The story of Greek Jews who fought the Nazis during World War II is personal for Jack Samarias. The 71-year-old Gainesville resident was born in the mountains surrounding Volos toward the end of the Axis occupation in 1944 and his family participated in the resistance.
“My father actually was in the resistance. And his name is over here, I just saw it. So it’s very moving for me,” Samarias said at Washington Hebrew Congregation, where a reception was held April 21 for the traveling exhibition, “Synagonistis: Greek Jews in the National Resistance, The ones who never wore the Yellow Star.”
This is the first time the Jewish Museum of Greece is taking the exhibition abroad.
Samarias, who came from Athens to the United States in 1968 with his wife, said he knew many people whose stories were on display, including his childhood doctor.
Zanet Battinou, director of the Jewish Museum of Greece, said that synagonistis means “comrades in arms” in Greek, and that researchers cross-referenced the names to show that the Jews who took up arms to join the resistance in the free mountains fought alongside Greek Christians as equals.
“It’s very important to think about that these were the kids next door. They were students. They were not heroes. They were simple kids,” said Battinou. “As we say at the museum: What they wanted was to live, to study, to learn, to grow, to love. Instead they found themselves up in the mountains holding a gun and fighting for their country.”
Washington Hebrew Congregation Senior Rabbi Bruce Lustig welcomed a delegation from the Embassy of Greece, including Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Ambassador to the United States Christos Panagopoulos. While attendees sipped on Greek wine and ate spanakopita, Lustig presented a gift of a book on the history of Jewish Washington to Christos G. Failadis, embassy spokesman.
“We are honored that we are able to have this beautiful exhibit, an exhibit which celebrates the Jewish Greek resistance movement during WWII. It is a rich historical exhibit that celebrates those who were forgotten and we are grateful to the embassy and to the museum for sharing this story of their community,” Lustig said.
According to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, at the time of the Axis occupation in 1941, there were nearly 72,000 Jews living in Greece. When Germany and its satellite Bulgaria withdrew from Greece in 1944, nearly 60,000 Greek Jews had perished in the Holocaust.
Failadis said the aim of the exhibition was to not only honor the thousands of Jewish resistance fighters, but to “dispute the theory that all Jews succumbed to the Holocaust like ‘lambs to the slaughter.’”
“Greek Jews fought side by side with Greek Christians against the same enemy, in defense of the same country: Greece,” said Failadis. “It is a duty to save them from oblivion and this is the goal of this exhibition, to raise our voice against anti-Semitism and racism.”
The exhibition, free to the public, runs through May 26 and is presented by the Embassy of Greece with a contribution from the Secretariat General of Communication of Greece. Sponsors include Washington Hebrew Congregation, the American Hellenic Institute, American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, B’nai B’rith International, the American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece, Black Olive Restaurant and Athena Balta Law Group.