We Merely Fulfilled Our Obligation As People: A private Holocaust Story Gone International
As a teenager, I would sit and listen to my immigrant father’s “conflict stories” from the darkish years of the German occupation of his native Crete. Despite the horrors he experienced when he was only a teenager, I did not really care to listen a lot. After all, sitting nonetheless for this could lead to the identical rolling-eye-reaction from most youngsters my age.
Years later, I studied abroad for a yr at the American College of Greece in Athens. There, I realized about Greece’s role throughout World War II and how instrumental the Greek resistance was in delaying Hitler’s advances into Russia and finally altering the course of all the struggle. Humorous how it really works about parents turning into a lot wiser in the eyes of their kids as we develop older, but my dad’s struggle tales of yesteryear suddenly turned important to me. Soon, the historical past I had been advised about my ancestors turned an obsession and i started recalling them, one after another, seeking corroboration or some type of validation from history.
One of the stories Dad had told me repeatedly was a couple of “brave priest and a brave mayor” who saved a complete group of their island’s Jews who were being hunted by Hitler’s SS. My father knew rather a lot concerning the Greek-Jewish neighborhood because he grew up in the Jewish neighborhood of Hania, close to the Venetian harbor, actually around the corner from a then-active fifteenth century synagogue referred to as Etz Hayim, that nonetheless stands at this time.
Fast forward to my Trendy Greek historical past class on the American College of Greece in the early 90s, the place I read concerning the “brave priest and brave mayor” my father spoke of years earlier who were truly the island’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop, Metropolitan Chrysostomos; and its mayor, Loukas Karrer.
There, in a textbook, I read a corroborated model of my father’s story about the only group of Jews underneath Nazi occupation that survived the Holocaust intact. Whereas complete populations were wiped out, I learn of the humanity of the Zakynthian folks and the notion that among the 1000’s of individuals on the island, not one collaborated to show in even a single Jew. Due to the collective-yet-singular dedication of the population of this island, every single member of the Jewish group survived. Like Schindler’s List, however just as exceptional, this was the story of a whole island of people that refused to satisfy Nazi hate.
I beloved the story and started sharing it wherever and nevertheless I might. Surprisingly enough, reactions by no means appeared to transcend a “wow, what an awesome story” until January of this previous yr when, as soon as once more, I took the opportunity to share it on my Huffington Submit blog. On Worldwide Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, 2013, individuals were writing and paying tribute to those that had perished throughout one of the ugliest intervals in human history. I, alternatively, decided to put in writing about those that tried to cease the Holocaust — and included the story of the mayor and archbishop from Zakynthos in my piece.
The day the article was printed on the Huffington Post, I happened to be driving with Steven Priovolos, who was a volunteer for the 2013 Gabby Awards and provided to help create a video tribute in honor of Sid Ganis, our Lifetime Achievement Award recipient (a Greek Jew himself). And now the story gets higher…
My Huffpost weblog submit went viral because of Arianna Huffington’s re-tweeting it to 1000’s of her personal followers. Add that to thousands of Facebookers and Tweeters sharing and reposting it, and you may get some thought of the cyber-undercurrent going on that day. And if you understand anything about iPhones and social media, you understand that if you do not swap off your “notifications” if you find yourself re-tweeted, talked about, tagged or re-posted, your cellphone vibrates every time and notifications simply keep popping up.
This was all taking place during my conversation and automotive trip with Steven down Hollywood Boulevard on our technique to a gathering. Being the attention Deficit Disorder-bothered particular person that I am, I kept taking a look at my iPhone. Bothered, Steven remarks, “That is fairly annoying.” It was then that I received my first lecture from him about “being current” while I’m around folks. After profusely apologizing for my social faux pas, I tried to elucidate the viral re-tweeting phenomenon that was happening — to a man who does not even have Twitter or Facebook on his personal telephone. I then proceeded to tell him the story– about Chrysostomos, Karrer, Zakynthos and the again-stories I knew about this amazing time in Greek history.
Steven remained silent as he drove down the boulevard lined with Hollywood Stars and palm timber. I really thought he was indignant. However on the contrary — he was enthralled. And by the time I used to be knee-deep into the story, he truly pulled the automobile off to the aspect of the road and stopped and requested, “Greg, did this actually happen “
I laughed. “It is not simply my dad’s story; The state of Israel itself checked out its authenticity.” Certainly, each the Archbishop and the Mayor (the protagonists of the Zakynthos survival story) had been honored by the Yad Vashem Memorial following a rigorous policy of painstaking analysis earlier than recognizing non-Jews who saved Jews in the course of the Holocaust.
Steven then seemed me as if the clouds had just parted and the solar was shining on the Hollywood sign atop a distant hill. “Greg, we have to share this story. We have to make a film about this.”
As you may guess, the remainder is already turning into history. This very private story of my father’s that I held in my memory for many years has now taken a snowball’s experience down the side of a mountain, because of Steven’s willpower and abiding enthusiasm.
At present this true tale is properly on its way to turning into a short movie, produced by the Greek America Basis with Steven as its cinematographer, a British screenwriter named Mia Christou and properly-identified manufacturing designer/artwork director Giles Masters, recognized for his work on movies like Angels and Demons, The DaVinci Code, Tomorrow Never Dies and many extra.
By February of 2013, just a month after Steven embraced my passion for this story and endorsed my efforts, we were on a plane to Athens, because of the generosity of George Bourkoulas and Atlas Journey of Detroit in addition to Olympic Airlines, who provided flights to Zakynthos. We were determined to meet the people and see the place the place this wonderful story unfolded.
Upon our arrival in Athens, we met with Mr. Nikos Lalotis, an angel of a man who outlined the whole landscape of pre and postwar Zakynthos, at a downtown espresso shop. Laliotis was in his 90s but his memory was sharp, enabling him to offer us with names of people on the island we might in the end go and go to in the days to return.
A fast flight later led us to meet our Zakynthos host, Dimitris Skalistiris, who is a neighborhood photographer and man of many passions — just considered one of which was hugging individuals with nice gusto. His motivation was to assist us share this necessary story of each the Zakynthian people as nicely elaborate on the compassionate heartbeat of the Greek folks normally. “We aren’t a hateful people,” Dimitris told us. “Greeks love humanity.”
Quickly we had embarked on a non-cease 3-day journey to be taught all we may about Zakynthos, its people and the story itself. We met locals who have stone island garment dyed old effect zipper jacket been current in the course of the 1940s and visited relevant historic sites. Our jaws dropped as we came to realize just how far back this neighborhood of Jews went on this island when we visited the Jewish cemetery whose permanent residents dated again to the 1200s.
As we strolled by tombstones, we read names etched within the stone in each Greek and Hebrew, together with stars of David and other Jewish markings. A number of of the tombs we observed bore the last title “Ganis.” Although we had been told that this was a standard Jewish identify and a giant family, it was still ironic that the man we had been honoring on the forthcoming Gabby Awards and the one Greek Jew that we had informed about our undertaking was named Sid Ganis. I snapped pictures with my iPhone and texted just a few to Sid.
We met males like Nikolaos Lountzis — a ninety-year old who broke down in tears whereas pulling out a cross he wore round his neck that was given to him by the Jewish boy that was hidden in his dwelling who he mentioned was “like his own flesh and blood”.
We also met Ioannis Rapsomanikis, whose mother ordered her kids to allow their Jewish company to eat first as a result of “…you by no means know when they could should flee,” citing that she would not need them doing this on an empty stomach.
We came to learn that the Jews of Zakynthos survived by hiding in plain sight, as a result of their protectors — the ethnic Zakynthian Christians — did not consider them any different. As the nearly-deaf, Rapsomanikis instructed us, “They were our family. Whereas they had been in our homes, we performed with them, fought with them, known as them our sisters and brothers, and shared meals with them. It wasn’t even a matter of confusing the Germans, because they hadn’t a clue in the world.”
Rapsomanikis additionally shared the story of a pregnant Jewish lady who had been hiding in his village and went into labor during the occupation. “It was the Nazi himself who we turned to fetch the midwife as a result of she didn’t have transportation to come to our village. Think about the irony,” he chuckled and continued. “The very individuals who were searching the Jews actually helped the perpetuation of the race!”
The contemporary Greek Orthodox hierarch of the island, additionally named Chrysostomos corroborated this, as did everybody we spoke to on Zakynthos. “They were equal residents,” noted the Archbishop. “We did not see them any different, any less, or any inferior to us as a result of they were Jews and we were Christians. They have been Greeks, like we have been,” he mentioned while sipping on his Greek espresso in the courtyard of the massive Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Dionysios, which was partially rebuilt after the massive earthquake of 1954 with the financial help and guide labor of the Jewish households of Zakynthos, lots of whom had long ago settled in Israel but remained connected to their island.
As I was leaving the church, I stumbled throughout a rally of the Neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” political occasion that was making headlines across Greece and the world. I was overcome with the awesome accountability to tell this story — as soon as possible — not just for history’s sake, but also for the sake of contemporary Greece.
It was a shocking show of irony to hear them chanting their hatred straight in entrance of the Cathedral the place only a few decades earlier the choice was made by the resident Christian Archbishop to save each Jew on the island.
Before leaving the island, we had been able to meet the stately Marlen Karrer, the niece of the famous mayor. She instructed us of the mayor’s wife, her “Thea” Lilly, who was solely 28 when the Nazis invaded Zakynthos. We have been to learn that Lilly was now living in Athens and although nearly 100 years previous and “had her wits about her.” One introduction continued to lead to a different, as Marlen arranged for us to fulfill Lena (Karrer) Kriezi — the daughter of the mayor with whom her mother was pregnant the 12 months the Nazis invaded the island and demanded the Jews be turned over.
Lena was heat and welcoming in her Athenian house. She showed us photos of her father and newspaper clippings from the Yad Vashem ceremony that occurred at the Israeli Embassy in Athens within the 1970s. Still, the visit along with her was outstanding. Then she asked, “Would you want to satisfy my mom “
Steven and i checked out each other in disbelief as we were directed into the bedroom of one of the angelic ladies I have ever met in my life. Lilly welcomed us into her room and asked what our business in her house was in the calmest and gentlest of how. We explained to her that we needed to inform the story of her courageous mayor husband, the Archbishop, and all of the other heroic residents of Zakynthos.
She looked at us serenely and mentioned, “Emeis den kaname tipota. Den ipirhan iroes” (“We did nothing. There were no heroes.”)
Steven and i looked at one another — pondering that perhaps she didn’t remember or that perhaps her advanced age had clouded her psychological recollection. The translation of the next thing Lilly said is, “No. There were no heroes. We merely fulfilled our responsibility as people.”
And so we must be truthful. The real motive we’re making this film springs from this highly effective yet touching dialogue with Lilly Karrer. Our film shouldn’t be meant to peacock about Greek heroes — even when we now have good motive to take action — as a result of, as Mrs. Karrer put it, there were no heroes.
It was pure goodness and humanity that motivated a complete island population to guard its own residents no matter what the associated fee or potential hazard. We really feel we have now a responsibility to remind the world of that goodness and that humanity — one thing we believe the world as effectively because the Greek people are thirsting to hear about during such troubled times.
As of December, 2013, our movie venture was halfway funded, having introduced in more than $60,000 from 300+ donors throughout the world. The movie trailer at the 2013 Gabby Awards in Hollywood evoked roaring applause, after which we began active fundraising and have not stopped since, with generous donations coming from folks like Canadians Frank and Roula Kakouros with a short note attached that learn, “You have to tell this story.”
Our first crowd-funding marketing campaign brought in practically $15,000 beginning with a contribution by Eleni Kourouklis of Pittsburgh. Extra donations began pouring in. $5 from New York City, $1000 from London, $500 from Salt Lake City… and so forth.
The story has unfold like wildfire. We’ve acquired notable newspaper coverage in Greece and Canada as properly as the U.S. And we’ve even situated and recognized Jewish survivors initially from Zakynthos who now reside in Tel Aviv.
Throughout an October 2013 visit to Israel, the Greek Prime Minister was greeted by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu with the story of the Zakynthos for example of the frequent bond shared by the two nations. In subsequent remarks after the official speeches, Netanyahu mentioned that he was proud that a group of Greek-People was making a movie about this story.
We anticipate to wrap up funding by the start of the new Year and begin pre-manufacturing by early 2014. Plans embrace capturing the film on the island of Zakynthos as well as in Hania, Crete, the place a completely preserved Venetian town and a 15th century synagogue nonetheless stand, sharing structure with what World War II-period Zakynthos looked like. (Keep in mind that the majority of Zakynthos was destroyed by an earthquake in 1954 and only three buildings remain from the pre-earthquake interval, making exterior pictures inconceivable.)
We have now a spherical of latest key supporters as properly: the renown photographer Roy Schweiger from Tel Aviv has been a giant help on the bottom there, helping to identify and arrange meetings with the Zakynthos survivors. Impressed by the venture, he has additionally graciously supplied to serve as our set photographer.
So so as to add the sweetest icing of all to the cake, the one and solely Sid Ganis — the previous president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and one of the crucial revered and prolific executives in Hollywood is officially on board because the movie’s government producer. We’ve also secured Aegean Airlines because the official airline service of the movie challenge, adding a worthwhile connection between Greece and Israel when our manufacturing actually begins.
Our closing crowd-funding marketing campaign is in full-swing as new donors and supporters come on board by the day.
In Greece and all through the world — Golden Daybreak continue to make headlines. Due to that, the time is now to make this film a actuality. Its impact might be more powerful than indignant online posts or even commentaries decrying the Neo Nazi movement in Greece throughout debates on television. No.
We will not respond with politics and anti-Neo Nazi rhetoric; as a substitute we are going to reply with a lesson from historical past that demonstrates the purest kinds of love and humanity during a time during which the world puzzled what the long run would hold if Hitler had succeeded. The time is now to illustrate the victory of humanity over hatred. The time is now to share the story with the world when each single resident of the Greek island of Zakynthos stared Hitler’s army of terror within the face and stated…
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