The Illusion of Safety

The Story of the Greek Jews During the Second World War
(Pella Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1997)

By Dr. Michael Matsas

Errors and Additions – September 2006

Page 52

When the Germans started the deportation of the Salonican Jews in March 1943, Archbishop Damaskinos, a devoted friend of the Jews, “asked the German Ambassador Gunther Altenburg to stop these inhumane and anti-Christian measures. Altenburg replied that these measures (meaning the DEPORTATIONS), could NOT be stopped and, on the contrary, WOULD EXPAND TO THE REST OF GREECE,” written by Elias Venezis, “Archbishop Damaskinos,” Chronika, Athens, April 1982, p. 3 (emphasis by Dr. Matsas).

It is obvious that Ambassador Altenburg accidentally or on purpose (like the German industrialist Edward Schulte who exposed the “Final Solution” to the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland in August 1942) revealed a TOP GERMAN SECRET to a friend of the Greek Jews. The deportations started in March 1943 and they were not finished even by July 24, 1944, when the deportation of the Jews of Rhodes took place. Still the Jews of Zakinthos remained free and the Germans left Greece before they had a chance to arrest them.

The question that torments me for 24 years is this: Why Archbishop Damaskinos did not find a clandestine way to warn, under the most secret formula, the presidents of the Greek Jewish communities, that ALL THE JEWS WERE TO BE DEPORTED. Tens of thousands of Greek Jews would have been saved. As far as I know, I am the only survivor of three Jewish kindergartens and elementary schools that I attended from 1935 to 1940 (Ioannina, Arta, and Preveza). I will never accept any excuse that justifies inaction and silence by those who had the power to save even one child.

Page 62

In the book " In Memoriam," by Michael Molho, p. 134, Mr. Papageorgiou, the Chief of the Police in Katerini, is given credit for the survival of the Jews of Katerini. "It is not so," I was told on April 25, 1998, after my lecture in the Greek Orthodox church in Cincinnati, Ohio, by Mrs. Lena Iosafat and her son Matt of Katerini. I was told it is true that a telegram requesting the arrest of the Jews was sent to Katerini. The man who received it, whose name the mother and son did not remember, immediately contacted David Iosafat, husband of Lena, and told him the contents and promised to delay the delivery for a maximum of 24 hours, from 2 p.m. of the day that he received it.

David contacted the heads of the seven Jewish families of Katerini and prompted them to go to the mountains. Some were in favor to leave; some against. After a secret vote, they decided to go. Two cousins of Lena decided to remain in Katerini, Machel Amar and his brother. The rest organized their departure with horse-drawn carriages. Machel was arrested. They don’t know whether the arrest was made by the Greek police or the Germans. When his brother went to visit him in prison, he was also arrested. Only Machel came back from the camps and went to Israel where he died. Conclusion: The real hero of Katerini is an unknown telegrapher.

Page 85

" In September 1942 the ESPO offices, were demolished by PEAN, under the leadership and supervision of its leader Constantinos Perrikos, ex-officer of the Greek Air Force. Subsequently, Perrikos and most of participating individuals were arrested and ultimately executed on February 4, 1943. The destruction of ESPO brought to its end the general Nazi movement in Greece."

Contributed by George L. Paidas, recipient of an honorary diploma on the 50th anniversary of the demolition of ESPO by PEAN, given to him in gratitude, by EMEIC (Institute of Hellenic History). Letter and documents were sent to the author by Mr. Paidas of Florida.

Page 122

It is accepted as a historic fact that the 275 Jews of Zakinthos were saved by the heroic humanitarians, Metropolitan Chrysostomos and Mayor Loukas Karrer. I never believed that the Germans would have allowed the Jews of Zakinthos to survive, while they sent to the crematoria, German Jewish invalids, recipients of the Iron Cross for gallantry during World War I.   The Germans were simply forced to leave Greece before they had a chance to arrest the Jews remaining in Zakinthos and Albania.

Cornelius Ryan, in his book, "The Last Battle" (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1966, pp. 43-44), writes the following: "Joachim Lipschitz . . . a half-Jew . . . In 1941, on the Eastern Front, had lost an arm. In April 1944, he had been marked for internment in a concentration camp. From that moment on, he had been in hiding [in the house of his fiancee]. . . . The Gestapo planned to round up all those with even a drop of Jewish blood on May 19, 1945."”

I hope that the above words of a prominent historian like Cornelius Ryan will put an end to the story of the telegram which was sent to Hitler and its reply which saved the Jews of Zakinthos or that the Albanian government was able to prevent the arrest and deportation of all the Jews, Albanian and foreign, residing in Albania. The reason I don’t believe these stories is simple. In my opinion, no Greek or Albanian Jew deserved greater German respect than the patriotic invalid Joachim Lipschitz did, and it is obvious what the Germans planned to do to him, if only they had a little more time.

On the subject of the Albanian Jews, Mordechai Arbell writes, “During the Nazi occupation, the Albanians hid and saved not only all the Albanian Jews, but also several hundreds of Jewish refugees who found haven in Albania.” Menachem Solomoni, who came to New York from Albania in 1991, told me that the Germans did not ask the Jews of Albania to register with them. This was the first step leading to arrest and deportation.

My late cousin, Joseph Kohen, also from Albania, told me that our grandparents Joseph and Gratsia Kohen of Delvinon were allowed to remain in their house, which the Germans used as their headquarters. On the day the Germans left Albania, they blew up and burned the house, but they did not harm our grandparents. Obviously, nobody hid them or saved them from the Germans. Their time had not yet come. My uncle Shemos Kohen and his family went to a mountain village after they heard of the arrests in Greece. They were betrayed to the Germans as Jews. The German commander spoke in French to my uncle and told him, “We don’t have any orders to arrest Jews. You are free.”

My conclusion is that, if the Germans had enough time and especially if they had won the war, there would not be any Jew anywhere to tell the Holocaust story. Only the German-organized museums in Prague would show how these “extinct people” lived.

Some historians believe that even if the western Allies had warned the Greek Jews about deportations, concentration camps, and firing squads, the Jews would not have tried to save themselves. If such a warning were given, the Allies would have done their humanitarian duty. The Jews would have to blame only themselves. Taking under consideration the fact that not even one Jew in Greece knew the full extent of Germany’s infamy, that the Jews always hoped that what happened in one neighborhood or one city would not happen to them, the following events are of historic importance.

In Patras, Mr. Wolfson, the German Army interpreter, told the President of the Jewish community, Isaak Matsas, that the Germans planned to register the Jews. Most of the Jews of Patras who could afford to leave their jobs went to the free mountains. Something similar occurred with the Jews of Katerini, Trikkala, Karditsa, Larissa, Volos, and Chalkis, who also feared registration. In Athens, those who could afford it also went into hiding, to the mountains or to Turkey. In Agrinion, all 40 Jews went to the mountains when they heard that the Jews of Athens had gone into hiding.

All the above events happened without anyone knowing about concentration camps, crematoria, or the “final solution.” Even the poor people would have done something, if they had been told that the Germans wanted to kill their children..

Page 198

In Ioannina, the leaders of the community decided that obeying the law and accepting registration was the right thing to do. Dr. Moissis Koffinas was one of three hostages imprisoned by the Germans. One of the guards told him that the Jews were going to be deported. Dr. Koffinas placed inside his bread a note, advising Mr. Kabeli, the leader of the community, to send the young people to the mountains.   Lizetta, Dr. Koffinas’ daughter, brought food to the prison and took away the dirty dishes. When she saw that the bread was not eaten, she suspected something. She found the note. She gave it to Mr. Kabeli who was convinced by the Germans that the Jews were safe as long as they obeyed their orders. He did not obey Dr. Koffinas. All 1,860 Jews were arrested. Only one family of four people went to the mountains. If England, the United States, or Archbishop Damaskinos warned the Greek Jews, the outcome would have been totally different. Today, people who know about terrorist plots and fail to report them, face criminal charges by the authorities.

Page 274

On May 6, 1944, an SS battalion captured five Jewish families who established a camp on a southern slope of Mt. Olympus. Three Jewish men attempted to escape and they were killed. A fourth man escaped and notified a unit of ELAS, which was under the leadership of Antoni Angelousi. Some 150 partisans, including Jewish fighters like Lieutenant Marko Carasso and my cousin Joseph Matsas attacked the Germans. They liberated the Jews and killed 242 Germans. The commander of the Allied Forces in the Middle East sent a telegram to ELAS (No. 825/5/11/1944) with warm congratulations.

Albert Levy of New York read the story of the battle of Karalakou in my book and went to Greece to visit the location of this great partisan victory. After a great deal of effort, he found it. He sent me photos of the monument which honors as “fighters of ELAS” the 11 partisans who fell in battle and the three Greek Jews who attempted to contact the partisans and were killed. The three names—Abram Iosif, Iakov Magrizos, and Symeon Levis are placed in alphabetical order among the heroes of ELAS.

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