Zakynthos and the List of Jews in WWII

Zakynthos (Ζάκυνθος) is a beautiful verdant Greek island in the Ionian Sea famous for it’s crystal blue waters, sandy beaches, rock outcroppings, caves and diving.

Archaeological excavations have found that the island has been inhabited since the Neolithic Age.  Homer first mentioned the island in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Zakynthos was the first independent democracy in Greece.

The island has been occupied by the Romans, Ottomans, Venetians, the French and British and finally returned as part of Greece in 1864.  It’s darkest and perhaps greatest moment came under the Occupation.

During World War ll, Zakynthos was first occupied by the Italians, after Mussolini’s fall to the Allies, the island fell under German occupation on 9 September 1943.

Zakynthos had a population of 275 Jews at the time of the German occupation. The Nazis demanded that the mayor, Loukas Karrer provide a list of the names of all the Jews of the island.  Mayor Karrer went to Bishop Chrysostomos for help.  Bishop Chrysostomos pleaded on behalf of the Jews stating that they had done no harm and did not deserve to be deported.  When the Nazis still demanded the names of all Jews.  Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos gave the Nazis, a list stating ‘Here is the list of Jews you required’.  The list contained two names, the mayor’s and the bishop’s.  They then proceeded to warn the Jews to hide in the mountain villages where they were sheltered and protected by the Greeks of Zakynthos.  At the end of the war, all the Jews of Zakynthos survived.

In 1978, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust center in Israel awarded Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Loukas Karrer with the title of ‘Righteous among the Nations’.  This honour is awarded to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust in spite of the risk to their own lives.

Today is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  A day to pledge to “Never Forget’.

In remembering the Jews who perished, I also wanted to remember the Greeks of Zakynthos and their act of valour in standing up for their fellow human beings, the Jews of Zakynthos.

Greek War of Independence 1821


The 25th of March is the independence day of the Greeks from the Ottoman Empire.  The Ottoman Empire defeated the Byzantine Empire in 1453 and Greece fell under Ottoman rule.  The traditional story is that the Metropolitan Germanos III of Patras blessed a Greek flag in the Monastery of Agia Lavra on the 25 of March 1821 and ushered in the uprising against the Ottoman empire.

Greeks revolted many times over the years against Ottoman rule but the revolt began in ernest in 1821.  Uprisings started in the northern parts of Greece and moved into the Peloponnese.  A crucial meeting was held in the city that is now called, Aegion.  Aegion is the city near the two villages that my parents come from. The Greeks fought under various leaders one of which was Theodoros Kolokotronis who became commander-in-chief of the Greek forces in the Peloponnese.

Kolokotronis Statue Athens

Kolokotronis Statue Athens

The makeshift Greek navy fought against the Ottoman navy in the Aegean Sea achieving successes.  Lord Byron travelled to Greece to fight on behalf of Greek independence and Greeks revere him as a national hero.  He spent his own money to outfit the Greek navy and protested against Lord Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon marbles from the Acropolis.  He died of a fever In Missolonghi while preparing to attack the Turkish fortress at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth.

I remember Greek Independence Day as a day of speeches, poems, Greek food, wearing Greek costumes, Greek flags and the singing of the Greek National anthem.  As a child, I learned about the ‘hidden school’ where Greek children were educated in secret in order to retain their heritage under Ottoman rule.  There is a song about the moon guiding the children to and from the school where they would learn Greek. I can still see the hall festooned with Greek flags.  My friends and I dressed in our traditional costumes.  Each child and sometimes parents, wore the traditional costumes of the area where one’s family came from.  I was taught to appreciate being Greek in an open and democratic society and to never forget the land of my parents and my heritage.

The Acropolis and the Greek Flag


Greek Flag Acropolis Athens

Greek Flag Acropolis Athens

I love this picture.  I remember the first time I went to the Acropolis.  My uncle Kostas took me and my cousin Giorgos. We walked around the Acropolis warmed in the bright sunshine of a Greek summer day.  At the northern end of the Acropolis was the area with the Greek flag.  We walked up the steps and viewed the city of Athens below us.  Then my uncle told us this story.

During the Nazi Occupation of Greece, two 19 year olds, Apostolos Santas and Manolis Glezos climbed the Acropolis on the 31 May 1941. They took down the swastika flag, that had flown since the day the Nazis had entered Athens.  In its place they left the Greek flag flying. The word spread throughout Athens that the swastika had been removed.  Furious, the Nazis tried the two men in absentia and placed a death sentence on them. The Nazis’ public outrage at this defiance rather than quashing resistance, further spread the news of the two men’s valiant act throughout Greece inspiring others to rise up against the Occupation.

In an interview years later, Manolis Glezos answered the question why they had done it.  He responded by saying that Hitler commented that the fighting was all over now that the Germans were in Greece.  Mr. Glezos said that spurred the two young men to show Hitler that it was in fact, not over.

One of the first acts after the liberation of Greece was to raise the Greek flag on the Acropolis.  A simple plaque at the Acropolis commemorates the actions of the two young men.

Plaque Acropolis Athens

Plaque Acropolis Athens

Every time I visit Greece, I visit the Acropolis and make sure to stay a few moments underneath that flag and remember the heroic efforts of the Greeks against an evil speeding across Europe until it met with Greece resistance.  I remember two 19 year old boys who climbed the Acropolis in an act of defiance to take down the flag of an oppressor and raise the flag of their country, the Greek flag.



H. S. Stavropoulos