By Deno Seder
On April 27, 1941, Nazi soldiers lowered the Greek flag at the Acropolis [in Athens] and replaced it with the swastika flag. A few weeks later, two college students climbed the Acropolis and tore the flag down. So began the Greek resistance movement, according to Deno Seder in his book, Miracle at Zakynthos.
Seder, a writer and media producer from the Washington, D.C. area, says that out of 55,000 Greek Jews sent to Aushwitz-Birkenau, fewer than 2,000 survived. Because of the distance from Greece to Poland, thousands didn’t even survive the trip. Seder also writes of the Greek villages that were burned down by the Nazis, who often killed all the men, women, and children in the villages.
Seder’s main story, however, is about the people of Zakynthos, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea. Here, according to Shlomo Amar, a Greek Jew, “All the Greek villagers knew where we were hiding, but nobody said a word, nobody.”
The protection of the Zakynthos Jews was led by Bishop Chrysostomos of the Orthodox Church, who was “fond of telling his flock, ‘Be a good Christian, save a Jew,’” and the island’s mayor, Loukas Georgious Carrer. When the Nazi’s demanded that the mayor present them with a list of the island’s Jews, Carrer and Chrysostomos presented them with two names—their own.
The Greeks, according to Seder, loved their fellow citizens. Regardless of race or religion, they saw themselves as one people. During the German occupation, people in the villages would often say, “We don’t have any Jews, just Greeks here.”
The patriotism and bravery were displayed on October 7, 1944, when 135 Greek Jews carried out the “only revolt in the history of Auschwitz.” With smuggled explosives, they successfully blew up the smokestacks and furnaces of two Auschwitz crematoria, killing about 20 Germans and destroying one crematorium completely. “In the rubble of crematorium III, the Greek Jews died singing the Greek national anthem.”
While Seder concentrates on Chrysostomos and Carrer, he writes about several other heroes. A few chapters are based entirely upon the memories of the island’s Jewish survivors, like Ester Dante, who aided the Greek resistance fighters and, “at age ten, became the ‘littlest guerilla’ on Zakynthos.”
Miracle at Zakynthos is thoroughly researched and well written. Seder, through these stories, shows us what true love and compassion looks like, and how it often involves great risk. Those leaders and families who risked their lives to protect their fellow humans shouldn’t be forgotten. And according to Erkanas Tsezana (quoted by Seder), they’re not:
“We, the Jews of Zakynthos, have never forgotten our heroes.”