Israel names nine Greeks as ‘Righteous among Nations’

Israeli Ambassador to Athens Ram Aviram and the president of the Central Jewish Council of Greece, Moses Constantinos, yesterday conferred the «Righteous among Nations» award on nine Greek Christians who saved the lives of Jewish compatriots during the occupation. The award ceremony was part of the events held on the new Day of Remembrance for Greek Jews, Martyrs and Heroes of the Holocaust, recently ratified by the Greek Parliament. Parliament’s decision to designate January 27 as this day of remembrance «is confirmation of the collective sensitivity of Greeks and the fact that Greece is an open society,» said Foreign Minister George Papandreou. «It helps us keep historical memory alive and will be a valuable lesson to future generations.» In future, said ND parliamentary representative Prokopis Pavlopoulos, «this day should be a day of memory, not an anniversary, but a day of learning. We mustn’t take it for granted that we have avoided future dangers.» Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou, Deputy Interior Minister Nikos Bistis, KKE representative Achilleas Kantartzis, Left Coalition deputy Fotis Kouvelis, a representative of Archbishop Christodoulos and many ambassadors also attended the event at the Athens Concert Hall’s new Congress Center. The Righteous among Nations awards are given by Yad Vashem, a foundation that was created by Israel to commemorate the 6 million victims of the Holocaust, and are awarded to people who risked their lives to save persecuted Jews during World War II. Apart from the prizes, a special ceremony is held in Israel, where a plaque is set up and a tree planted in honor of the award winners in a special part of Yad Vashem called Garden of the Righteous. The Israeli ambassador, who believes that words alone cannot convey the heroism of the Righteous, quoted a Jewish proverb: «Whoever saves a life, saves the whole world.» More than 200 Greeks have been honored by Yad Vashem, including: Damaskinos, late archbishop of Athens and All Greece; Angelos Evert, Athens police chief during the Occupation; Chrysostomos, the late Metropolitan of Zakynthos; Ioakeim, the late Metropolitan of Dimitriada; former Zakynthos Mayor Loukas Karrer, and many ordinary Greeks, who were heroes of the World War II. The title of Righteous among Nations is the highest honor conferred by Israel. Yesterday, the awards went to Dimos and Theodora Vevelekos, Michalis and Eleni Mavridis, Smaragda Sarafianou, Ioannis and Tassia Spentzos and Ilias and Angeliki Kazantzis. True friends When World War II broke out, Simon Halfon was living happily with his wife and their 10-month old baby in Thessaloniki. In the winter of 1943, the Nazis transferred the Halfon family to the Baron Hirsch ghetto. At some point the family became separated, and the Nazis sent Simon to a work camp. Thanks to his knowledge of German, he became a translator in the camp, from which he eventually managed to escape. He roamed for six months, looking for refuge, and ended up in the village of Adendro. There he met Dimos and Theodora Vevelekos, who kindly offered him food and a roof over his head while he, in return, helped them on the farm. Despite the fact that the couple knew he was a Jew and the mortal danger they would be in if the Nazis learnt they were sheltering a Jew, they continued to offer him hospitality and introduce him as a member of their family. Simon lived with them for 14 months. «They saved my life, at the risk of their own,» he said, moved. Halfon now lives in Israel. Dimos and Theodora Vevelekos have passed away. The award and the medal from the Yad Vashem foundation were given to their grandchildren, Dimos and Theodora. The Modiano family lived in Thessaloniki during the war. Thanks to their Italian nationality, they were not sent to a death camp. In June 1943, they were forced to leave Thessaloniki and for their own safety went to Athens. Three months later, the Germans took over Athens, and Italian nationality could no longer no longer safeguard the Modianos. They fled to the mountains, but were unable to bear the hardships and returned to Athens, where they managed to acquire fake identity papers. They rented a room in the home of Michalis and Eleni Mavridis and Eleni’s sister, Smaragda Sarafianou. The family deliberately offered the Modianos shelter, knowing their true identity and the danger they themselves were running. In July 1944, the self-sacrifice of Michalis, Eleni and Magda saved the Modiano family once again, when the Germans raided their house. The sole survivor of the family is Albertos, who was represented by his daughter Sandra and the daughter of the Mavridis family, Marika Adam. The Yad Vashem award went to Marika Adam. Ioannis Spentzos and Ilias Kazantzis were schoolmates and friends of Ilias Hadzopoulos. In September 1943, the Germans occupied Athens and issued a special order that all Jews were to go to their synagogue to be registered. Following the advice of his friends Spentzos and Kazantzis, Ilias Hadzopoulos did not register but accepted his friends’ kind offer to hide in their homes. Ioannis and his sister Tassia hid Ilias first, in their house in Athens. Kazantzis and his sister Angeliki gave him refuge at their house in Lygia in the Peloponnese, where there were no Germans and nobody knew that Ilias Hadzopoulos was Jewish. Obliged to return to Athens, he stayed once more with his friends, who looked after him free of charge, risking their own lives and those of their families. Ioannis Spentzos received the award, and Maria Kazantzi, widow of Ilias, received the award on behalf of Ilias and Angeliki. (ANA)

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