MOSHE PESSACH (1869-1955)

The Jewish community of Volos

In 1928, there were 1,071 Jews living in Volos (2 per cent of the total population), whose number had decreased to 872 by September 1943. Most of them survived the Holocaust, thanks to the decisiveness of the chief rabbi, the help of Metropolitan Ioakeim, the support of the Resistance and the solidarity of local Christians. On 25 March 1944, the Germans arrested and deported 130 individuals.

The chief rabbi

Moshe Pessah was the son of Larissa rabbi Simeon Pessah (1815–1893), who also served as chief rabbi of “Old Greece”. In 1946, he was elected as president of the Beth Din of Greece, exercising his duties until his death in 1955. Two years after his death, he was exhumed and reinterred at Har HaMenuchot in Jerusalem.

30 September 1943

On Thursday, the first day of Rosh Hashanah of the year 5704 (30 September 1943), Chief Rabbi Pessah received an order to present himself immediately to the mayor, despite the fact that it was a religious holiday. Once there, the chief rabbi was informed by the staff that the occupation authorities had ordered the municipality to compile a list of all Jews in Volos, and that Mayor Nikolaos Saratsis had issued a confidential directive for the compilation of the list to be delayed for a few days so that the Jews would have time to escape. The mayor “recommended that I present myself to the German commander to ask what this concerned”. The commander sternly reprimanded the chief rabbi because he was already late and ordered him to return early the next day.

The appeal to the ‘other flock’

Without losing time, I rushed to the bishop, His Beatitude Ioakeim, a prelate with an open mind and noble sentiments.” The two of them then contacted the prefect, Ioannis Pantazidis. “The three of us discussed the situation. I appealed my esteemed interlocutors to tell everyone in nearby villages to welcome any Jew who sought refuge there and, in every case, to offer assistance and protection. All measures to satisfy my request were taken immediately. His Beatitude Ioakeim personally gave me a letter of introduction for the Resistance.”

The text of Metropolitan Ioakeim’s letter of introduction and appeal for assistance for Chief Rabbi Moshe Pessah reads: “Volos, 28 September 1943. My beloved in the Lord. I warmly recommend the bearer-teacher and ask any brother who meets him to listen to him attentively and favourably and offer every facilitation with anything he may need for himself or his flock so that they will not fall victim to the present situation. Ioakeim of Dimitriada.”

The chief rabbi goes to the ‘mountain’

Resistance fighters escorted the chief rabbi and his family to the ELAS-controlled areas. His escape, which looked like a kidnapping, gave the signal for Volos’ Jews to flee. From Mount Pelion, the chief rabbi addressed Greece’s Jews by proclamation, urging them to join the ranks of the national Resistance, and he subsequently appealed to Britain’s Jews for help. He stayed with the guerrillas, encouraging them, throughout the Occupation. His wife died from the hardships she endured.

 

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