A Holocaust Survivor and Her Two Sylvias

Photo provided by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati


“I am the only family she has,” says Bella Ouziel. With silver-white hair and bright, warm eyes, the 92-year-old Evendale resident is discussing her daughter, Sylvia. Due to advanced Parkinson’s disease, Sylvia moved to a nursing home seven months ago. Sylvia is the center of Bella’s world these days. But another Sylvia was the center of her world in the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz. 

Bella (née Benozio) Ouziel was 15 years old in 1943 when the Nazis deported her entire family from Salonika, Greece, to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After the selection process only her sister Sylvia and Bella were left alive. Soon after, Bella suffered more loss. “One day, from work I came, I have a piece of bread, I want to bring it to (Sylvia) and they told me ‘She is gone.’ ” Showing a visitor the tattoo on her arm – 40018 – she explains that it was one number higher than her sister’s 40017.

“The Holocaust taught me – when I came back by myself with nobody – my family is everything to me,” Bella says. “And we should help each other.”

Bella married in 1946 and made a new family, naming her only daughter after her sister. The family immigrated to Cincinnati in 1951. Her husband and one son have died, and her other son lives in Florida. Sylvia is her closest family. 

But now, Sylvia is Bella’s responsibility in a new way. How does she manage that, given that she is aging and can no longer drive?

“If it wasn’t for Jewish Family Service Holocaust Survivors [program] I don’t know what I’d do,” she says. Jewish Family Service manages and provides a wide array of services to support Bella. Someone comes every day to accompany her to visit Sylvia. Someone helps her do grocery shopping on Wednesdays and takes her to the survivors’ Friendship Club. Jewish Family Service social workers make sure she receives her Holocaust restitution payment from Germany.

“They call me almost every day to see how I’m doing and if I need anything,” she says. “They are my second family.” 

“Sylvia worries about me and I worry about her,” says Bella. But with help of Jewish Family Service, she is able to bring Sylvia her kosher Greek cooking every day. Smiling, Bella lifts her chin: “I like to cook – my daughter likes baba ghanoush – that’s what she likes most of all.”  

 Bella Ouziel’s story has been saved by the USC Shoah Foundation and highlighted in a special exhibit at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in 2015 curated by the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education (CHHE). Before Sylvia’s illness, Bella was a speaker for CHHE.

The Jewish Family Service Center for Holocaust Survivors and the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education are two of more than 50 programs and agencies funded in part by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.

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