HOUSTON, TX (Dec. 27, 2006) – Despite all the life experiences of Holocaust survivor Riki Roussos, she still argues that “everyone has an angel.”

And at age 79, the Houstonian says she has finally found her own angel – an anonymous donor who she says has fulfilled her ultimate wish that her family and others from her original home in the Jewish community of Sarajevo, Yugoslavia will never be forgotten.

On Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2007, the Galleria-area resident will see her dream realized with creation of a permanent memorial to those who died in the Nazis’ destruction of all Jewish culture in her hometown and to what happened in the nearby Jasenovac extermination camp, where 600,000 people – including as many as 25,000 Jews – were murdered. Its victims included Roussos’ father, 48-year-old Isaac Atias, and her 17-year-old brother, Daniel Atias.

The name of Roussos’ home of Sarajevo will be added to Holocaust Museum Houston’s “Destroyed Communities” exhibit in ceremonies beginning at 3 p.m. at the Museum, 5401 Caroline St., in Houston’s Museum District. Roussos will speak about her life experiences and her remembrances of her community as part of the day’s events, which are free and open to the public.

As part of construction of the Museum’s current building, an exterior slope was designed to include donated permanent monuments to World War II communities whose Jewish population and culture were obliterated by the Nazis. It now contains monuments to 32 such communities, but the etched concrete stones are expensive, costing more than $5,000 each to construct and install.

“I could never afford to do that, but I have hoped to have something to remember them for so long. When it happened, I just could not believe it. Everyone has their angel, and he is mine,” Roussos said of the retired chemical engineer who paid to have the monument placed after visiting the Museum in August 2006 and hearing Roussos tell parts of her story to a group touring the Museum.

“It was unexpected. I wasn’t even supposed to be doing a tour. I was working in the library, but there was a group and someone needed to speak to them,” she said. “He was not part of my group, but he heard some of what I had to say and then came back to the library afterward and asked to talk with me more, so I told him some bits and pieces of my story, and he was moved by my story and felt he had to do something.”

The man, who asked not to be identified publicly, asked what he could to do help, and Roussos told him of her long-held wish for a permanent memorial as a reminder of the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy and how her own community was affected.

“I couldn’t believe it. He wrote the check on the spot and handed it to me,” she said.

Roussos – who at age 79 still volunteers at the Museum two days a week and another day at a local geriatric center – was so stunned she took the check to the Museum’s controller to confirm it was legitimate. It was.

“I had a very big family, and so many perished. This was just very important to me,” she said. “My father was only 48 when he was killed. His only crime was to be of the Jewish faith. People in the news are claiming the Holocaust never happened, but I didn’t make that up. After I am gone, who will tell his story? I have to do this. I am still alive, and I am still able, so it is what I must do.”

As part of that commitment, Roussos has been an active supporter of the Museum for more than 16 years, beginning her involvement when the Museum was just a dream of friend and fellow survivor Siegi Izakson. Although she left college to raise her children, she is fluent in five languages and still gives tours in English and Spanish and speaks to educators and school groups regularly.

Roussos was only 14 at the time but still remembers that day in October 1941 when the Germans awakened her family in the middle of the night. Her father and brother were arrested, taken to the Jasenovac camp in nearby Croatia and eventually killed. Roussos, her younger brother Samuel and her mother hid in a cold, cramped basement for several months before making their way to Italy disguised as Muslims and using a fake identification card supplied by a woman her uncle had paid for help. But in early 1943, Italian authorities rounded up thousands of Jews and sent the family to the Rab Island camp, where they stayed until escaping with the help of partisans. They lived among the partisans until the war’s end.

Roussos and her remaining family immigrated to Israel in 1949, where she married Mordechai Roussos, a survivor from Greece, in 1950. Her son Eli was born the following year, and daughter Sarah was born in 1952. The family moved to the United States in 1962, first settling in Columbus, Ohio, and then moving to Houston in 1977.

She has returned to Sarajevo, now the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, only once, about 25 years ago.

“I was just walking on the streets and crying. It was not the same. It was just a completely destroyed culture. It’s gone,” she said.

By historical accounts, Sarajevo’s Jewish community numbered more than 10,000 people, or about one-tenth of the city’s population at that time. An estimated 8,200 of those died in the Holocaust. Most of the remainder fled the country.

The Jewish community in Sarajevo was built up over 16 centuries by Sephardic refugees from Spain. Hundreds of Ashkenazim Jews from Vienna, Prague and Budapest later joined the community. Before World War II, they enjoyed full civil liberties and had a rich culture and all its amenities, including five synagogues, a Jewish daily newspaper, a weekly newspaper, a day school, a Jewish theater and a singing group that performed across Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The last community added to the exhibit was that of Sighet, Romania. Before the war, that community was home to more than 30 synagogues. Only one survived.