Inspired by Hitler’s ghastly vision, the Third Reich tried to effect a so-called “final solution” to the Jewish question. Eventually, the Holocaust became also connected to the fate of Greece’s Jewish population. According to French historian Bernard Pierron, 80 percent of the country’s Jewish community was exterminated in the Nazi death camps.
“Kisses to the Children,” a recent documentary by director Vassilis Loules, revives memories of Nazi barbarism. The film is made up of stories narrated by people who got very lucky as youngsters: They missed the train to Auschwitz. Of course they still carry inside them great sorrow for the parents, brothers, sisters and cousins they lost. One of those children, Marios Sousis, now 74, gave Kathimerini his own personal take on history’s absolute horror.
We met with him at his flat in the central Athens neighborhood of Pangrati. He was leafing through a soon-to-be-published book about the persecution of Jews in Greece. He pointed at a handmade chair that will always remind him of his father, who found death at the hands of the Nazis. “It was a gift from my father,” Sousis says, mentioning that his father took part in an Auschwitz uprising on October 7, 1944.
What does nostalgia mean to you?
You feel nostalgic about something pleasant. For me, returning to my childhood years is like a nightmare. I recall my sister waking up at night screaming, “Dad’s back.” But Father never really came back of course. Nostalgia for the years before the occupation is connected to the chair I showed you. Of course I also feel nostalgic about the postwar years.
Do you have any fond memories from that time?
Yes, we used to play. We used to make balls out of rags, kites out of newspaper and flour glue. We’d sling up nets and catch birds. Play for us was a form of escapism. Kids are always kids.
Have you seen Roberto Benigni’s film “Life Is Beautiful” [La vita e bella]?
It’s a devastating film. Although it is not that closely related to my story, and the story of my family, there are moments in the movie that felt very personal. It brought to mind a close encounter with the Germans – I could see them through the shutters of a Halandri house that we were hiding in. They were looking for an ELAS partisan, shouting and gesturing.
What does the idea of childhood bring to mind for you?
Stress and fear. But the first damage to my soul came long before the war. We were playing in Syntagma Square when a little boy told me: “Don’t go back there. It’s the Jews. They’ll put you in a barrel and suck your blood.” Hope and creativity came later. We had nice time after the liberation.
When did you find out that your father had died?
We always hoped that he would come back. We never saw him dead, we never mourned him. I actually did my mourning when I was 70, when I visited Auschwitz.
Does the missing part of your childhood resurface as desire?
Those days were like school in a sense: We were apartment block kids, with a good life, middle-class kids who suddenly found themselves hunted. I remember life in the country, the well, the chicken, the pigs, the sheep. Nature, which protected us back then, had a strong impact on my life.
What does pleasure mean to you?
Return to nature.
A hug from my mother, or grandfather. I remember myself in the arms of my mother next to a lit fireplace. She was crying because they’d caught my father. Another time I asked my parents, “Why don’t we go hide at Grandfather Sousis’s?” But my grandfather was also a Jew, and he had to hide too.
It’s the epitome of violence.
How do you feel when you see dark-skinned children begging at Athens’s traffic lights?
All children are our children, regardless of whether they are Jews, Arabs, German or black. We have the obligation to lead them to a world where they won’t have to go through what we did.
Loules’s documentary at times feels like a sad lullaby for the children that were taken to the crematoria. Five Jews who were children when they were saved during the occupation with help from Christian families tell their story. The score is by composer Nikos Kypourgos. “Kisses to the Children” will be released in January next year.