Resident makes bittersweet excursion to the Isle of Rhodes

Jeanne Capeloto made a bittersweet excursion to the Isle of Rhodes.

Jeanne Capeloto made a bittersweet excursion to the Isle of Rhodes.

Bob Neuman

From a friend, Jeanne Capeloto received a phone call that caused her to travel to the Greek island of Rhodes for the fifth time. But this trip would be different because she would travel alone. Bill, her best friend and husband for 60 years, had embarked on an unexpected journey of his own. Sadly, he had passed away in September of 2013.

There would be a worldwide Jewish gathering in Rhodes, a Greek island that dates beyond 400 B.C., was involved in numerous wars, changed hands several times with various countries and is the home of The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The event would begin July 21, 2014 and be called “Rhodes 70 years Tribute.” Germany had occupied the island in 1943. The next year the Gestapo rounded up the Jewish population of 2,000 and sent them to extermination camps where only 56 survived. Therefore, those arriving for the Tribute from all parts of the world would reflect upon and honor those who experienced that infamous ordeal.

A ceremony was held in the Square of the Martyred in front of the Holocaust Memorable that contains the list of all the Rhodes victims of the concentration camps. Jeanne noticed that almost all names were the same as families she knew in the large Jewish settlement in Seattle where she and her family lived.

During the week, activities included a trip to Kos Island Hashkava at the cemetery, trips to historic places on the island, seminars, lectures and forums on the Shoal/Holocaust by professors and scholars from Greece and Israel and Kabbalat Shabbat services at the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, the oldest in Greece.

One evening on Shabbat (Sabbath), the attendees were taken to an outdoor restaurant where tables were placed on terraces. There was a lady playing music when a woman toppled off the terrace. This caused a frightening situation and the shaken pianist was unable to play. Jeanne approached and asked her to try to play Hava Nagila. Being a dancer, Jeanne began to dance the Hora and soon most of the diners had joined her, thus defusing what was an unfortunate situation.

The final night was a memorial service for the Holocaust victims of Rhodes/Kos and testimonies of survivors who recounted the stories of suffering and death at the hands of the Germans. One described how they increased their rations by sprinkling the ashes from the crematorium on their food. Later, the bombing of the crematorium saved some prisoners.

Bill and Jeanne have strong ancestral ties to Rhodes, both fathers being born there. At age 15, through Ellis Island, her father came to live in Seattle, Washington. He later married and had a family that included Jeanne and her four siblings.

In 1935, Adolph Hitler’s intentions became obvious, so her father attempted to convince his brother to leave Rhodes. With a wife and being a successful jeweler, he chose to stay. In 1944 he met death in a packed boxcar on its way to Auschwitz-Berkenau. When Jeanne’s father, Mr. Benveniste, returned to Rhodes in 1946, “There was no one there,” said Jeanne.

Jeanne and Bill lived in numerous places and visited many countries. One of their favorites was Israel. “Everybody should go there regardless of their religion,” commented Jeanne. She was entranced by the atmosphere and the actual places Christ had been. “I stood in the room of the Last Supper and also saw where Jesus was born. My paternal grandfather is buried on the Mount of Olives.”

An accomplished artist, a professional dancer, a successful real estate broker, a teacher, world traveler, wife and mother, Jeanne has truly been blessed.