Additions for the Greek Translation of
"The Illusion of Safety -
The Story of the Greek Jews during World War II"
by Dr. Michael Matsas
During WWII, the Germans
conceived an unbelievable terrorist plot. They decided to kill not just 3,000
people as it happened in New York on September 11, 2001, but to kill the 8
million Jews of Europe!
In Greece, the Germans
used such deceitful methods that not even one Jew suspected that obeying German
regulations would lead to torture and death. The Greek Christians could have
helped the Jews; but with rare exceptions, they remained indifferent. The
Greek Jewish leaders advised obedience to the rules and regulations of the
Germans. All the above created an illusion of safety which ended with the
murder of 87% of the Greek Jews. Conditions in Greece during World War II
were such that almost all the Jews could have saved themselves. But this
did not happen because the leaders of England and of the United States also
made a big decision. They decided to respond to this unprecedented crime
with “total silence!”
They did not expose the
diabolic German terrorist actions and they did not warn the Jews that Jews
were being systematically killed because they were Jews although they knew
it as early as July 1941 and they had the means to make it known to the Jews
and to the entire world.
I believe that the leaders
of England and the United States, with their silence, helped the Germans and
therefore they are indirectly responsible for the death of 67,000 Greek Jews.
I always express my deep gratitude to anyone who helped the Jews and I have
great contempt for all those, big and small, who with their indifference,
silence, or malicious motives allowed this horrible crime to take place.
The latest response to
the question, “How could the Holocaust happen?” is given by Judy Montagu.
“The Holocaust was just the latest in a long chain of Jewish suffering and
death resulting from persecutions stretching back through the centuries in
so many places where Jews have tried to live their lives in peace. One book
that brought this grim reality home is called “The Foot of Pride. “ In it,
English clergyman Malcolm V. Hay chronicles 1,900 years of almost unrelenting
Christian demonization of Jews. It is heartbreaking to read about the careful
tending of the toxic soil in which the seeds of genocide developed.” *
*Judy Montagu “Where God Stood in the Shoah” The International Jerusalem
Post, April 15, 2010, p.12
The magnitude of the 2,000
year old injustice toward the Jewish people can be understood especially well
by the Greeks. Let’s suppose that the millions of admirers of Socrates persecuted
or killed for over 2,000 years the Athenians or the Greeks wherever they found
them, to vindicate the murder of their philosopher and hero Socrates. This
is what happened to the Jews. This hate paved the road to the Holocaust.
This hate did not stop even after the Holocaust and it continues today in
different forms. An honorable man, Pope John XXIII felt the need to declare
in 1965 that, “Not all the Jews at the time of Jesus were responsible for
his crucifixion and certainly the Jews of today are not responsible for his
An example of this ancient
hate toward the Jews can be found in Greece just as easily as in Germany or
England. The Greek Jews don’t know or, the very few who do know, prefer not
to talk about what happened to the Jewish communities of Peloponnesus and
Sterea Hellas which prospered for over 2,000 years and then suddenly disappeared.
These Greek Jews lived in harmony with their Greek compatriots, long before
there were any Greek Christians. What happened to them is a secret. This
subject is not taught in the Greek schools and even the great Jewish historians
Dubnow and Graetz do not mention it in their books. As far as I know, only
the great Greek historian Spyridon Trikoupis writes “and so Christians… acted
during the revolution as students of … a school which teaches that, for crimes
committed by others, innocent people should be penalized, for crimes they
did not commit. “” *
Specifically, when in
1821, the Turks in Constantinopouli killed the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Gregory
the fifth, they ordered some Jews to throw his body into the sea. When the
news arrived in Greece, the Greek Jews of the newly liberated Greek cities
of Mystra, Patra, Corinth, Thebes, Agrinion, Nafpactos, and others were massacred.
Some escaped and some saved their lives by converting to Christianity. This
is what religious hate did. One of the Greek leaders Kanellos Deligiannis,
acting honorably, saved 12 Jews, from the massacre of the prosperous Jewish
community of Tripolitsa. He had to keep them in his house under his protection
for three years and only in 1824, he was able to secretly transfer them to
the island of Zakynthos which was not then under Greek control. When the
royal couple of Othon and Amalia arrived in their new Greek Kingdom, they
did not find even one Jew alive there. Their Viennese Jewish dentist, Dr.
Lefkovitz, converted to Christianity as soon as he arrived in Athens. This
old hate did not go away.
“To Agrinio” 1954 p. 60
Therefore, I am not surprised
when I go to Ioannina the city where I was born, where 91% of the 1,860 Jews
were killed by the Germans and I see horrible anti-Semitic graffiti on the
wall of the building where the 35 remaining elderly Jews live. “Why don’t
you erase all this,” I asked. “If we do, it will be back the next night,”
was the reply. “What about lights, cameras, police to capture the culprits?”
“Neither the mayor, nor the police care,” was the reply. In the last year
the old Jewish cemetery of Ioannina was vandalized and desecrated four times.
Anti-Semitism is alive and I am afraid it will be even without Jews.
Let us now examine what
would have happened in Greece if the British and the Americans did not, with
their “silence,” help the Germans but were true friends of the Jews. As soon
as it became known, in July 1941, that the Germans were guilty of mass executions
of Jewish families whose only crime was that they were Jews, the BBC radio
station and the secret agents of the allies would have immediately made this
known to the entire world and they would have advised the Jews to hide and
save their families. In Greece, from July 1941, until February 1943 -when
the Germans did not allow the Greek Jews to leave the cities - 17 months passed.
In the case of the cities in the Italian zone, this prohibition came in October
of 1943 or 25 months later than July 1941.
This provided more than
enough time for the Jews to plan their escape especially if the BBC continued
to warn the Jews and expose the German activities. Slowly, the Jews would
have entrusted their businesses and homes to trustworthy people. Food and
other items would have been sent to villagers who were relatives, of Christian
friends, or of members of the Resistance. At the same time, the Jews with
their gold and jewelry, could have followed the hundreds of thousands of citizens
who in that period were going to the villages in search of food. Only, the
Jews would not have returned, but they would have remained in the remote mountain
villages where eventually they would have been protected by the resistance.
In those villages, where
there were no roads, they would have been given false identity cards like
the ones my parents were given. Fortunately they did not have to use them
because we never saw a German in uniform again.
Thousands of Jews who served in the Greek Army and fought in Asia Minor and
the Albanian Front, with the help of the British, would have formed armed units
which would have fought the Germans while indirectly they protected their families.
Other Jews would have joined the Partisans of ELAS and EDES. The Allied war
effort would have been helped. There would not have been a Holocaust in Greece!
Unfortunately, the Allies acted like enemies of the Jewish people. The
documents which dealt with German crimes, deportations, and mass executions
were classified as TOP SECRET and were placed in the archives as if the
German murderers did not know how many people they killed and where. The Jews
and those who could have helped them were treated like enemies by having no
access to this life-saving information. The secret agents risked their lives
in occupied Europe exposing the German secret. In Greece every day we read the
BBC reports, but the Jews were never mentioned. Meanwhile, the great quantities
of gold, jewelry, and merchandise that the Germans looted from the Jews were
used for the purchase of needed raw materials for the continuation of the war
with the assistance of “neutral” Switzerland and Sweden. Young Jews were used
as slave laborers in the German war factories, while the hair, the clothes and
even the gold teeth of the killed victims were placed at the service of the
German State. In 1975, after the death of the American and British war leaders
who helped the Germans in this shameful manner, they opened the top secret
archives. With deep sorrow and great pain in my heart, I looked at the horrible
and unbelievable truth. A big WHY? continues to remain without an answer,
not only for me who lives with this bitter question every day of my life, but
also for all those who still believe in the moral superiority and humane spirit
of the United States and Great Britain.
On October 28, 1940, the Italians suddenly attacked Greece from Albania and
they were able to occupy part of Ipiros. Mussolini hoped to conquer Greece
quickly and allow Germany in the spring of 1941 to attack Russia. This
plan failed thanks to a brilliant counterattack by the forces of the Greek
Jewish Colonel Mordechai Frizis who forced the Italians to retreat in
panic. He chased them into Albania and he occupied the city of Premeti.
The Greek Army remained in Albania until April 1941. The victory of Colonel
Frizis was the first Allied victory of the Second World War. Frizis was
killed and he was buried by his orderly Moshe Matsas, a first cousin of
my father. Recently, Greece recognized the tremendous contribution of
Colonel Frizis, with statues, streets named after him, and finally by
transferring his remains to Greece and burying him with great honors in
the Greek earth which he loved deeply. Ag. Anastopoulos in his “History
of the Greek Nation” writes. “Frizis executed a defensive maneuver and
then a tremendous counterattack, without whom the victory of 1940 would
not have been realized.” Also, Sp. Simopoulos emphasizes in his book
“The Italian Division Julia in Pindos”. “The honor of the most glorious
victory, which basically put an end not only to the battle of Pindos and
Smolika, but along the entire front, belongs to the military tactics
of Colonel Frizis” *
*Haralampos Roupas, “EAM-Antistasi,” March 2002 p.8.
I am sure that the historians
will agree that the small victory of Frizis contributed much more in the defeat
of Germany, than a great victory of Montgomery, Patton or Zhukov. The delay
of the attack against Russia forced the Germans to face their greatest enemy,
the Russian winter in front of Moscow. for which they were not prepared.
At this point began the defeat of Germany and the victory of the Allies.
The killing of the Jews
of Europe started as soon as the Germans attacked Russia on June 22, 1941.
According to Richard Breitman, the American military attaché in Berlin reported
the following “As soon as the Germans occupy a city in the East, they organize
local commandos, they separate the Jews and they execute them” *1
Professor Breitman discovered that in 1939 the British information service
broke the code system of the German Order Police which dealt with the
Jews. The British were able to follow the transfer of the Jews in the
place of their slaughter, by intercepting their messages. They knew the
names of the units involved the names of the commanding officers, the
number of the deported Jews and the location of their execution.
“Prime Minister Winston
Churchill received daily reports and circled with a red pencil the number
of the Jews executed. For example, on August 31, 1941, the first brigade
of the SS killed 283 Jews and the Southern battalion of the police killed
*1,2 -Richard Breitman
“Official Secrets, What the Nazis Planned what the British and the Americans
Knew,” Hill and Wang, New York 1998 pages 124 and 197.
On August 1st
1942, a German Industrialist Edward Shulte informed the World Jewish Congress
in Lausanne, Switzerland, that Hitler had ordered the extermination of all
the Jews in the German-occupied countries. The information was sent immediately
to England and the USA.
John Pehle, director of
the War refugee board, revealed that the State Department kept secret from
the American people information about the Holocaust. Officials of the Treasury
Department exposed the “dirty scandal” in a report entitled, “Acquiescence
of this government in the murder of the Jews of Europe.” The head of “this”
government was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who was beloved by the American
Jews and who received 90% of their vote.
The son of FDR, Franklin
D. Roosevelt Jr., married “Felicia Schiff Warburg Sarnoff, who came from the
German Jewish gentry”.(1) FDR’s grandson John Boettiger married Janet Adler,
a Jewish woman, He said, “Eleanor Roosevelt was able to transcend her upbringing
and the prejudices of her class”. Eleanor Roosevelt was a friend of the Jews
while FDR was “less able to eclipse the world he came from”. (2) John Boettinger
obviously refers to anti-Jewish prejudices and anti-Semitism. He introduced
his son Joshua to Jewish philosophers Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel.
(3) Joshua Boettiger, who is now a rabbi, said about his famous ancestor,
“If he knew about the slaughter of Jews in Europe and he did not act, that
is very serious, inexcusable.” (2)
(1) Joseph Berger, “Roosevelts and
the Quirks of Destiny,” The New York Times Mar. 16, 2005, NYRegion.html
(2) Robert Leiter, “A New Deal” (editor
for “the Jewish Exponent”), Jan 4, 2001
(3) Gabrielle Birkner, “Rabbi with a
Pedigree” Interfaithfamily.com 7/17/2010
England deserves gratitude for accepting and saving 10,000 children of
German and Austrian Jews whom the Germans allowed to leave with the Kinder
transport. Among those children was my friend, Dr. Alfred Rhode who came
to the United States. There he worked in the government. In 1962 he was
selected one of five Executive Department employees as a Congressional
Fellow. Later he was a Senior Executive in the Defense Department, First
Vice President and a fellow of the Military Operations Research Society,
and later President of the Military Applications Society. At the same
time he was a professor at the George Washington University and after
his retirement a professor for many years at George Mason University.
Today he is listed in “Who’s Who in the World.”
The Congress of the United States refused to similarly save 20,000 Jewish
Children and so the Germans killed them. Who knows how many great scientists
were lost with the killing of 1,500,000 Jewish children? Let’s not forget
that “out of the 802 Nobel Prizes which were given until now, 162 were
awarded to Jews”* Proportionately, the Jewish people whom almost everyone
hates, contributed more to this world than any other people on earth.
*Steve Linde, “Jewish
World” International Jerusalem Post, May 21, 2010, p. 16.
Beyond the battle of Karalaka
During a recent dinner,
I met Dr. Paul Levy – a consultant for the World Bank. He told me that he
had a relative by the name Magrizos who was killed near Mount Olympus. He
knew nothing else. Not his first name, how they were related, or how he had
died. The hostess Mrs. Nina Kaplanidis had the book, “The Illusion of Safety”
which helped us in our search. So Paul learned that his relative was his
uncle Jacob Magrizos, son of his grandfather Moyssis Magrizos from Larisa.
Paul Levi possesses a photograph found in the pocket of his heroic uncle,
perforated by the German bullet that killed him during the battle of Karalaka
on May 6, 1944. Magrizos’ name is among the 14 names of the heroic fallen
Greeks in a marble monument which commemorates the partisan victory in which
242 Germans were killed. Three of these 14 men were Jews. A battalion of
German SS captured five Jewish families of Larisa who established a camp near
Mt. Olympus and they were betrayed. An ELAS unit, which included Jewish partisans
like Lieutenant Marko Carasso, my cousin Joseph Matsas, and others, attacked
the Germans and liberated the Jews.
||Thomas Bokoros: Our friend who took us to
his house for two nights. He organized our departure for the mountains
by taxi on October 3rd, 1943. Two days later the Germans went
to the bank where my father was working looking for him. Five days later
on October 8th, it became illegal for the Jews to leave the city.
The drawing of Bokoros with an article written by Aristidi Baraba, were
published by the newspaper “Anagelia” of Agrinion, Greece, on May, 12, 2010.
In the “Illusion of Safety”
page 372, I wrote, what my mother told us about her effort to find food supplies
“On the bridge of Potamoula,
the partisans have a control point. The man in charge is Joseph Lahanas (son
of my mother’s friend Esther). When he understood who I was, he told me,
“I am not going to let you go any farther. The Jews of Arta and Preveza were
deported and they are now in the Papapetrou building in Agrinion.” After that
we both cried because he was sure his parents in Arta were also arrested.”
From a lecture by Joseph
Matsas published in 1991 by the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, I found
out that the partisans Solon Abraam Levi, (1), Sam Leon Gavrielidis, and Joseph
Lahanas, survived the war, went to Israel, and fell during its War of Independence
in 1948. On July 18, 2010, I learned from Ms. Dorit Perry of Jerusalem, a
researcher of the Israeli Army’s unit responsible for detection of missing
and deceased soldiers, the following. “Joseph Lahanas fell on June 3, 1948,
in a battle in the City of Jenin. In this battle fifty soldiers died and
they were buried in a mass grave on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. Recently, we
discovered a 1952 letter from his brother Gershon and his sister Zimbola who
moved to France before the Second World War. They were looking for Joseph.
We located the children of this brother Gershon, who lived in France and they
were excited to hear these details. They have lived all their life in France
and knew neither their grandparents Nissim and Esther nor their uncle Joseph
or when and how he died.”
1. Solon Abram Levi is the brother of Lola Matsa, grandmother
of the Greek translator of the “Illusion of Safety”, Mihali Matsa.