The title of "Right of Nations" of the Yad Vashem Foundation was awarded to Greek heroes who rescued Jews in Corfu during the Occupation, by the Ambassador of Israel to Greece, Noam Katz, in a special ceremony held on 27.5.2024 at the Mantzaros Philharmonic Society in Corfu. The medal and title of "Right of Nations" awarded posthumously to Greek heroes Thomas and Antonis Kyriakis for rescuing the Jewish family of Shem Cohen during the Occupation.

The award was given in the presence of members of the Kyriaki and Cohen families. The medal was received by the granddaughter of Thomas Kyriakis and daughter of Antonis, Spyridoula Kyriakis, and the certificate by Marina and Eleni Kyriakis, the two daughters of Dimitris Kyriakis, the other son of Thomas.

“Today we remember the six million souls lost in the Holocaust, including 67.000 Greek Jews who perished in Nazi camps, a staggering 87% of Greek Jews. We remember the 1.600 members of the historic Jewish Community of Corfu who were sent to Auschwitz, where their fate was tragic. But today we also remember those brave people who defied the brutality of the Nazis to do the right thing. We pay tribute to their courage. Their virtue and bravery shined like a beacon of light in the darkest times," noted, among others, Ambassador Noam Katz, stating that the Jews are an ancient people with a great memory and never forget the people who helped them.

As the ambassador stated, Israel and Yad Vashem instituted our duty to remember those who saved the Jews. He stated that the bravery of the Righteous should serve as a model for us all. “By highlighting their courageous actions, we not only honor their bravery, but also promote the values ​​of empathy, understanding and moral integrity. Their stories demonstrate the profound impact individuals can have in the face of hatred and prejudice. A Jewish proverb says that "he who saves one life is as if he saves the whole world." The actions of the Righteous really changed history, as evidenced by all the members of the Cohen family who are with us today, thanks to Thomas and Antonis Kyriakis,” said the Israeli Ambassador.

Thomas and Antonis Kyriakis

After the entry of the Nazi Germans into Corfu in 1943, Thomas and his son Antonis Kyriakis from the village of Valaneio in the highlands of the island, provided shelter and protection to the family of Semos Cohen, his wife Beatrice and their four children Diamantina, Dora , Moise and Etty. They did so with altruism and self-sacrifice, risking their lives in a true expression of solidarity and humanity.

Title of "Law of Nations"

The title of "Right of Nations" is awarded by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Center and Museum established by the State of Israel after World War II in memory of the six million victims of the Shoah. The award is given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. The award requires a thorough investigation by Yad Vashem and approval by Israel's Supreme Court. It is considered the highest honor that can be bestowed by the State of Israel.

The awardees receive a special medal and diploma, while their names are inscribed on the "Wall of the Righteous" and a tree is planted in their memory in the "Garden of the Righteous" on the grounds of Yad Vashem.

It is recalled that 369 courageous Greeks have been recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" to date. Among them, the late Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Damascenes, the former Mayor of Zakynthos Loukas Karrer, the late Metropolitans of Zakynthos and Dimitriados Chrysostomos and Ioakeim respectively, the late head of the Greek Police Angelos Evert, the heroine of the National Resistance Lela Karagianni, as well as many other WWII heroes. Today they are joined by Thomas and Antonis Kyriakis.

May their memory be eternal.

The rescue

According to a related announcement, the Italians occupied Corfu in October 1940. Under their rule, the Jews suffered nothing. After the surrender of Italy in September 1943, the Germans occupied Corfu and in June 1944 the Gestapo began to operate there. About 400 Jewish women were transported by ship to the concentration camp of Haidari, in Athens. A group of men and women were taken through the port of Piraeus to a concentration camp, after first being gathered in Lefkada. In March 1944, 1.600 Jews were sent to Auschwitz, of which only 180 survived. On June 9, 1944, approximately 1.600 Jews from Corfu were deported to the Haidari concentration camp and from there to Auschwitz, among them the brothers of Semu Cohen and their families.

Semos Cohen, his wife and children fled to the mountainous area to the north and reached the village of Valaneio. They knew that their relative Esther Hatzopoulou and her mother-in-law had found a hiding place with a certain Dimitris Kosteletos. Semos Cohen and his wife were sure that Dimitris Kosteletos would accept them. But that didn't happen and they didn't know what to do, since they hadn't informed anyone else in the area. By chance they met Thomas Kyriakis and his 13-year-old son Antonis, who also lived in Valaneio, who offered help to the Jewish refugees.

The six survivors lived under the protection of Kyriakis until the end of the War. Their first hiding place was a cave in the forest and then a hut near the monastery belonging to the family of Antonis Kyriakis. Kyriakis supplied them with food and newspapers. Antonis befriended Moise Cohen and sometimes stayed to sleep with the Jewish family in the cave or the hut. The Germans were patrolling the area, as there was guerrilla activity from EDES. Antonis mentions in his testimony that once the Germans almost shot him, when they met him and members of the Cohen family in the forest. Fortunately for everyone, Semos and his wife had identity cards with Christian names and set them all free in exchange for food.

The two survivors Dora and Moise Cohen mention in their testimonies that their father's clothes once raised the suspicions of the Germans and they asked the villagers about him. No one revealed that he was Jewish. When asked if there were any Jews in the area, the answer was given that a Jewish family passed through the village on their way to Albania and drowned in the sea.

After the war, the survivors returned to Corfu. Later Moise immigrated to the USA. His three sisters and his parents remained in Greece.

Both the survivors and the family that rescued them testify to the friendly relations between the two sides over the years.

SOURCE: LIBERAL, 27.5.2024