans occupied all of Greece and began to prepare the deportation of the Jews. On March 25, 1944, the arrests of Jews began, and the first transport left for Auschwitz on April 2, 1944. Sammy Monina was one of the Jews arrested, and he later perished in Auschwitz. A Greek policeman came to the Monina home and warned Mrs. Monina that he had been ordered to arrest the entire family. As the frightened Stella Monina began to pack, her neighbor Constantina Constanta intervened. After the war Stella told her daughter that the policeman said he would first take Stella and would come later to take the children, thus enabling them to be spared. Constanta, who heard him, offered to take the children and said, “I have five children of my own. Leave your kids with me—whatever my kids eat, your kids will eat too. If you return from where they’ll take you, come and get them. If you don’t return, your kids will be as if they are my own.” Consequently, Constanta took the two girls and their cousin, 5-year-old Shelly Litsi, who had been staying at the Monina home, and sheltered them while their mother was arrested.
Stella was deported to Auschwitz. Later that day, Matika Litsi came to pick up her daughter. Upon learning of the tragedy, she took all three girls to her home in the Dafni neighborhood. Stavros Oikonomakos, a Greek customs official, was a close friend of the Moninas and very attached to their daughter Victoria. When he discovered that the family had disappeared, he asked the neighbor, Constanta, what had happened. Upon hearing that his friends had been taken away and that their daughters were staying with their aunt, he rushed to Dafni. He offered to take Victoria and hide her at his home. Stavros and his wife took loving care of their friends’ infant until the end of the war. “They treated me like a princess,” said Victoria. The Oikonomakos couple also helped Matika Litsi with food and provisions—support that helped her survive with her five children and her sister’s daughter Rina. Stella Monina survived and returned to Athens. As soon as they heard that she had survived, Stavros and Vassiliki dressed Victoria in her best dress and took her to meet her mother. But the child had forgotten her mother. She clung to Vassiliki and did not want to go to the woman she viewed as a stranger. The reunion was extremely painful for Stella—she had waited for this moment and later told her daughter that the hope of seeing her children again helped her overcome the hardships of Auschwitz. It was decided that Victoria would stay with Stavros and Vassiliki and that Stella would visit daily until the child learned to accept her mother. Stella married another survivor, who had lost his wife and child, and they moved to Thessaloniki. Victoria’s sister, Rina, who had stayed with her aunt and moved with her from one hiding place to another, immigrated to Israel with a youth group. Despite the distance, Stella and Victoria maintained close contact with Stavros and Vassiliki Oikonomakos until their deaths. On December 17, 2013, Yad Vashem recognized Stavros and Vassiliki Oikonomakos and Constantina Constanta as Righteous Among the Nations.
Bio courtesy of Yad Vashem