Some­thing Beau­ti­ful Hap­pened: A Sto­ry of Sur­vival and Courage in the Face of Evil

May 16, 2017

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. Sev­en­ty years lat­er, Yvette couldn’t get the sto­ry of Sav­vas out of her head. Armed with just first names she set out to track down the tailor’s descen­dants. Her seem­ing­ly impos­si­ble search last­ed years and took her around the world — until mirac­u­lous­ly she found them. Their tear-filled reunion was halt­ed when three days lat­er Yvette’s nephew was gunned down in a park­ing lot in Kansas, a vic­tim of a Neo-Nazi out to kill Jews. As Yvette and her fam­i­ly wres­tled with their own tragedy, the lessons she learned from the sur­vivors of the Holo­caust — and her unend­ing quest to hon­or the islanders who risked every­thing — taught Yvette that even in the midst of unimag­in­able pain beau­ti­ful things still hap­pen. At once a very per­son­al mem­oir and an ambi­tious account of the untold his­to­ry of the Greek Jews, Some­thing Beau­ti­ful Hap­pened is a nuanced sto­ry about the pow­er of faith, the impor­tance of kind­ness, and the courage to stand up for what’s right no mat­ter the cost.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Yvette Manes­sis Corporon

  • Were you aware of the sto­ry of the Greek Jews before read­ing Some­thing Beau­ti­ful Hap­pened? Why do you think the Greek Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty felt as if they were for­got­ten by his­to­ry? Do you think they were?

  • Despite the very real risk and threat by the Nazi’s, every­one on the island of Erik­ousa kept a secret that helped save Sav­vas Israel and his fam­i­ly. What was it about this island and these peo­ple that made them stand unit­ed and stand up to evil in such a way? Do you ever think about what you would do in a sim­i­lar situation?

  • It wasn’t until she was an adult that Yvette real­ized the impor­tance of her yia-yia’s sto­ry of Sav­vas Israel and the islanders of Erik­ousa. Why do you think it took her so many years to under­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of this story?

  • Is there a sto­ry from your family’s his­to­ry that you would like to explore and doc­u­ment? What is it and how do you plan on research­ing and find­ing your answers?

  • Yvette writes that his­to­ry is not some­thing that is mere­ly found in text­books, that it is all around us, in our homes and in long for­got­ten fam­i­ly sto­ries. Why is it so very impor­tant to doc­u­ment these old fam­i­ly stories?

  • Even after she locat­ed Rosa’s and Spera’s fam­i­lies, Yvette wres­tled with whether or not this sto­ry was hers to tell. Why was she so con­flict­ed? What do you think, was it Yvette’s sto­ry to tell? Why or why not?

  • When Reat and Bill are mur­dered, Yvette’s son Nico says, “…you told me the Nazis were gone and the peo­ple were saved. How could this hap­pen?” How does Yvette respond to this ques­tion? How would you respond?

  • Mindy and the entire Cor­poron fam­i­ly stood up in the imme­di­ate after­math of the shoot­ings and refused to let hate have the last word. This shift­ed the nar­ra­tive, posi­tion­ing them not as vic­tims, but as sur­vivors. What would you say is the dif­fer­ence between a vic­tim and a survivor?

  • While Yvette writes exten­sive­ly about the shoot­er in Kansas, she nev­er once men­tions his name. Why do you think that is?

  • Like Rosa and Spera, so many Holo­caust sur­vivors nev­er spoke about the hor­rors they endured. Why do you think some kept silent while oth­ers chose to speak up? What are the chal­lenges faced by the chil­dren of sur­vivors, both those who spoke up and those who nev­er did?

  • Survivor’s guilt is a recur­ring theme through­out the book. Rosa and Sonia sur­vived the Holo­caust, Jacque­line sur­vived the Rwan­dan Geno­cide and Mindy felt ter­ri­ble survivor’s guilt for ask­ing her father to take Reat to the JCC for the audi­tion the day of the mur­ders. How did survivor’s guilt affect each of their lives? How does this guilt become a cat­a­lyst for action and change?

  • Mindy says again and again that her deep faith is the source of her strength. How does Mindy’s faith help her deal with the pain and harsh real­i­ty of los­ing her son and father? Have you relied on faith to get you through dif­fi­cult times in your life?

  • Yvette writes at length about Saint Spyri­don and attrib­ut­es many mir­a­cles, past and present, to her belief in Corfu’s Patron Saint. Do you believe in mir­a­cles? Have you wit­nessed or expe­ri­enced a mir­a­cle in your own life?

  • On Erik­ousa, in an act of col­lec­tive defi­ance, a group of poor islanders stood togeth­er, and helped save a Jew­ish fam­i­ly. In Over­land Park Kansas, thou­sands of peo­ple came togeth­er to build an angel wall and shield the Cor­poron fam­i­ly from the hate­ful rhetoric of the West­boro Bap­tist church. What does this prove about the pow­er of indi­vid­u­als com­ing togeth­er as a community?

  • Today, why is it so very impor­tant to use our voic­es and come togeth­er to drown out the hate? What can we hope to accomplish?