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40 years of active presence

Friday, December 1, 2023


    Beniamin Albalas was born on 1 September 1937 in the central Athens neighbourhood of Kato Petralona to parents from the western Greek city of Preveza. For him, it is a happy coincidence that it was his father’s sister, Aunt Matilda, who was the midwife at his birth. The Second World War broke out on his second birthday, a war that for a small child meant the sound of the air-raid sirens and the rank smell of the underground shelter on Pallineon Street.

    A chain of random events enabled the Albalas family to be saved. As a travelling textile salesman who did the rounds in the centre of the city, his father Iakovos harboured no illusions about the bleak future. One of his friendly contacts was Panos Machairas, a neighbour and doctor to many Jewish families. Machairas was not only a humanitarian, but a resistance operative – he was a member of the National Republican Greek League (EDES) – and responsible for the underground network in the Athens Municipal Police that provided forged identity papers. In late May 1943, with the rubber stamp of the 9th Police Precinct, Iakovos, Karolina and Beniamin Albalas were renamed Orestis, Maria and Kostas Donos, respectively. The next step was transfer to a safe house, namely to the home of a cousin of Machairas in Katsipodi (as the Athens suburb of Dafni was once known). For 14 whole months, the family lived indoors and were provided with food by Machairas’ resistance network. The mother and children – Beniamin and his two-year-old sister Victoria – and the octogenarian grandmother hid, while the father left the house early every morning to give the impression that he was working so as not to cause suspicion in the neighbourhood. The daily danger of being accidentally found out or being betrayed terrified them, particularly when the Germans and collaborationist Security Battalions unleashed indiscriminate raids against the resistance in the districts of Athens. A victim of these mass arrests made during one of these raids was his mother’s brother, Leon Sabas, who was deported to Germany as a Christian detainee.

    Those dark days ended with the flight of the occupiers in October 1944. Over the following 70 years, the small hidden child would subsequently become a military officer, academic, president of the Athens Jewish Community and the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, and a member of many other Greek Jewish organizations and associations.

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