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Yonkers Resident Shares Her Unusual Holocaust Story By Way Of Greece

Yvonne Manessis Corporon.
Yvonne Manessis Corporon. Photo Credit: Submitted
"When the Cypress Whispers" just came out in paperback.
"When the Cypress Whispers" just came out in paperback. Photo Credit: Submitted

YONKERS, N.Y. -- A 70-year old story that began in Greece, circled its way to New Rochelle, and eventually landed in Yonkers, is about to come full circle in June when the Greek island of Erikousa is recognized by the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation for helping save a Jewish family during World War II.

And it's all thanks to Yonkers resident Yvette Manessis Corporon, a Greek Orthodox mom of two who, ever since writing the book, "When the Cypress Whispers," seven years ago made it her mission to get the island recognized for its heroic efforts during the Holocaust.

Corporon, who grew up in New Rochelle, said she heard her grandmother's story about how Erikousa, seven miles off the coast of Corfu, and 200-people-strong saved a Jewish tailor named Savvas, his three daughters and a granddaughter. But she didn't think much about it until later, after her grandmother had died and she was thinking of writing a novel set in Greece.

"That's when it hit me, all the questions I never asked her," she said. "I wish I knew if she was scared when the Nazis came pounding on her door or how she managed to put aside concerns for her own safety and welcome the Jewish family inside her home.”

With little to go on besides the name, Savvas, as well as the dim recollections of the island’s descendants, including her father, then 9-years-old, this senior producer at the television entertainment show "EXTRA" went to work, eventually enlisting the resources of researcher Gili Diamant in the Most Righteous Nations division of Jerusalem's Yad VaShem as well as Marcia Ikonomopoulos, the director of the Kehila Kedosha Synagogue and Museum on the Lower East Side and an expert in the plight of Greek Jews.

It took eight years, but with the additional help of Gilad Japhet of MyHeritage.com, she was able to locate the Savvas’ families — one in Los Angeles, another in Israel— all of which had no idea how their grandmothers had survived the War.

And now, come June 29, the families will meet for the first time on the Greek soil that saved them in a ceremony sponsored by The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation and the Association of the Friends of Greek Jewry. A plaque will be placed on the island's museum to commemorate the entire 200 families that worked together to save one family.

"This was a group effort," said Corporon. "Everyone risked their lives."

And, it's not the end of the story.

Corporon is working on a documentary, "Searching for Saavas," which also weaves in her relationship with the two victims of the Kansas City shooting at a Jewish Community Center in 2014 where her husband's relatives, 14-year-old Reat Griffin Underwood and 69-year-old Dr. William Lewis Corporon were killed and where the Jewish community has rallied around the widow's family.

Go here for other Holocaust-related stories.

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