War stories

This is a bit of a different post but ANZAC day got me thinking. My parents emigrated to Australia in the 1950’s so there aren’t any ANZACs in our family background, nevertheless there is an experience of war.

My mother was 5 and dad was 9 when WWII ended. They both lived in the same little village on the island of Zakynthos, Greece.

Zakynthos was initially occupied by the Italians, whom my parents describe as not being too bad. Apparently they conformed to the cliche and were more interested in wine, singing and whistling at pretty girls than fighting. But this relatively benign state of occupation rapidly changed when the Germans arrived. My parents have memories of villages youths being killed in reprisals and of hiding in the olive groves when the village was shelled by the retreating Germans. My father’s house was destroyed by a mortar but thankfully no one was injured.

Moonrise over Zakynthos town

But in the horror of the German occupation of Zakynthos there is one wonderful story:

In 1944 Mayor Carrer was ordered at gunpoint to hand over a list of Jews residing on the island. The list was presented to the Germans containing only two names: Mayor Carrer and Bishop Chrysostomos.
The Bishop bravely told the Germans, “Here are your Jews. If you choose to deport the Jews of Zakynthos, you must also take me and I will share their fate.”
In the interim, all the Jews of the island were safely hidden in the mountainous villages. While the whole island knew what was happening, not one person revealed their whereabouts.
The Jews of Zakynthos share a similar history with the Jews of the Ionian islands, except that all 275 Jews of Zakynthos survived the Holocaust. The courageous actions of Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Loukas Carrer in helping these individuals led Yad Vashem to include them in the “Righteous Among Nations.”
There is evidence that Chrysostomos actually communicated with Hitler himself, to beg for the lives of the Jews on the island. Unfortunately, a devastating earthquake in1953 destroyed all archives on the island, making proof of the correspondence impossible.
Historians do know that a boat was never sent to deport the Jews of Zakynthos and that all 275 of the island’s Jews survived the Holocaust.

The first boat to arrivewith aid to the victims of the 1953 earthquake was from 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.”

Lest we forget.


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