THE ISLAND OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, Deno Seder
- of Apostolos Spyrakis
- Well, the Greeks did not surrender the Jews to the Occupation, nor did they rob their property, nor did they cooperate with the Germans to send them to the concentration camps. The majority of the Greek people helped them in every way, and indeed in the shocking case of Zakynthos, the entire island led by Metropolitan Chrysostomos and Mayor Loukas-Georgio Karrer gave everything to preserve the lives and reputation of the Israelites who lived there from 1st century AD
The Greeks helped the Jews persecuted by the horrible Nazi regime, Police Chief Angelos Evert together with Archbishop Damascenes gave thousands of fake baptism certificates and at least twenty seven thousand fake IDs to save those who could from the Nazi rampage. The archbishop, according to Holocaust historians, organized a staff of Orthodox priests, police and members of the Resistance and ordered the monasteries to shelter the Jews, while it is estimated that the houses of the Greek priests sheltered at least 250 Jewish children, and all these cost the arrests of over 600 priests – some of whom were arrested, displaced or murdered. The same sources state that the Greek monasteries helped the Jews who wanted to cross to the shores of Turkey and from there to the Middle East, while there were no attempts to convert the children who had found shelter there and who after the war were returned to their families. The common people showed their support in every way and this must be said. According to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when the Germans tried to turn the Greek population into anti-Semitic attitudes, no Greek voluntarily came forward to claim a house or other property owned by Jews. According to survivor accounts, Greek Christians who saw the Jews at the train stations as they departed for the concentration camps ran from wagon to wagon for hours offering water, bread, cheese and candles, until the German guards intervened and chased them away.
But apart from what happened in the rest of Greece, the example of Zakynthos is really wonderful and this example is brought to light by Deno Seder, the author of this book, who looked for testimonies of survivors, looked for archives that had disappeared under the ruins of the earthquakes that leveled the island, he consulted experts on the subject in Israel and elsewhere, and comes to give his own story about the attitude of the Greeks towards their fellow Israelites, a story that seems quite different from the one that tends to prevail .
While the Germans were combing every corner of the country where even a handful of Jews were suspected of living, the bishop of the island was looking for solutions to save the people regardless of their origin and religion. He had studied in Munich before the war, where he had met Hitler himself, an aspiring artist at the time. He could speak German fluently and this allowed him to vigorously assert the rights of the Greeks during his contacts with the conqueror. The respect he inspired allowed him to demand the release of communist and resistance prisoners as well as better treatment of the starving citizens of the island, and this action of his had led him to temporary imprisonment. Together with the mayor of the island of Louka - George Karrer, they received an ultimatum to deliver a list of all the Jewish residents of Zakynthos and, then, they moved quickly by baptizing all the Jews into Christians. Those Jews who could not hide fled to the mountains and there the villagers offered them help that allowed them to survive. They were not betrayed in any case, the spirit of solidarity that was widespread on the island gave courage to the hunted and, despite the fear, they never saw a Greek surrendering to them. Typical was the response of a local when he was asked to name the Germans: "We have no Jews here, only Greeks!".
The Romaniote Jews of Zakynthos spoke the Greek language, they had a wonderful relationship with the locals, and experts describe as a miracle the fact that out of the 42,000 Christian inhabitants of the island, not a single one said a word about where the 275 Greek Jews were hiding. The explanation given is one: the guidance they had from their worthy bishop together with the orthodox ethos that characterized the Zakynthians led them to this truly magnificent collective attitude. Decades later, the survivors visited with emotion every year the families who had decisively helped them during the difficult time. The Jews of Zakynthos who immigrated after the war never forgot the humanitarian behavior of their fellow human beings. After the terrible earthquakes that leveled Zakynthos in 1953, the first aid ship to arrive came from Israel and the captain announced as he disembarked that the Jews of Zakynthos who had taken refuge in the then newly formed state had never forgotten their beloved bishop and mayor who had mercy on them as true Christians.
At the time of the crisis it became fashionable to highlight the weaknesses of the people who have, of course, made their mistakes, but let this self-flagellation come to an end, because it is, if nothing else, unsightly. The Greeks were not monsters, on the contrary, in many cases, with Zakynthos at the top, they showed real greatness. Such an attitude was natural for the Greek Orthodox, this is the historical truth and this is the message of this book. After all, the example was first set by Archbishop Damascenos himself, being the only Church leader in all of Europe who raised his stature to the Nazis at a time when the Pope was playing a pitiful power game by keeping criminally silent. At that terrible moment, the archbishop protested the miserable treatment of the Jews who were being sent to the German concentration camps, and when the German SS commander Jurgen Stroop threatened him with a rifle, his answer was laconic: "By tradition, the Greek Orthodox are hanged, not rifled." . Please respect the traditions!'
The island of the righteous
Translation: Polixeni Tsaliki-Kiosoglou