"We don't know when we are leaving. They are constantly telling us to prepare for a long journey."
These words were written by Albert Kabili in his last letter from Gorna Dzumaja to his brother Nissim, a prisoner at the Belitsa labor camp.
Yaacov-Jacko and Doodoo Kabili lived in the city of Kavala, Greece, with their children: Israel, Rachel, Daniel, Albert and Nissim. Yaacov owned a grocery store, as well as a number of residences in the city.
On 6 April 1941, the Germans invaded Greece. Within a few days, the area of Kavala was occupied. The town and five adjacent cities were part of the territory annexed by Bulgaria until the end of the war, and its Jewish residents were subjected to racial laws. They were forbidden from traveling along the main streets, and were no longer permitted to earn a living in trade. Their houses and businesses were marked as Jewish. In 1942, the anti-Jewish measures worsened: Jews were forced to wear a yellow star on their clothing, and to carry a special ID card. Their property was looted, and young Jewish men were seized for forced labor.
In January 1943, 40 young men, among them Nissim Kabili, were taken from Kavala to forced labor camps in Bulgaria. That March, the Jews of northern Greece, including Kavala, were rounded up and taken to the Bulgarian city of Gorna Dzumaja, pending their deportation to Poland. The deportees included the remaining members of the Kabili family. The deportation trains passed close to the Belitsa labor camp, and rumors about them reached Nissim and his friends. They succeeded in locating the trains, climbed aboard and met with their families. Unaware of their final destination, their parents instructed their sons to return to Belitsa, Yaacov Kabili included. The Bulgarian policemen accompanying the transport alighted the train and forcibly removed Nissim and his friends. They never saw their families again.
Albert Kabili managed to send a letter to his brother Nissim at Belitsa in Bulgaria. It was to be his last letter. On 18-19 March, after some 20 days in Gorna Dzumaja, the Jews were transported by train to the port city of Lom on the banks of the Danube River. At Lom, the prisoners were handed over to the Germans. The Germans deposited the Jews on four ships, which took them along the Danube to Vienna, a journey of five to eight days. The prisoners were deported from Vienna to Treblinka, where they were all murdered upon arrival.
Nissim survived the war and moved to Sofia after liberation. He immigrated to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine) in 1945, and lived together with survivors from Thessaloniki in south Tel Aviv, where they worked at Tel Aviv's port. Shem Tov Levy, an Auschwitz survivor and friend of Nissim's, introduced Nissim to his sister-in-law, Jerusalemite Simcha Cohen, and they got married in 1953. They had two sons and a daughter, and settled in Holon.
In 1999, Nissim Kabili, the sole survivor of his family, submitted Pages of Testimony in memory of his father Yaacov, his mother Doodoo his sister Rachel, and his brothers Israel, Daniel and Albert. After Nissim's death, his sons found the last letter his brother had sent him. In 2011, Yaacov Ramot Kabili, Nissim's son who was named after his grandfather, donated the original letter to Yad Vashem for posterity.
Gorna Dzumaja, 17 March 1943
To our dear brother Nissim,
Nissim, we want you to know that we are all in good shape, health wise. We wish the same for you. I came here from [Perin], and met everyone in Gorna Dzumaja.
We didn't write to you quicker [earlier], because we don't know when we are leaving. They are constantly telling us to prepare for a long journey.
Nissim, you should know that they are transferring us to concentration camps without bread, without anything, and we are suffering greatly for want of bread and other things. They give us just 300 grams of bread per day and Czorba [a kind of soup]. They don't let us buy anything. If you come to meet us, equip yourself with bread and other things. Buy food with the money that you have.
If you are with Jack, son of Leah, tell him that we are with his family members and that he should do as you do.
I have nothing else to write. We send hugs and kisses to you all.
Nissim, it would be best if you didn't get up [move] from the place where you are now.
Send regards to Samuel Levy and tell him that everyone is well, and that he shouldn't worry about them.