The Longest Journey (2013) - full transcript

This documentary examines the 2,000 year-old Jewish community of Rhodes that was almost destroyed when the majority of its residents were transported to Auschwitz in the summer of 1944.

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- Sami, what is this?

- This was the villa of the high fascist official,

he used to live here,

I remember as a child when I would
pass it on my way home,

his car was always parked there,
a beautiful FIAT.

As a child I enjoyed looking at it.

Let's proceed

A little further.

That's it, here it is.

Everything is still here.



These three columns,

and that pine tree

were part of our garden.

All of that right there,

the stones of the remains.

The house was right here.

Nothing is left.

- This was the life’s work of your father...
- Of my father, yes.

grew up here.

My life and my childhood were here.

It's terribly painful to be here.

Nothing is left, nothing is left.

"THE LONGEST JOURNEY"
The Jews of Rhodes

Jewish Rhodes was fantastic.



It was a unique and close community,

whose people led a peaceful existence.

This specific area was my Rhodes.

My Rhodes because I grew up here,

with my relatives, my aunts, my cousins.

This is my paternal grandmother's house.

I came to live here with my family
when I was five.

My grandmother was used to sit here,
on this stone seat.

It was a little bit higher then.

At times she opened the window,

and sat on the couch watching
people stroll by.

We all lived together.

There was no difference between one
person and the other.

This no longer exists.

I could enter any home and it was like
my own home.

And if anyone else came in, we were all equal.

We all loved each other and played together,

especially during religious holidays.

Ours was a very particular religious spirit,

it virtually dictated the rhythm of our daily live

This is the last synagogue left in Rhodes.

I find it very beautiful.

It reminds me of my father and my mother,

my whole family.
We all came here to pray.

On Shabbat morning,

summer and winter,

we went to the
synagogue at 6:00 a.m.

The services ended around 9:00 or 9:30.

At 9:30 we would go home.

No one cooked. Everything was
prepared on the eve of Shabbat:

boyus, bourekas, boulemas,
kuajados, spinach pies.

It was all there on the table,
with the hard-boiled eggs.

Everyone would come back from synagogue.

Shabbat Shalom, Shabbat Shalom.

We would sit.
After eating we’d go off for a nap,

there were those who went to make love,

all was permitted, it was Shabbat.

That evening we would eat the leftovers.
This was Shabbat.

You would smell the aroma

of the dishes that women
had prepared that morning

for breakfast: you had borekitas
among other things.

As you on your way home,

they would share what they had with you.

All of this is an unforgettable part

of this Jewish community that no longer exist

To the eternal memory of the deceased.

My father Giacobbe Modiano,

my sister Lucia Modiano,

deported by the Nazis, Germans,

to extermination camps

and perished in Auschwitz, Poland-

Thank God, "Baruch Hashem,
Baruch Hashem", my mother died

before the deportation,

and so I reunited everyone
here in this inscription.

Marcello knows where they are.

May their souls rest in peace.

This place was my home.

This is my beach.

From the first of June to the end of September

every single day, in the morning,

I would wear my bathing suit
and head down here barefoot.

Around noon, in August
the asphalt was burning

you had to try not to burn yourself,

we’d, go home to eat and rest,

then go back to the beach.

Around five or six we would go home again.

Mom would wash us because
we’d be covered in salt.

She would feed us, then off to
bed because we’d be exhausted.

We spent all our time on this beach.

We used to call this the Puerta de la Mar,

because you see the sea down the way.

It was the private beach of the Jewish quarter

that was here, in front of this gate.

This was my life.

Here on this marvelous beach.
It was all sand. Gorgeous.

Lots of cabins, many of them well decorated.

We came every single day
in the summer,

and on Saturdays we even
brought our lunch here.

This is what remains of the
oldest synagogue in Rhodes.

When Sephardic Jews fled Spain
and settled here,

they found a synagogue already here.

There was already a Jewish presence.

The synagogue had two entrances,

They called it the Kahal Grande.

The Sefer Torah was displayed exactly

where this big tree is today.

The language we all spoke best was
Spanish (Ladino), our mother tongue.

Then around the turn of
the century we adopted French.

For young people it was mandatory.

There was also the local language.

In my parents’ time, it was Turkish

since we were governed by the Turks.

Then came Greek because we
had to converse with the Greeks.

- How many languages
did you speak at home?

- Four by necessity.

I spoke Greek with the Greeks,

Turkish with the Turks,

Italian in school,

and Ladino-Spanish at home.

When I speak Greek, everybody
thinks I’m Greek.

When I speak Turkish, they say I’m Turkish.
I'm not Turkish,

I'm Jewish, I tell them.

- Was your life here dignified?

Yes, very much so.

Indeed, I noticed that after the camp,

when I encounter our girls,

who have since become wives,
mothers, grandmothers,

there is always that dignity that reminds me

of the dignity of our neighborhood,

where the poor, if they had only one dress,

they’d save it for when they went out.

This was my father’s bakery.

This is where we had the
pot for making the dough.

This is where they displayed
the bread. The oven was inside.

My father was a baker like my grandfather,

and my great-grandfather. A family of bakers.

We made bread.
We made matzah for Passover.

It was baked by the Israel family.

On Fridays there was bread for the poor.

This bread wasn’t for sale.

We made it especially for the poor.

We did the same thing
when we made matzah.

We had two prices for the matzah.

Those who could afford it paid a little more,

so the poor would be able
to get theirs without paying.

This way everybody had matzah for Pesach.

Everyone who had anything gave generously

Everybody helped each other.

We used to call this place la Cayancha.

It was the meeting place for kids,

where they also celebrated Purim.

Purim was truly the holiday for kids

and this was the heart of the
Jewish community of Rhodes.

The Jews of Rhodes, when
they left, acted like salmons.

When it was time to get married,

they would come back to find a wife

and then they would take
their wives away.

The weddings were held at Kahal Grande,

the great synagogue,
which has since been destroyed.

The photographer Pandeli was up on the terrace

with his camera taking pictures of the wedding

They were all exactly the same,

only the bride and groom changed.

Weddings were held on Fridays.

On Saturday they would
have a reception at home.

On Sunday they were
on the ferry heading back to

Congo or America.

The trip was their honeymoon.

- How was your relationship with
the Greeks and the Turks?

- We had a great relationship with the Turks.

Our relations with the Orthodox,

perhaps for religious reasons, were so-so,

but we coexisted rather well, despite it all.

We couldn't eat in Greek homes.

We would eat with the Turks
but not with the Greeks.

- Was it a question of kasherut?

- Exactly.

My father used to tell me that

before I was born we had
an excellent relationship

with the Italian government

because it was the encounter
of two high cultures.

When two cultures are close
they go hand in hand very well.

I always thought that Italy
actually brought civilization,

an opening towards the west

that I found extremely appealing.

- Did you come here often?

My father got groceries here every morning:

fruit, vegetables, everything.

There was a delivery boy
who would bring it home.

I came here to buy newspapers.

- Is this a newsstand? - Yes.
- It was here then too?

This is where in 1938 I bought
my first “Settimana Enigmistica.”

Let's see if they have it...

- Do you have the “Settimana Enigmistica”?

- Yes sir.
- Good morning, thank you.

Newspapers came via seaplane.

It landed there in the little harbor

and all of the Italian newspapers
arrived by plane daily.

Once a week they delivered other periodicals

like Mickey Mouse and other comic books.

There were 30, 40, 50 of us kids
waiting here to buy Mickey Mouse.

- How were Italian schools?

- They were excellent

in terms of instruction,

in terms of discipline.

When you, graduated from these schools

you were well prepared.

The Italians had two schools,

one for the girls and one for the boys.

Our teachers came from Italy.

At the elementary school some
teachers were priests.

School was in session even on Saturdays.

As Jews we were allowed to go
to school on Saturdays

but we were exempted from writing.

The priests accepted the fact that

the Jews could not write on Saturday.

Our teachers loved us because

we were good students.

The schools were magnificent.

Here we played soccer,
basketball over there,

that’s where the others sat and studied.

Here, there was a huge garden.

Once a week, the Mandracchio
was the young people’s meeting place;

they strolled up and down.

The boys would exchange
glances with the girls

as they walked back and forth.

In the middle of the
Mandracchio there was a gazebo

where a military orchestra,
either from the navy.

the air force or the army, would set up.

They would play magnificent music.

We danced tango, foxtrot,

and of course the waltz.

They played Italian songs like Tornerai.

“Tornerai da me...”

Upon the arrival of the Jewish
girls in the Mandracchio,

there was almost a sigh of:

“Ah! There they are! They’re here!”

They were all gorgeous and glowing,
as the Italians used to say.

Loving, colorful.

They brought color, an
entirely fresh color to the place.

Many Jewish girls married Italian boys

who were in the army or in the navy.

It was frowned upon but then
it became customary,

the young women were free
to choose for themselves.

Many girls were saved from deportation

because they went to live with
their husbands in Italy.

Over there was the special place
to listen to Mussolini’s speeches

At school we were told:
“Tomorrow come dressed in uniform.

We would go to school in our uniforms.

The sergeant would come to get us.

He would bring us to the Mandracchio,

which was full of loudspeakers,

and we would wait for the live broadcast.
Mussolini would begin:

“Italians! it’s better to live one day as a lion
than a hundred years as a sheep.

If I advance follow me, if I retreat kill me!’
And we would chant: “Duce! Duce!”

We had to shout it loud so
the Duce would be able to hear us.

We participated in all of the demonstrations

for Italy’s victories in Ethiopia,

but those who were aware of
what colonialism was doing everywhere.

My brother, for example,
has never been a fascist,

and for this reason an Italian friend

told him to run away as soon as possible.

My brother was an avanguardista

the other one was in the Fascist Youth.
We all were fascists.

To go to school you had to be a fascist.

If you were not in the Balilla (fascist scouts)
you couldn't attend school.

We have been hypnotized by
fascism like all Italians.

When you were a fascist you
had everything you wanted.

We would go camping,
it was unbelievable.

We would go up in the mountains,

you could see the whole island from up there

We ate well. I remember, they hunted deers

and roasted the meat for us,
which was out of this world.

It is important to note that
fascism was one thing,

but the Italians were something else.

The Italian army wasn’t made up of fascists.

It was made up of young Italian men
with a good heart.

When I was in third grade,

the teacher called me to the front of the class
I thought he wanted to quiz me.

I was well prepared that day and
I was glad to be called on,

but when. I got to the teaching post
he seemed a bit uneasy,

and he said to me under his breath:

“Sami Modiano,
you have been expelled from school.”

At that moment I thought
I had done something really wrong,

because the worst punishment was expulsion

Sadly he reassured me:
“No, no, calm down, Sami,"

and he put his hand on my head.

“You didn’t do anything wrong".

"Don’t cry. Go home and your father
will explain why you were expelled.”

Crying, I asked my father
why I had been expelled.

My poor father tried to explain.

He spoke of racial laws that I didn't understand.

I was only eight years old and in that moment

I said to him:

“But I don't see myself any
different from my classmates”

“I see myself the same as them."

The racial laws and our expulsion from school

were for me a humiliation and an insult
from which I never recovered.

I have to accept the fact that I am uncultured

I'never get an education. It deeply troubles me
to say that I was deprived of my education.

So what is this? Is this not pain?

- What happened to the president
of your community

once the racial laws were enforced?

- John Menashe was brought to the stadium.

The fascists forced him to drink castor oil
and made him run around the stadium

you can imagine what happened.

Whether you liked the president or not,
he was still our president;

everyone was offended by what happened.

- Do you feel betrayed?

- Very much so.

- By the Italians more than by the Germans?

- No doubt, because I never
shared anything with the Germans;

to the Italians I gave my heart.

- Heavy betrayal.

During the war in Abyssinia (Ethiopia),

Italy needed to finance the crossing of the
troops through the Suez Canal,

and they asked the Italian people to donate
their gold wedding rings to the Nation.

My mother and father, like many Jews,

donated their wedding rings
and received in return

a thank you card with two lead rings.

They arrived at Auschwitz with those
lead rings on their fingers.

The Juderia neighborhood was in danger

precisely because it was near the harbor.

They came to bomb the harbor,

but many bombs fell on the
Jewish neighborhood instead.

The bombing began on the
first day of Pesach 1944

around ten o'clock in the morning.

Nearly all of the men were in the synagogue.

Many women and young people
died that day: around thirty Jews.

Most of us fled away.

We went to the village of Trianda
where we rented a house

in which we stayed until the
day of the deportation.

On July 18th 1944, the German military
forces that had occupied the island of Rhodes,

ordered the Jewish community that
the head of every household had to report,

it was obviously a deception
in order to capture them.

They had to report to the Kommandatur

wich was stationed here in the barracks
of the ex-ltalian air force.

Outside were the wives,
daughters and sisters waiting

to hear what would become of the men.

After a while the interpreter came out
with a German and the president,

Yacov Shalem Franco, who ordered
the women to report back to this place

the next day and to bring all of their valuables
their jewelry, anything precious.

My sister, who was the oldest, got everything
together and locked up the house.


e reported back here, to these barracks.
The Germans were waiting for us.

They let us in.

At the entrance there was a great hall
where there were other Germans,

who began searching us,
confiscating all our valuables

and dividing us on the right side,
on the left side and on the second floor.

There, I saw the SS for the first time.

Everybody was talking,
without knowing what was going on.

We waited.

The area filled up.
The newcomers would ask:

- “When can we leave?’’
- “Nobody knows. Let's wait and see.”

They closed the doors.

The guards were outside and they
wouldn’t even let us look out the windows

due to the curiosity of the locals
who were watching.

There was a constant murmuring of voices:

“What’s going on? What do they want?
Where are they taking us?”

The Germans told us to go upstairs

and everybody started looking for
their fathers and mothers, calling out names.

But the Germans already had a list
of all the names.

After checking in, people would call out:
“Daddy, where are you? Enrico, are you here.

My father was really worried,
more than we were.

As soon as he saw us,
he smiled and hugged us.

We stayed with him until the decision
was made on July 23rd.

We all just waited.

The adults discussed the situation but,

what I understood as a child, was that
they were taking us to work somewherelse.

Nobody ever thought it would
end up the way it did.

There were some Jews

that would have given two gold sterling

for one bottle of water

Some people recall women arguing
at the entrance who would go in first:

“Hey, I was here first.” “Me first.”
The German would say:

“No, no, stay calm. Everyone will find
their husbands and children.”

Once they got to the German, he would say:
“Is your name Segula?”

“Look, your husband was here
five minutes ago. I saw him.

Take your papers and go look for him.”

It all began with a lie. They took us
all the way to Piraeus (Athens),

entirely through lies.

We thought that either the nuns or
the priests would come and take the children

before we were all checked into the barracks

Even if they didn't know that death
awaited them.

But no, they never came. It is shocking
to me and hurts me very much

because I had a great respect
for the church and its humanity,

for the nuns who were my school teachers.

The orders were crystal clear.

They had already sounded the siren
in order to avoid traffic and onlookers.

They gave us precise orders.
First of all they put us in rows of five

and we went down to the Mandracchio
with our heads down.

We were ordered to walk with our heads
down without looking either right or left.

Mothers carrying their children,
men, women, old and sick people

with whatever they could carry
in suitcases and in bundles.

There was even a woman
who was 102 years old.

And she made it all the way to Auschwitz.

Once in the Mandracchio, we followed the wall
down to our destination in the harbour.

There was hardly anyone around,

the few who saw us were astonished.

Of this funeral procession,
with Jacov Shalem Franco as its leader,

perhaps I feel for him most,
as he must have been suffering deeply

leading his community to death.

It was the war.

I saw them, we climbed the walls,
all of us, Greeks and Turks, to watch

the Germans as they took them to a
cargo ship and took them away.

We arrived here, there were
three kayik (boats), the first here in front,

the other two followed.

They filled the first,
then the second and the third.

At the end all of the Jews
were caught into the trap.

They threw us into the hold of the ship
that was still caked in livestock manure

and you can imagine what that stink
was in the July heat.

It all began here in this damned port.
When we left this harbour, we left the world.

Nobody could have ever imagined that
they could come from Germany to Rhodes

to take the Jews and bring them to Germany.

Even the smartest, most intelligent among
us could not have imagined such a thing.

Five hundred years ended that day.
July 23rd 1944.

Our departure was around noon.
There were old people, pregnant women,

women with babies at their breast.

There were children, from toddlers
to ten year olds, who didn’t understand,

who couldn’t comprehend,
who were thirsty and in need of care.

It is a vision I can not forget.

Down there we found/five buckets
of drinking water

that was enough to last maybe a day.
We also found a large empty barrel.

At first we didn’t know What it was for.
Then we figured it out.

The sick were helped with not much hope.

Many died during
the weeklong trip from Rhodes to Piraeus.

The Germans forced us to
throw the bodies overboard.

Each ship had a group of Germans
who stood guard.

They watched over us from a little
tower with machine guns.

They remained calm because they
knew we weren’t going to do anything.

Take these four Germans!
Tie them up and throw them into the sea!

Take the boat, change direction and you’re there.
We were so close to Turkey,

almost in Turkish territorial waters.
But nobody did anything.

There were young men who could have
done something, but we didn’t risk it

primarily because we didn’t want to jeopardize
the lives of the children and the families.

But, of course, no one thought
they were taking us to die.

Because when you know you’re on your way
to die, that’s when you risk everything.

I wondered if the rest of the world
knew what was happening.

At one point, we even saw a Turkish ship
sailing not too far from us

and later an English ship.

We arrived in Piraeus a week later.
They loaded us brutally into trucks

and took us directly,
as we later knew, to Haidari.

They kept us there for three or four days
in a large room made of reinforced cement

where we suffered from heat and thirst.

There was an elderly gentleman,
about 60 or 65 years old,

who got up to get some water
from the fountain.

The SS officer, who had a
rubber tube full of lead,

began to beat him until he killed him.

He told us:

“This is what will happen to anyone
who gets up without asking permission.”

Three days later they took us and
walked us to the trains.

was August 3rd, my birthday.
I was turning seventeen.

They loaded us into windowless freight cars.
37°C (99°F) outside.

Thirteen days, thirteen nights sitting
in that freight car.

For me it was a surprise because
it was the first time I had ever seen a train.

We heard about, trains here in Rhodes

but we never saw them in real life.

Sometimes we would see one in a movie,

but we had never seen a real train before.

My mother sat in the corner of the car,
my father on her right,

I sat between her legs, my brother on my right
my sister on the left.

It was impossible to move. I don't remember
getting] up once for 13 days.

My mother stayed right there.

When we arrived in Auschwitz several
people came aboard, men wearing striped

uniforms that we had never seen,

with little casquette hats,

and whispering they said in Spanish:
“Leave the children with the elderly.

Give the kids to the old people”.
They were men from Thessaloniki.

We didn't understand what that meant.

We had no idea why we had to leave
the children with the old folks

who were already exhausted after 15 days
of travelling in those conditions.

Once in Auschwitz, we came to the selection.

My mother went to the right with my sister

and I went with my father and
my brothers Elia and Aronne.

My brothers were sent to the right to work.

I wanted to go with my father.
Who could protect me better than him?

He said: “Go with your brothers!”
- In Rhodes we were good at one thing.

We were obedient.

“Go with your brothers!"

The SS made this gesture. I don’t know why.

He gave me a hug and went off to the
left and I went with my brothers.

The cruelest scene I saw was when they
tore my sister from my father’s arms.

I will never forget this image. He refused
to let her go. She was the apple of his eye.

They tried to tear her away from him as
they beat him; they just kept hitting him.

He wouldn't let go. Three officers
teamed up on him and beat him to a pulp.

And they tore her away from him.

This is a scene that I will never forget.

That morning I was with my parents
and by three in the afternoon

was an orphan, with no father nor mother.
I was 17 years old, alone in the world.

At 3:00 PM on August 16th

the community of Rhodes no longer existed.
It had turned into ashes.

What breaks me up is all the suffering

my father and mother endured
to end up in a gas chamber.

It’s difficult for you to understand.

It is very difficult for you to understand.

Because we were innocent people.

We hadn't committed any crime.

Our crime was only that of having
been born Jewish.

We were led to our deaths without knowing it,

completely unaware.

That's all.

- What happened to these houses
when you were taken away?

Unfortunately these houses were
immediately occupied by locals.

They came in and grabbed
everything that was ours,

our synagogues, everything
that belonged to us.

Everybody said they had been killed.

- Can I ask you a rather direct question?
What about their homes?

- I lived there and the Germans
had closed the Jewish homes up

and placed
- The seals on them.

-Yes

But after they left, a month or two later,
we opened the doors.

- And took over their homes,
whoever got there first.

- We took even the food that was left.

- Did you take what was
inside their houses? - Yes.?

- I'm not ashamed to say so

- There was so much hunger.

- Because if we didn’t do it we
all would have starved to death.

When the war ended the British
and the Americans told us:

“Rhodes has been occupied
by the Greeks. You can go back to Greece.”

But we’re not Greeks. We’re Italians
and we go back to Italy.

Nobody said: “I’m going back to Rhodes.”

Not a single Jew went back to Rhodes.
Not one! They all went back to Italy.

I chose Italy because I felt Italian and
I will die an Italian. Jewish but Italian.

- When did you return to Rhodes?

In 1977 for the first time.

- 1977?
Why did it take so long?

Because I didn't want to see Rhodes again.
I knew what awaited me here.

In the Juderia I saw nothing but ghosts,
though I recognized all of the houses

with all those people who used to live
in them and I saw these images,

I saw them in my mind, and
they were like ghosts.

To be here is a gift from heaven.

To think that I would live
to see four generations,

one in Jerusalem, one in Tel Aviv, in Israel,

is like living a dream that seemed impossible

What more can you ask for? This is a miracle

That asshole of Hitler is long gone with all of
his Nazi motherfuckers while we’re still here.

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