During the German occupation of Greece in World War II, the Jewish community of Zakynthos faced the same fate as Jews in other parts of Europe. The Nazis demanded that the Mayor and Bishop of the island provide a list of all Jewish residents on Zakynthos, which would ultimately lead to their deportation to concentration camps.
However, the island’s leaders – Mayor Loukas Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos – refused to comply with the Nazi order. They instead issued a joint statement, declaring that all residents of Zakynthos were Greek, regardless of their religion, and that they would protect their Jewish neighbors at all costs.
The German officials did not expect this kind of resistance, and so they were surprised when the Jewish population of the island was not rounded up as planned. The Jews of Zakynthos were able to hide in the homes of their non-Jewish neighbors, who risked their own lives to protect them.
When the Nazis eventually discovered that the Jews had not been deported, they demanded an explanation from the island’s leaders. Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos explained that they had acted on their own, and that the Jews were safe because they were fellow Greeks and their friends and neighbors.
The Germans were angered by the defiance of the island’s leaders, but ultimately did not retaliate against Zakynthos, likely because they did not want to stir up more resistance. As a result of the actions of Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos, all of the Jews of Zakynthos were saved from deportation and death.
The story of Zakynthos’ Jewish rescue is a powerful example of how a small group of people can stand up to tyranny and make a difference. Today, the island is known for its commitment to tolerance and diversity, and honors the memory of those who were saved during the war. The story of Zakynthos’ Jewish rescue is an important part of the island’s history and culture, reminding us of the power of solidarity and compassion in the face of oppression.