"Hug our beloved children for us and tell them about us, so that they don't forget us."
These words were written by Elie Sides in his last letter from the ghetto in the Baron Hirsch neighborhood in Thessaloniki to his daughter Lora and son-in-law Robert in Athens, before he and his wife Sarina and their daughter Rita were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz. Laura and Robert survived.
Elie and Sarina Sides lived in Thessaloniki, Greece, on Vassilissis Olgas Street – one of the most elegant and affluent streets in the city. Elie was a merchant and importer of cotton, shoes and clothing, mostly from Pakistan. The couple had two daughters, Lora (b. 1918) and Rita (b. 1925), and the family lived a traditional Jewish lifestyle.
In 1937, Lora married Robert Sarfati, an import-exporter of raw leather, and they settled in Athens. Before the war they had two children, Peter (b. 1938) and Klelia (b. 1939). Rita, Lora's sister, moved to live with her sister in Athens.
After the German occupation of Greece, Rita moved back to her parents in Thessaloniki. Elie Sides sent his last letter from the ghetto in Thessaloniki. In the letter he describes the terrible conditions of the place, and expresses his hope that they will meet again. Eli and the Jews of Thessaloniki who were deported did not know the destination of their transport. They were told that they were going to be resettled in Krakow, Poland. In the letter, Elie asks his son-in-law Robert for addresses of people Robert knows in Krakow, as well as recommendations about the family, so that he could have them ready when they arrived in Krakow.
Rita was engaged to her cousin Danny Saporta (the son of Isabella, Elie Sides' sister), who was of Spanish nationality and therefore protected from deportation to the death camps. All attempts by the family to save Rita due to her fiancé's status failed. Danny failed to reach Thessaloniki in time. In 1943, Elie, Sarina and Rita were sent, together with the Jews of Thessaloniki, to their deaths in Auschwitz. Lora, Robert and the children hid in the outskirts of Athens with the help of false documents. However, due to informants, the Germans came to the family's hiding place in order to arrest them. Lora and the children succeeded in escaping through the kitchen window. Lora, Robert and the children survived in Athens until liberation. Danny Saporta survived in Athens.
In 1948, Lora and Robert had a third daughter. They named her Rita, after Lora's sister who was murdered in Auschwitz.
In the 1970s, Lora Sarfati submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem memorializing her parents, Elie and Sarina, her sister, Rita, her maternal grandparents, Isaac and Flora Benardout, and her uncle Isaac Sides. In 2010, Elie Sides' granddaughter, Klelia Nahmia, a resident of Athens, gave her grandfather's letter, via family living in Israel, to Yad Vashem – for eternal safekeeping.
5  April 1943
Dearest Robert and Lora,
We received your letter about Danny and Rita. I don't think anything can be done as long as the fiancé is not in Thessaloniki. And it's already late, because we have to leave sometime. It's very sad, but we have to accept it. The hardest part is staying in Baron Hirsch, the Thessaloniki neighborhood where they gather the deportees. It's the neighborhood closest to the railway station, and is the dirtiest and most impoverished. There's no water, we get water sparingly. There's nowhere to lie down. We will need to sleep on the floor, using our bags as pillows. I'm not even going to mention the […] food.
You see, my dears, what awaits us and my brother, who knows how many days this long journey will last.
May God give us the courage and the strength to handle this. It is important for me to tell you, my dears, that our neighbors at the old house were more than nice to us during the move. Those downstairs, those opposite and those next door. Cousin Albert and his family were wonderful. Don't forget to thank them very warmly when you have the chance.
It's five o'clock in the morning now, and it's an immense pleasure for me to talk to you. I would like to tell you a few things, but I can't write them down.
All I can say is that we will be apart for a long time. We have sleepless nights thinking about it, but we are old enough to bear this hard life. Don't forget us. Robert, if you have acquaintances in Krakow, send us addresses as quickly as possible and send recommendations if necessary, before we break down. Don't be sad. We must accept things as they are. I pray to God day and night that He may spare you this, and that He may grant us health and patience. That is to say, I would like Rita not to be part of this. If you act fast, and if Danny, as fiancé, goes to the embassy to request what is due to him – Rita. In that way, the consul here will have instructions from there, and he will be able to do what needs to be done. All the procedures have to be carried out in Athens. After that, everything will be expedited.
Although I have a lot on my mind, I haven't forgotten that Pierrot's [Peter] birthday is on the 15th. I wish him a long life filled with joy. Hug our beloved children for us, and tell them about us, so that they don't forget us. And you, my dear ones, always love one another. Robert, you will replace us, as necessary, for Lora. Be there for her in our stead. She only has you now. We can say with pride that we are leaving her with Robert, and that says it all.
Accept our blessings until we can hug you, very soon.
Accept our warm hugs, dear ones, from Mother and Rita.
Don’t worry, we are well, thank God.
Kisses again to all of you
We have enclosed photos of Mother when she was a young girl, of Mother with Lora, of Father and of Rita.