How a mayor and bishop successfully hid an island’s Jewish population from Nazis

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Memorial to Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Lucas Carrer.

Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, the Nazis killed millions of Jews with the mission to entirely wipe them from history. Hitler was not the first person to fall into anti-Semitism. Before the Middle Ages, Jews in European countries faced prejudice and oppression, frequently for religious purposes. Christians considered Judaism a heresy that needed to be eradicated.

The source of Hitler’s anti-Semitism is unknown, although it allegedly manifested itself while he was residing and working in Vienna. Most historians suggest that Hitler devised this excuse in hindsight. He often used this tactic to reassure anyone skeptical of his beliefs that they would someday discern the truth. Regardless of how he began his hatred for Jews, it is undeniable that Hitler was exposed to antisemitic beliefs at a young age.

Mayor Lucas Carrer.

Sometime in the spring of 1944, Nazi warships were docked in the Ionian Islands’ harbors. The Nazis were en route to Zakynthos, with 2,000 Jews abducted at Corfu and 400 at Cephalonia stashed in their compartments. They intended to pick up every Jew in the zone, ferry them to Patra, and then load them into trains bound for Auschwitz.

The Nazis summoned Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Lucas Carrer to their headquarters a few nights prior to their arrival and informed them they were obligated to produce the names of all Jews living on the island within 24 hours. Additionally, they were required to list all their possessions. As commanded, the two reported back with an envelope before the window closed. The commander opened the envelope only to be shocked by what was on the list. Only two names had been provided: the Bishop’s and Mayor’s. 

Bishop Chrysostomos.

Chrysostomos told the commander that if he wanted to torment the Jews living on the island, he would tag along to share their anguish. The Nazi general was taken aback by the actions of the mayor and the Bishop. He urgently contacted Berlin, demanding additional instructions. Things were about to get rough for the Jews on the island, but arrangements had been made to secure their position.  In the meantime, the Jewish group’s head, Moses Ganis, had been notified about the German intentions by the Bishop and the mayor, sparking a vast campaign to shelter the island’s Jews in settlements, farmland and residences of Christians. 

They were kept under the radar for months, and the Nazis found no trace. Even when they threatened the Christians living on the island with guns, no one dared to give away the Jews. Allegedly, Chrysostomos engaged with Hitler directly to plead for the safety of the island’s Jews. Although Hitler was known for the millions he had massacred, some historians believe he pardoned the Island’s Jews. Or perhaps the Bishop’s and Mayor’s tactic to hide them in plain sight is what worked. Sadly, the island’s records were wrecked by a severe earthquake in 1953, making confirmation of the communication unattainable. What is clear, however, is that no vessel was ever dispatched to transport the island’s Jews and that all 275 escaped the Holocaust alive.