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 crucifixion.”

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. 

*Theodoros Thomopoulos  “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 1,342.” *2

*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”  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.  P. 31.

In the “Illusion of Safety” page 372, I wrote, what my mother told us about her effort to find food supplies in Agrinion. 

“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.

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