NEW YORK – Thessaloniki-born Lena Goren, 91, shared her story of survival from the Holocaust and now the COVID pandemic in a QNS article on March 30. The outgoing senior who loves talking to people and being outdoors had a hard time adjusting to the isolation during the lockdown, but gradually overcame her feelings of hopelessness.
“Finally, nine months later, I’ve decided there is nothing I could do to change what is. You know the expression, ‘God gave me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.’ And I’ve decided that eventually [the pandemic] is going to be over and I better live long enough to enjoy it,” Goren told QNS. “So I’ve decided this is it, every day is getting closer and closer to things being better. Everything will open up, the senior centers will open up and I will be able to speak to people.”
Goren “is now fully vaccinated and says she feels blessed that she had no side effects,” QNS reported, adding that “she is also glad to be out and about once again.”
“I’m thinking positive. I’m not as depressed as I was. I’m not depressed anymore. I’m not anxious anymore,” Goren told QNS. “I’m going to move through life the best way I know how and keep going. Live while you can. Live while you’re living.”
Born in Salonika in 1930, Goren and “her family moved to Larissa, Greece, where her father became a Chief Rabbi,” QNS reported, adding that during World War II, “many of her family members in Salonika were deported and there was growing fear that the Germans would occupy Larissa next,” and “Goren’s family left Larissa many times to hide.”
“The week of Passover 1941, we spent in a stable,” Goren told QNS. “Over the course of a year we hid in many different places, far from our homes, but always believing we would come back to Larissa when the emergency was over.”
“Goren’s family stayed in bomb shelters frequently, which Goren said felt almost like a second home,” QNS reported, adding that “in March 1943, the mayor of Larissa warned Goren’s father that there would be imminent deportation of the Jews in Larissa to concentration camps.”
“Her father was able to spread the word to 15 families (80 people total),” QNS reported, noting that “Goren’s family, along with the 83 others, fled after curfew to the mountains of Tzouma, where they hid in an isolated monastery away from the war for 18 months.” “They [the Underground] asked the monks to move. They moved and we stayed there,” Goren told QNS. “One room. 80 people. No bathrooms, no showers, no kitchen, no beds, no nothing. Just one room.”
While in hiding, “Goren’s father continued to lead families in Sabbath and holiday services using the Sefer Torah he brought along with him before leaving Larissa,” QNS reported.
“He made sure, every night, when we said our prayers every night, he used to say ‘God is merciful, he will save us,’ and that instilled in us that every moment of the day and the night we were safe because of his faith to God and he is going to give it to us,” Goren told QNS.
“Meanwhile, her mother picked up a job as a seamstress in a nearby town, risking her life to help feed her family,” QNS reported, adding that “people in the monastery in which they hid got malaria,” and “luckily though, everyone survived with the help of the medicine brought by the Underground.”
“When the war was over, Goren’s family returned to Larissa, where her father continued to preach in June 1945,” QNS reported, noting that “upon their arrival, they discovered her father’s message reached 900 more people, who were able to escape that fateful night in 1943 as well.”
“I was too young to appreciate it at the time, but I owe my very life to the mayor whose name I can’t remember… the one who did what was right instead of what was safe,” Goren told QNS. “I owe my life to the members of the underground who got us shelter by evicting monks of their own Greek Orthodox faith. I owe my life to the gentiles who provided medicine… to the ones who employed my mother so she could feed us… and to the ones who kept our secret in spite of the danger of doing so.”
After returning to Larissa, the “family received a letter from Goren’s aunt [her father’s sister] asking them all to come to America,” QNS reported.
“My father’s family died in concentration camps, except one sister that had come to America prior to the war and she lived in Cincinnati, Ohio,” Goren told QNS. “When she heard what was happening in Greece, she inquired to see what part of her family is still alive. She was told unfortunately no one lived, but she did not give up. She went through channels to find out if anyone was alive and she found out my father was alive by miracle and she sponsored us.”
“Goren’s aunt spent $3,000 to sponsor Goren’s family journey to America,” QNS reported, noting that “Goren was 17 years old when she arrived in America, just two weeks shy of her 18th birthday.”
“She spent $3,000 to bring us to America and she bought us a house and she got my father a job because you can’t bring someone to America unless they have a place to live and a job,” Goren told QNS, adding that she “lived the American Dream” in the U.S.
Goren “was an opera singer and an interpreter for the court system in New York,” QNS reported, noting that “she also worked as a seamstress and hair dresser,” and “continues to design clothes today and is proud to showcase her outfits.”
“Goren married twice in her life: first in 1951 and then in 2003, when she was 75 years old,” QNS reported, noting that “in both of her weddings, Goren designed her wedding dresses.”
Goren had three children and “since Goren only had a third-grade education, her youngest daughter encouraged her to obtain a GED,” which she did at 51, “the same year her youngest daughter graduated from college,” QNS reported.
The “former contestant for Miss Senior America and co-leader of The Melodians, an all-senior chorus in Queens,” Goren is now a motivational speaker sharing life lessons and her experiences during the Holocaust, QNS reported.