SOCIETY

Greek heroes honored as Righteous Among the Nations in Komotini

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Ambassador of Israel Yossi Amrani on Thursday night presented the Righteous Among the Nations medal and title of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel to Vasiliki and Dimitrios Kiakidis – posthumously – for rescuing Greek Jew Donna Rodrig during World War II. 

The event was held in Komotini in northern Greece and hosted by the town’s mayor, Ioannis Garanis, and organized in cooperation with the Embassy of Israel. The award was received by the couple’s grandson, Dimitris Kiakidis.

Like other Righteous Among the Nations honorees, Vasiliki and Dimitrios Kiakidis “shined as beacons of light in the darkest of times of the Holocaust,” said Ambassador Amrani.

He also pointed out lessons that can be learned from those who chose humanity over all else even risking their lives to save their Jewish compatriots.  “They are a living proof that humanity should never give up to tyranny. They remind us all it could have been different. They are the right answer to racism, bigotry, History rewriting and Holocaust deniers,” Amrani said.

The story

Dimitrios Kiakidis was a doctor with a small private clinic, which he opened in the winter of 1941-1942. He met Donna, who had been desperately looking for work, during a trip to Thessaloniki in 1942, offering her a job and allowing her to live with his family, looking after the children, Theofilos and Konstantinos. 

With the beginning of the persecution against the Jews in 1943, Kiakidis obtained a fake Christian identity card for Donna and then, thanks to his cooperation with the resistance organizations, sent her to the safety of a mountain village where she continued to work as a nurse until the end of the occupation.

In March 1943, 864 Greek Jews from Komotini were arrested by Bulgarian authorities, deported and exterminated by the Nazis in the Treblinka concentration camp in Poland. All of Donna’s relatives were among them. 

Thanks to the humanity and bravery of the Kiakidis family, Donna found safe haven and was rescued. After the war, Donna married an Auschwitz survivor in Thessaloniki, where she continued to live until her death in 1996, maintaining friendly relations with the family of her savior Dimitrios Kiakidis.

It is worth noting that 362 Greeks have been honored with the Righteous Among the Nations” title to date.  They include the late archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Damaskinos, the chief of the Greek Police in German occupied Greece, Angelos Evert, Greek resistance fighter Lela Karagianni, the former mayor of Zakynthos, Loukas Karrer, the late metropolitan bishops of Zakynthos and Dimitriada, Chrysostomos and Ioakim respectively, and many other unsung heroes of World War II.

The title is bestowed on individuals who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II.  Presenting the award requires an extensive investigation by Yad Vashem and approval by the Israeli High Court.