On Sunday February 10, as part of the National Day of Remembrance for the Greek Jewish Martyrs and Heroes of the Holocaust, the Jewish Community of Volos will honour the citizens of Glossa and Klima in recognition of their bravery and generosity in helping fugitive Greek Jews during the Nazi occupation. All are invited to attend the ceremony at the Technical Chamber hall in Volos.
In Thessaloniki in 1943 the Germans began ghettoizing Greek citizens who were Jewish, to send them to the death camps in Poland. Many tried to escape and this is a story of how Skopelos played a part in saving a family.
Giorgos Mitzeliotis, then mayor of Glossa, was a farmer. He would sell olive oil to Jacques Leon to use at his soap making factory in Thessaloniki. In April 1943, the mayor received a telegram from Leon asking for help escaping Thessaloniki. Mitzeliotis arrived in Thessaloniki from Skopelos with false identity papers for Leon and travelled with him by bus to the coastal town of Epanomi (south of the current airport), where they set sail for Glossa, Skopelos. The journey took several days.
Jacques Leon had a large family in Athens. At Leon’s request, Mitzeliotis visited Athens and on return reported that Leon’s family was safe. However after the Italians capitulated life was much more dangerous in Athens under the Germans. The two contrived to bring the family to Glossa. The family traveled to Halkida Evvia and then on to the small town of Agia Anna at the northern end of the island. A few days later the fourteen arrived at Loutraki by caique.
From the testimony of Maurice Leon, Jacques’ brother:
“They had a welcoming hospitality custom: to wash our feet. It was Mrs. Magdalini Mitzelioti, wife of the president of the Community of Glossa in Skopelos, who welcomed us according to the traditional way of Skopelos, by washing our feet. We were staying in village houses. Everybody knew that we were Jews. Nobody was talking about it. They loved us very much. All this until Germans reached Skopelos.”
At first the entire family, fifteen in all, lived in the village of Glossa. Later they were moved to various kalivia outside of town, near Glossa and Klima where they stayed inside by day and were visited in the evenings by villagers bearing food and other supplies. One young man, Solon Molho, worked openly for the shipbuilders and the blacksmith.
Again Maurice Leon:
“The first ID card I had was issued on 18th May 1943 and said my name was Mavropoulos Georgios, son of Christos and Eirini. But if the Germans had found us in Skopelos with this identity card they would have started questioning what we were doing there. Also the type of the IDs had changed and it was now both in Greek and German language. So I had a second ID issued, stating that I was a Glossa citizen. Mr. Mitzeliotis, the president of the Community of Glossa himself signed the new identity cards. He was the one that saved us. I also remember that Magdalini and Stefanos Korfiatis (brother and sister in law of the mayor) helped us.”
After six months the Germans withdrew from Skopelos and the family came out of hiding and in September 1944 left Skopelos to return to “normal” life in Thessaloniki and Athens.
“Thessaloniki was very different. A big part of its population was missing. Fifty thousand Jews were missing. It was very difficult emotionally… So many people were missing! There were no group gatherings any more, no Maccabi (a Jewish sports organization) nothing.”
The members of Jacques Leon’s family who were hidden in Skopelos were Isaac Leon, Henriette Leon, Juda Leon, Victoria Leon, Nina Leon, Nikos Leon, Jacques Leon, Elie Cohen, Jeanne Cohen, Maurice Leon, Berthe Leon, Sarina Cohen, Isaac Roussos and Solomon Molho.
Both couples, Giorgos and Magdelena Mitzeliotis and Stephanos and Magdelena Korfiatis, were honoured in 1982 by the organization Yad Vashem for their “compassion, courage and morality” as “Righteous Among the Nations”.