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One of the largest of the beautiful islands in the Ionian Sea, Zakynthos, lies to the west of mainland Greece2. In October, 1943, German forces arrived on the island with orders to round up the Jews. A familiar pattern followed: a night-time curfew was imposed on the island’s Jews and they were ordered to place a sign on their house doors indicating how many people lived there. The Germans warned that anyone hiding Jews or help­ing them to escape would be shot.

The mayor, Loukas Karrer, and the bishop, Chrysostomos Demetriou, were summoned by the German commander, Paul Berenz, and informed that the Jews would eventually be transported to Europe. Bishop Chrysostomos, who spoke fluent German, maintained that the Jews had lived on the island for five centuries and were part of the community. They were only small in number and should be left alone. They would not be handed over.

Warned by Mayor Karrer of the danger, the Jews were given refuge by the people of Zakynthos in their homes. They had heard that Jews elsewhere in Greece had been transported to the Nazi death camps and they were unwilling to allow this to happen to the Jews of Zakynthos.

Sometime later, commander Berenz summoned Mayor Karrer and demanded a list of Jews, includ­ing their addresses and occupations. If the mayor failed to provide the list by the next day he would be executed. Mayor Karrer urgently conferred with Bishop Chrysostomos, who recommended that they draw up a list.

The day following, the mayor and the bishop met with a German officer, Alfred Lit, and gave him two sheets of paper. One was a letter from Bishop Chrysostomos addressed to the German High Command, stating that the Jews of Zakynthos were under his protection and would not be handed over. The second sheet of paper, they told the officer, contained the names of the island’s 275 Jews.

But on that sheet of paper were just two names: Chrysostomos Demetriou, bishop of Zakynthos, and Loukas Karrer, mayor of Zakynthos. The bishop explained to the German officer that if the Jews of Zakynthos were transported to Europe and the death camps, then he and the mayor would accom­pany them and share their fate.

Uncertain how to proceed, the German com­mander sent both documents to the German High Command in Berlin with a request for instructions. In response, the order to round up the Jews of Zakynthos was revoked and the German forces withdrew from the island. Not one of the 275 Jews perished.

After the war was over, to acknowledge the courage of the people of Zakynthos, the grateful Jewish community donated stained glass for the windows of the Church of Saint Dionysios on the island. In 1947, a large number of the Jews moved to Palestine to join the emerging Jewish state, while others moved to Athens.3 Then in 1953, when Zakynthos was struck by an earthquake, the first ship to arrive with aid, food and medical supplies came from Israel. It also brought a message that the Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten the courage of the mayor and the bishop and what they did for the 275 Jews of the island.

Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Karrer have been recognised by Yad Vashem in Israel as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ for their selfless courage, and in the early 1950’s, Greece’s Jewish community erected marble statues in their honour on the site where the island’s synagogue once stood.

There are many inspiring accounts of the cour­age of Gentiles who risked their lives to protect Jews from Nazi terror during World War 2. Of the Jewish people God says: “when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned” (Isa 43:2). God has always preserved His people and has now regath­ered them to their ancient homeland as a sign that the return of our Lord Jesus Christ is near. When Christ returns, Gentiles will seek the favour of the God of Israel and come to worship at Jerusalem, saying to the Jews, “We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you” (Zech 8:23).

Footnotes

  1. The main source for this article: Vic Alhadeff, “Courage in face of Nazi evil”, The Weekend Australian. Inquirer, 6-7 February 2016, p24. Also online as: “Zakynthos leaders’ courage in face of Nazi evil saved Jews”, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/zakynthos-leaders-courage-in-face-of-nazi-evil-saved-jews/news-story/e2ace2402a5290af619752438bc769c6
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zakynthos
  3. Leora Goldberg, “The miraculous story of the Jews of Zakinthos”, The Jerusalem Post, 13 December 2009 [Online] http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/The-miraculous-story-of-the-Jews-of-Zakynthos