Documentary Revisits Greek Jewish Holocaust
Since the release of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List in 1993, there have been a plethora of feature and documentary films about the Jewish Holocaust which ocoured from 1937 until 1945 during World War II. Each film covers a wide range of subjects in many areas of the world.
One little known topic of the Holocaust, the fate of Greeks of the Jewish fate and the Gentile citizens who helped them escape persecution, has been brought to light in a new Documentary film, Song of Life.
Previewed on March 13 before an audience of 100 people at Queensboro Community College’s Harriet & Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center & Archives, the documentary told the story of the 121 members of the Jewish community who were hidden by Greek Orthodox families during the war.
“This is one of the many stories of the Holocaust that needs to come out into the open so that it may be discussed,” Executive Director Arthur Flug said.
Jewish communities in Greece have existed for more than two thousand years. The oldest and the most characteristic Jewish group that has inhabited Greece are the Romaniotes or Greek Jews.
“The story of both Jew and Gentile in Greece is one of great heroism and sorrow,” Assemblymember David Weprin, who was also in attendance, said.
According to the documentary, on July 11, 1942, the Jews of Thessaloniki were rounded up in preparation for deportation to the German camps. The community paid a fee of 2.5 billion drachmas for their freedom, the effect of which was only to delay deportation until the following March. Of the 46,091 people who were sent to Auschwitz only 1,950 returned to find most of their sixty synagogues and schools destroyed. Many survivors emigrated to Israel and the United States. Today, the Jewish population of Thessaloniki numbers roughly 1,000 and maintains two synagogues.
After the fall of Italian fascism in 1943, the Nazis took control of the island Corfu, the Northwestern most island in Greece’s Ionian Sea. Corfu’s mayor, Kollas, was a known collaborator and various anti-Semitic laws were passed by the Nazis that now formed the occupation government of the island.
In early June 1944, while the Allies bombed Corfu as a diversion from the landing in Normandy, the Gestapo rounded up the Jews of the city, temorarily incarcerated them at the old fort. Although two hundred of the 2,000 Corfu Jews found sanctuary with Christian families, the remaining 1,800 were deported on June 10 to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Many locals provded shelter and refuge to those 200 Jews that managed to escape the Nazis. As well, a prominent section of the old town is to this day called Evraiki, or Jewish suburb, in recognition of the Jewish contribution and continued presence in Corfu Town. An active synagogue, known as Scuola Greca, remains an integral part of Evraiki with about 65 members.
The 275 Jews of the island of Zakynthos, however, survived the Holocaust. When the island’s mayor, Loukas Karrer, was presented with the German order to hand over a list of Jews, Bishop Chrysotomos returned to the Germans with a list of two names; his and the mayor’s. The island’s Gentile population hid every member of the Jewish community. When the island was almost leveled by an earthquake in 1953, the first relief came from the state of Israel, with a message that read, “The Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten their mayor or their beloved bishop and what they did for us.”
On November 21, 2003, Nikos Bistis, the Greek Deputy Minister of the Interior, declared January 27 to be Holocaust Remembrance Day in Greece, and committed to a coalition of Greek Jews, Greek non-Jews and Jews worldwide to fight anti-Semitism in Greece.
“I am very glad that I came here today to witness this special film,” one woman said. “Who here in American remembers the Greek Jews of Europe?”
The KHRCA, 222-05 56th Ave., Bayside acts as an ongoing witness to history. Through extensive research and documentation, and by chronicling the testimonies of survivors, the center embraces the lessons learned from the Holocaust to each tolerance, to understand prejudice, and to embrace the lives and legacies of the survivors. It is through the details of their personal remembrances that we can educate future generations to recognize and reject the face of hatred so that what happened once will never happen again at any level.