Coca Sultana, left; daughter Edy, right; Edy's fiance "Leonard, center.Coca Sultana, left; daughter Edy, right; Edy's fiance "Leonard, center.

Coca Sultana, left; daughter Edy, right; Edy’s fiance “Leonard, center.

My mother worked alongside her servants.

She was first to rise, to get their work ready.

My father was highly respected.

He handled the banking of Serbs and Croats alike,

and proudly paraded his Romanian wife

Before the rest of the Jewish community.

He was killed in an early pogrom.

We washed in snow when there was no water.

My mother knew how to remain a human being,

and so my brother and I did too.

One day, wearing crosses and amazement,

we accepted the profound apologies

of concentration camp authorities

who were sorry that they’d taken us for Jews.

We walked out the gates of Sajmište camp in Belgrade.

Free.  Then,  we  lived in Turkey,

where I studied and tutored  until

My mother found me a scholarship

only for Baptists, and I went to college in Iowa,

still not a Jew.

There I met the son of an Illinois businessman,

and we married, had children. My husband,

whose fine mind was troubled and troubling

kept disappearing,  left me with our children,

No house, and no job.

But I had been washed in the snow in the winter,

And so we survive.

Today I sell Avon,

sip tea with my buyers and

listen to troubles of women I sell to.

I walk as a Jew, with my children beside me.

–Marguerite Beck-Rex

This poem is based on the life of Coca Sultana Greenblatt,as she narrated it to me, one of her Avon customers in the 1970s in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.  The poem is based on a true story but there is some poetic license in the details.  Coca died on January 7, 2010, at the age of 79.  She is survived by her sister Dolly, her daughter Edy Greenblatt, her son Kim Greenblatt  and two grandchildren.


According to most public records, there are no Jewish survivors from Sajmište concentration camp near Belgrade.  The four survivors that the Greenblatt/Pavlovitch family know about were Coca Sultana, her mother Ethel, her brother Daniel and her sister Dolly. Daniel’s testimony is documented under interview code #11985 – Daniel Pavlovitch in the Spielberg collection at the Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles but he called the campSemlin so that’s how it is cataloged.


However. as far as the family knows. no one has integrated the data recorded on this camp because it was variously referred to as Semlin, Zemlin, Zemun, Sajmiste and other titles with these words in them. The family is starting to work on this and needs help.  If you would like to help or learn more about this camp, contact the Online Testimony Cataloge at the Shoa Foundation at  Or you may contact me, Marguerite Beck-Rex, at and I will help the family make contact with you.


About inkpaintwords

A feminist writer and artist with a penchant for all things French, living in Washington DC. My love of language led me, indirectly, to my pleasure in gardening, drawing and watercolor. It began with a book, a collection of New Yorker garden columns by Katherine White, wife of its founding editor E.B.White. Her enthusiastic appraisal of the literary merit of various garden catalogs led me to collect and keep her favorites as well as to hoard with them some more recently-emerged seed, bulb and seed catalogs. The beautiful catalogs inspired me to little by little turn our entire front lawn (our home had a wooded ravine close behind) into a garden. That grew into a lovely site with two simple arches, a gliding bench on a little sitting patio and modest slate paths winding through beds of shade lovers and whatever plants supposedly in need of full sun that I could manage to coax into colorful healthy bloom. A curiosity about color and color theory emerged as I became keenly interested in impressionist painters; that interest merged in some way with my urge to garden. I acquired more than one book about Monet’s garden and gardens of other impressionist painters, both French and American. One day I picked up a magazine for painters, and found inside an article about a painter I’d known. Among examples of her splendid watercolor paintings was her watercolor of her garden at that time. Suddenly I could think of nothing more exciting than painting my garden. I enrolled in her watercolor class in The Art League in Alexandria, VA. The influence that the collection of Katherine White’s columns about the literary merits of certain garden catalogs has had on my life has come full now. Ink, Paint & Words combines what has become an obsession with drawing and watercolor with my passion for language. Yes, I still garden. A table full of blooming potted plants sits on my apartment patio, backed by an ivy covered fence with park trees behind. My patio, and my larger environment of Washington DC, together provides wonderful vistas for drawing and painting. For a number of years annual trips to France gave me and my companions extravagantly colorful panoramas and charming tableaux for brush and pen. And yes, now I’ve painted in Monet’s gardens several times. But that, as they say, is another story.
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4 Responses to Sultana

  1. Edy Greenblatt says:

    Thank you for sharing our family’s story with the world. Coca is survived by her sister Dolly as well. Coca was amazing. Thank you for sharing that.
    Edy, Coca’s daughter

  2. terry says:

    Marguerite, it’s an honor to be on your list and visit your beautiful blog. What an inspiration that you share your art, and your deep concerns. Thank you! Terry

  3. Peggy D says:

    Marguerite, when our culture seems increasingly lost in trivialities, your poem is a moving reminder of our shared humanity. Thank you for sharing it with me. Peggy

  4. Hank Wallace says:

    Marguerite: With the visual and word imagery of “The Quilted Fields of Provence,” and the movingly spare “Sultana,” you could give blogging a good name. Hank

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