Zakynthos wartime heroism honoured

first_imgIn October 1944, the Germans summoned Mayor Karrer and demanded a list of the Jews and their addresses. Karrer was told he would pay with his life if he did not return with the list.The next day he and the bishop handed the Germans two sheets of paper; the first a letter from Bishop Chrysostomos to the German High Command in Berlin, insisting that the Jews of Zakynthos would not be handed over.Then, in further act of courage they presented the second sheet of paper, purportedly giving the names of the island’s Jews. “Here are your Jews,” said the bishop. “If you choose to deport the Jews of Zakynthos, you must also take me and I will share their fate.”But the sheet of paper contained just two names: Chrysostomos Demetriou and Loukas Karrer. Baffled by their response, the German commander sent the documents to Berlin, requesting instructions. The act of defiance worked. The order to deport the Jews of Zakynthos was revoked and not one of them perished.After the war, in recognition of their saviours, Zakynthos’ Jewish community donated stained glass for the windows of the Church of Saint Dionysios on the island. In 1978 Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel honoured Chrysostomos and Karrer with the title of ‘Righteous among the Nations’, an honour given to non-Jews who, at great personal risk, saved Jews during the Holocaust.The remarkable tale of Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos has only received recognition in Australia recently.John Koutsis, secretary of the Zakynthian Association of Sydney and NSW, told Neos Kosmos the story came to light in early research for an exhibition being developed by the association. “We discovered it in 2014 when we began curating an exhibition on Zakynthos’ history. “One of our team was aware of a TV documentary called The Song of Life on the subject, and eventually we got a copy of the program. “It’s a good example of what Christ taught us: to love your neighbour. It is a story about philotimo and anthropia.”Song of Life will be screened on 20 March at the Saint George Greek Orthodox Church in Rose Bay. The actions of Zakynthians in WWII were remembered this week in an impassioned address to the Zakynthian Association of Sydney and NSW by Vic Alhadeff, chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.“It is people such as Loukas Karrer and Chrysostomos Demetriou who enable us to keep our faith in humanity alive.”Mr Alhadeff addressed more than 300 Australian descendants of the island, saluting them for their “inspirational courage and the humanity of their people”.As a guest of the association, Mr Alhadeff, whose own family traces its heritage to Rhodes, said he was honoured to be invited to present the story of how the Jewish community on Zakynthos was saved from annihilation during the Second World War by fellow Zakynthians,Mr Alhadeff related the story of how in 1943 and 1944 Zakynthos’ mayor, Loukas Karrer, alongside Bishop Chrysostomos Demetriou, defied the German occupation forces’ request to round up the island’s Jews for deportation. Mr Alhadeff’s relationship to the story is deeply poignant – 151 members of the Alhadeff family, including Mr Alhadeff’s grandparents, perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.“In a world with so much prejudice and bigotry, it is people such as Loukas Karrer and Chrysostomos Demetriou who enable us to keep our faith in humanity alive,” said Mr Alhadeff.For five centuries Zakynthos had been home to a small Jewish community who blended seamlessly with the rest of the island’s population. In October 1943 German forces arrived with orders to round up the Jews and submit them to the same fate as millions of others of their religion. But the mayor and Bishop Chrysostomos had other plans. The bishop declared he would follow the example of Archbishop Demaskinos of Athens, who had publicly stated: “I spoke to the Lord and made up my mind to save as many Jewish souls as possible.” Mayor Karrer warned the Jewish community that danger was imminent and all 275 were given refuge in villagers’ homes throughout the island.(L-R) Bishop Chrysostomos Demetriou and Mayor Loukas Karrer. Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagramlast_img

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