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Exhibition opens on Greek Jewish wartime resistance against Nazis

Museum takes detailed look at personal histories of 24 Jewish men and women who took up arms against the occupier

Entitled Synagonistis: Greek Jews in the National Resistance, the exhibition came about the few surviving Jewish partisans expressed their wish that their wartime contribution in defending their country not be forgotten and the memory of their fallen comrades be remembered

The role of Jewish fighters in Greece's wartime resistance against the Germans is the subject of a temporary exhibition that opens in the Jewish Museum in Athens on Tuesday.

Entitled Synagonistis: Greek Jews in the National Resistance, the exhibition came about the few surviving Jewish partisans expressed their wish that their wartime contribution in defending their country not be forgotten and the memory of their fallen comrades be remembered.

Organisers say that exhibition belies the much-held misconception that all Jews ended up in the Nazi Holocaust “like lambs to the slaughter”. In all, 67,000 of Greece’s Jewish citizens, or 86 percent of the community, lost their lives in the Holocaust, most of them at Auschwitz. 

The exhibition, which involved five years' of research, looks in detail at the personal histories of 24 men and women, from the various Jewish communities of Greece, who took up arms in the dark and harsh days of the Nazi occupation.

Most of them were very young, recently uprooted from their homes, often alone and orphaned, but they found a new, dynamic family on the mountains and served the armed struggle – as equals – in many ways, with courage and determination.

Photographs, documents, letters, proclamations, resistance newspapers, original artefacts, weaponry and other relevant material will be made public for the first time.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a bilingual catalogue. In addition, director David Gavriilidis has produced a documentary film exploring this subject engaging people, places and events.

The permanent exhibition is also accompanied by specially designed educational programmes for schools.

While the museum's main concern is to commemorate and honour the Jewish resistance fighters of the second world war, it also honours all the Greeks who, inspired by the ideals of freedom and of a better world, fought against the occupying forces.


Leon Varon: One veteran's story

Leon Varon entered this world in December 1920, during Hanukkah, in Gelibolu (Gallipoli) in eastern Thrace. His Hebrew name was Yeouda and he was the son of Kerido Varon and Oro Koen, a typical Judeo-Spanish family that had assumed Ottoman ways.

After the Greek–Turkish population exchange, they settled in Kavala, where his siblings were born: Samouil, Sultana Souzanna and the smallest, Sarah, who died aged 10. To the young boy’s multiple identities was added Greekness and a refugee consciousness. He graduated from the Middle Commercial School in Kavala and worked at various jobs to support his poor family.

What followed can be pieced together somewhat from diverse accounts. On 14 May 1942, he was captured by the Bulgarians and transferred to a labour camp at the railway station at Belitsa. Ten months later, the train transporting the displaced Jews of Kavala – including his family – to their extermination at Treblinka passed through Belitsa station and in front of Leon’s eyes. Thereafter, he joined the resistance.

The train transporting the displaced Jews of Kavala – including his family – to their extermination at Treblinka passed through Belitsa station and in front of Leon’s eyes. Thereafter, he joined the resistance

In the summer he escaped with his cousin, Binio Mevorach, swam across the Strymonas river and arrived in a Kavala that had been emptied of it Jews. It is unclear how Leon fled to Athens and how on night of Yom Kippur in 1943 he found himself alongside eight other Jews, among them the family of Daniel Vainstain, in an EAM truck heading for the Peloponnese.

He immediately joined the 11th ELAS Regiment in Arkadia, as a liaison in the area of Arachova, Kerasitsa, Doliana and Kosmas, while his knowledge of accounting made him a valuable member of ELAS’ logistics wing ETA. To his identity were now added leftist ideas. In the Astros area, he got to know Isaak Rousso and his family from Thessaloniki, who were hiding in the village of Platanos, and started a relationship with his daughter Selli.

After the Varkiza agreement, he returned to Kavala where he opened a shop, but he was marked with the stigma of being a "communist". On 20 August 1948 he was arrested in Patras while trying to flee by boat to Palestine via Trieste, was tried and jailed for two years.

In August 1952 he married Selli in Athens and together they founded the Selva undergarment factory. They had two daughters, Oro-Odette and Louiza. He died suddenly on 26 September 1991. That December, his daughter Odette edited and published a collection of his poetry, entitled Odos Ptolemies.


Synagonistis: Greek Jews in the National Resistance runs from Tuesday 16 April 2013 to Friday 25 April 2014. Opening hours are 9am–2.30pm daily, Saturday closed, and Sunday from 10am–2pm. The Jewish Museum of Greece is located at Nikis 39, Athens, telephone 210 3225582, email info@jewishmuseum.gr

 

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