Palomba Aroesta

My grandmother, Palomba Aroesta, was 26 when she immigrated from Paris to the US. Before living in Paris, she resided in Salonika, Greece where she was born in 1900 and lived until she was 7 years old. My grandmother was the youngest daughter in her family of 8 children, most of whom where already married with families of their own.

When my grandmother was 4, both her parents were killed in an accident and she was sent to live with an aunt and uncle who lived on a nearby farm. Her younger brother was adopted into another family, as was the custom for boys. When she was 5, there was a massive pogrom and fire in the city. She went to the docks to seek some kind of shelter and was put into a rescue boat. She and the people in the boat were picked up by a German yacht and were brought back to Germany as Salonika was not safe and the rest of Greece was not a safe place for Jews. My grandmother was the only child on the yacht and the family that rescued them made preparations to adopt my grandmother. The story goes that when the International Jewish Agency found out about this, the adoption had to be stopped and my grandmother was sent to Paris to be in foster care with a French Jewish family. This family owned a small hotel and my grandmother lived with them for the rest of her childhood and adolescences. She was well treated and was taught about how to run aspects of a hotel and also taught needlework.

By the time she was 25 she had become a highly regarded seamstress. When she immigrated to the US at 26 years old, she brought with her $25,000.00. For better or worse, she met my grandfather on the boat coming to the US, and by the time she was 30 and had 2 daughters (my mother being the oldest, with 2 more daughters yet to come), my grandfather had gambled most of the money away. Palomba was able to buy one building in Spanish Harlem that she was able to hold onto and eventually leverage that into some kind of financial security for herself and her family.

In 1963 she bought a small hotel in the Catskills that became, for a time, the family’s summer respite. My grandmother spoke Ladino (a Yiddish and Spanish combination) and French. She never learned English and died on the steps of the community college in the Bronx where she was taking English classes.

Shared by: Susan Hamlin


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