AROUND 320 people gathered last Sunday to pay tribute to the leaders and residents of the Greek island of Zakynthos for their bravery during the Holocaust.
Among the hundreds in attendance were Jewish and Greek religious and lay leaders, state Labor parliamentarians Sophie Cotsis, Courtney Houssos and Stephen Kamper, as well as local councillors.
The event — organised by the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (NCJWA) NSW division and the Zakynthian Association of Sydney and NSW — remembered in particular the actions of the island’s Metropolitan Bishop Chrysostomos Demetriou and Mayor Loukas Karrer.
Both men refused to hand over the details of Jewish residents of Zakynthos to Nazi officials who came to the island in 1943 with orders to round up and deport all Jews to camps on mainland Europe.
As a result of their efforts and the Zakynthian families who hid and protected the Jews, not one of the 275 Jews on Zakynthos perished in the Shoah.
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff, who lost 151 members of his paternal family from the Greek island of Rhodes in the Holocaust, gave the keynote address on the evening.
Speaking of the honour he felt standing before descendants of Zakynthos residents, Alhadeff thanked them on behalf of the Jewish community for their ancestors’ courage.
“In a world in which there is so much bigotry and tragedy, it is people like Loukas Karrer and Chrysostomos Demetriou who restore our faith in humanity,” Alhadeff said.
“It is people like these two extraordinary, courageous and righteous individuals and every inhabitant of the island of Zakynthos — the men, the women, the families, the ordinary people — who make it possible for us to have faith and hope in the future.”
John Koutsis, secretary and founder of the Zakynthian Association of Sydney and NSW, spoke of the importance of both communities coming together.
“Greeks and Jews have lived together since time immemorial and it is wonderful to see that this coexistence continues today as clearly indicated by this gathering tonight,” Koutsis said.
The evening also featured a screening of The Song of Life, a documentary about what happened on Zakynthos during World War II.
“The Song of Life documentary is a piece of history Greeks and Jews should know and be proud of,” NCJWA NSW immediate past president Victoria Nadel told The AJN.