Seventy years after her grandmother helped hide a Jewish family on a Greek island during World War II, a woman sets out to track down their descendants—and discovers a new way to understand tragedy, forgiveness, and the power of kindness in “an engrossing peek into a little-known chapter of World War II, and one family’s harrowing tale of finding the lost pieces of its own history” (Karen Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of Liar Temptress Solider Spy).
Yvette Manessis Corporon grew up listening to her grandmother’s stories about how the people of the small Greek island Erikousa hid a Jewish family—a tailor named Savvas and his daughters—from the Nazis during World War II. Nearly 2,000 Jews from that area died in the concentration camps, but even though everyone on Erikousa knew Savvas and his family were hiding on the island, no one ever gave them up, and the family survived the war.
Years later, Yvette couldn’t get the story of the Jewish tailor out of her head. She decided to track down the man’s descendants—and eventually found them in Israel. Their tearful reunion was proof to her that evil doesn’t always win. But just days after she made the connection, her cousin’s child was gunned down in a parking lot in Kansas, a victim of a Neo-Nazi out to inflict as much harm as he could. Despite her best hopes, she was forced to confront the fact that seventy years after the Nazis were defeated, remainders of their hateful legacy still linger today.
As Yvette and her family wrestled with the tragedy in their own lives, the lessons she learned from the survivors of the Holocaust helped her confront and make sense of the present. In beautiful interweaving storylines, the past and present come together in a nuanced, heartfelt “story of compassion and collective resistance” with “undeniable emotional power” (Kirkus Reviews).
Something Beautiful Happened introduction THEY WEREN’T REALLY GONE AFTER ALL New York
April 13, 2014
It was 1 a.m. when I walked into Nico’s room. His back was to me, but he was still awake. I knew he would be. We all were.
Earlier that day we had gotten a call that didn’t seem real. It still doesn’t, and I imagine it never will. My 14-year-old nephew, Reat, and his grandfather, Bill, were dead.
Bill and Reat had gone to the Jewish Community Campus in Overland Park, Kansas, so Reat could attend a singing audition. They were shot and killed by a white supremacist neo-Nazi as they exited their car. The man who killed them shouted “Heil Hitler!” when he was arrested and said he wanted to know what it felt like to kill Jews before he died. He murdered three beautiful people that day, none of whom were Jewish.
I sat on the edge of Nico’s bed and reached my hand out to stroke his hair. My sweet nine-year-old boy rolled over to face me, his big brown eyes brimming with tears. And then he spoke, breaking my heart for the second time that day.
“I’m so sad, Mom,” Nico said. “I don’t understand. When you told me about our family and what they did, you told me the Nazis were gone and that the people were saved. How could this happen?”
Nico was right. I did tell him that the Nazis were gone. And I did tell him that the family was safe. I’d thought they were. But then I was branded a liar that day, our family’s history rewritten by a hate-filled man on a mission to kill Jews.
Nico knew the story as well as I did. Again and again I’d told him how during World War II, my Greek grandmother, my yia-yia, was one of a group of islanders who helped hide a Jewish tailor named Savvas and his family from the Nazis. Despite the risk, despite the danger, and despite the fact that they were told that anyone found helping Jews would be killed along with their entire families, not one person on our tiny Greek island gave up the secret of Savvas. Not one. Savvas and his girls were saved and they all survived.
For the past several years, Nico had witnessed my personal journey, my search to find Savvas’s family, the girls my yia-yia had risked everything for. After countless dead ends and disappointments, I had finally found them. They were a beautiful family, including five people who are alive today because of what happened on our tiny island 70 years ago. We had celebrated with the descendants of Savvas’s family. We celebrated and cried, because they had survived; goodness had prevailed and the Nazis were gone. That was on Thursday, April 10, 2014.
Three days later, on Sunday, April 13, 2014, we cried again, because Bill and Reat were dead and we realized that the Nazis weren’t really gone after all.
“I don’t understand,” Nico asked. “How could this happen?”
How do you accept that tragic irony is a cruelty reserved not merely for Shakespearean plot twists?
How do you admit to your son that monsters exist outside of fairy tales?
How do you explain to a child something you can’t understand yourself?
Yvette Manessis Corporon is a three-time Emmy Award–winning writer, author, and producer. Her debut novel, When The Cypress Whispers (Harper, 2014), has been translated into fourteen languages and was an international bestseller. She has received the Silurian Award for Excellence in Journalism and the New York City Council and Comptroller’s Award for Greek Heritage and Culture. Yvette lives in New York with her husband and two children.
“A story of compassion and collective resistance during World War II… there is undeniable emotional power in the connections her story helps forge between the living and the dead, some of whom might be otherwise forgotten.”