Thoughts Inspired by the Documentary "Song of Life"
Another view on why the Jews of Zakynthos survived
by Dr. Michael Matsas
In 1989 the prominent Greek newspaper "To Vima" published an article in which the extraordinary story of survival of all 275 Jews of Zakynthos was told. Bishop Chrysostomos sent a telegram to Hitler which became "a lifesaver for the Jews." The reply was, "Leave the Jews of Zakynthos under the personal responsibility of the Bishop and the Mayor." The article concluded, "That was all. The 275 Jews of Zakynthos were saved." The Bishop and the Mayor were honored by Yad Vashem as "Righteous Gentiles."
It is possible that the producers of the documentary understood how absurd it was to believe that the highly deceitful Germans would honor the request of a provincial religious figure. Or that the Germans, who killed the heroic German Jewish invalids of World War I who received the highest awards for valor, would spare the lives of some Greek Jews.
The fact is that the people of Zakynthos became the "saviors" in this documentary, while the telegrams were not mentioned at all. Since I also come from a city, Agrinion, where all the Jews survived, I understand both, how the Jews of Zakynthos behave, and how their words and actions are misinterpreted. They knew that the Americans and the British did not give us any warning or advice. They knew that the highly efficient Germans failed to send them to the gas chambers, as they did to 67,000 other Greek Jews like themselves. I am sure they are grateful to the fact that they were lucky to be in Zakynthos and not in Corfu or Ioannina, where the losses were 91%.
The Jews of Zakynthos appear to believe that they were "saved" by the people who offered them shelter. This is like believing that firefighters "saved" the inhabitants of a house which was NOT ON FIRE. This is so, because the element that is missing in this "heroic episode" is the FIRE, or the actions of the Germans.
A "savior" of a Jew, was a person who, at the risk of his own life, hid the Jew in his home AFTER THE GERMANS RECEIVED ORDERS TO ARREST THE JEWS. The Germans in Zakynthos did not make any attempt to arrest the Jews. When the Germans received such orders, they, with the assistance of Greek traitors, were able to arrest up to 100% of the targeted Jews, and ultimately they killed 87% of them.
There were five places I know of where ALL THE JEWS SURVIVED. NOBODY SAVED THEM, NOT EVEN ONE OF THEM WAS ARRESTED, and this is because THE GERMANS DID NOT RECEIVE ORDERS TO ARREST THE JEWS. In Agrinion, Karditsa, and Katerini, all the Jews went to the free partisan-controlled mountain villages, before the Germans issued any anti-Jewish regulations. The other two places were Zakynthos and Albania.
In Albania the headquarters of the German Army in Delvino were in the house of my grandparents who LIVED WITH the Germans until the day the Germans had to hastily leave Greece and Albania to avoid capture by the rapidly advancing Soviet Army.
After the collapse of communism, the Albanian Jews, many of whom were intermarried with Moslems went to Israel. Only my 37 Albanian relatives came to America and told me that NOBODY saved them. However, the Albanians who went to Israel deceived Yad Vashem which honored dozens of Moslem Albanians as righteous gentiles who "risked their lives to save the Jews during World War II. 
The "Song of Life" is very moving, especially during tearful reunions of old friends who in their excitement forget that their friend is a Jew. (I am aware of the fact that the Christians are taught that the "thrice-cursed" Jews killed Jesus Christ and they cannot go to heaven.)
The "Song of Life" gives the impression that there is great love between Jews and Christians in Greece, as if the massacre of the Jews of Greece in 1821 never took place, or as if the Greek Christians helped the Greek Jews as much as they could during World War II. Let's not forget that out of possibly 10,000 Jewish families in Salonika, only one was offered asylum by friends. A few days before the Germans left Greece, the Jewish family was forced to legally transfer to their "saviors" all their real estate holdings. In 2002 Yad Vashem was deceived once more and those "friends" are included in the small list of only 70 couples and 79 individuals who were honored as righteous gentiles. And then how come the Jews of Zakynthos are in Israel?
I was afraid that the noble, but not tested, intentions of the people of Zakynthos will become historic facts which will distort the truth of the Holocaust in Greece. The astonishing expression of mutual love between the Zakynthian Christians and Jews, uncommon even in the "Jewish heaven" of America, hides the existing and real anti-Semitism of Greece, which is worse today that it was over 50 years ago. Kurt Tucholsky wrote, "A country is what it put up with, what it tolerates".  Right now Greece can stop tolerating the humiliation it inflicts on young Greek Jewish architects and engineers who serve as soldiers, while their classmates serve as officers in the Greek army. I am still proud that I served as an officer and director of the dental office of the Military Academy of Athens. Perhaps some of the Greek generals remember me.
But let's go back to the "Song of Life." The reaction of the audience to this deeply moving documentary was extremely favorable, not only for Zakynthos, but for all of Greece. In front of my very own almost tearful eyes, I witnessed the creation of a myth. Herbert Muller wrote, "Myth states what never happened, but is forever true." My fears were justified, because all nations need heroic myths.
K. E. Fleming wrote in her new book: "The collective memory of the salvation of these Jews has ongoing importance to the island. Zakynthos feels proud that it managed to carry the torch of honor and virtue from the narrow boundaries of its local history to the wider limits of our national Greek history."
The "Song of Life" has already reached South Africa. The Archbishopric of Johannesburg and Pretoria issued a two-page statement  in which the word "saved" is used three times. It praises the people of Zakynthos who, by hiding the Jews in their homes, thereby putting their own lives at risk, saved the honor of a staggering, unfeeling, civilized European community which had passively accepted the brutality of the Third Reich." So their honor was saved, but 6 million Jews were murdered!
Right now I cannot restrain myself any longer and I remind everyone that offensive anti-Semitic statements, taught by the church over the centuries, paved the way for the anti-Semitism which led to the Holocaust. Words deeply offensive to the spirit of the noble teachings of Jesus Christ like "eternal damnation for the Jews," became deadly weapons used against the Jews.
Hitler was a politician who did what his people and their cohorts wanted. Hitler's original plan was to expel the Jews from Germany and Austria and loot their wealth. When he saw that nobody wanted any penniless Jews, he realized he could even kill them and get away with it and he did.
I am convinced that if Hitler in a state of insanity ordered the extermination of all the dogs of Europe, he would have been instantly killed or thrown out of office by his own bodyguards and the members of his party. But for the extermination of the Jews of Europe, the road was carefully prepared by centuries of Christian hate.
This possibly subconscious hate justified the criminal inaction of the churches of Germany, Austria, Italy, France, England, and even America, which remained silent during World War II. And this despicable silence of the hypocritical moral leaders of the civilized world became a signal of approval for the murderers of innocent Jews.
A few years from now, a documentary about 16 Greek Jewish hidden children and this myth of the "saving" of the Jews of Zakynthos will be taught in the Greek schools, while the massacre of the Jews in 1821 will continue to remain unknown both in Greece and the United States of America.
Back to Jewish Topics Page