It was in the autumn of 2000, prompted by the first presentation in Greece of the Anne Frank House Museum’s touring exhibition, “Anne Frank: a Story for Today”, that the Jewish Museum of Greece began research into the subject of hidden Jewish children in Occupied Greece, in search of similar stories with a Greek background.
Gradually, accounts were gathered from people who had lived through the harsh years of the Second World War in Greece and had known displacement, loss, humiliation and fear. At the most tender age, they were forced to leave their homes, go into hiding, constantly change their hiding places and use false names or false identities, so much that they lost their own identity sometimes permanently.
The sequence of the events of that time is more or less familiar. The Greek – Italian war of 1940 -1941 was succeeded on April 6th by the German invasion. By April 9th the German had already entered Thessaloniki and by the 27th Athens.
In Thessaloniki, started the first systematic persecution of Greek Jews when all male members of the Community were gathered together and humiliated in Plateia Eleftherias (The Square of Liberty) on 11th July 1942. Forced labor was imposed upon them and they were confined to ghettos. Their property was systematically plundered. The culmination came in 1943, with the deportations by rail under the most appalling conditions. Ninety – seven per cent of the city’s Jews never came back from their extermination camps. Few had foreseen the evil that was in store and managed to hide in time and save themselves.
The Athens area was under Italian administration until September 1943. Anti – Semitic laws did not apply here, so many Jews from German – occupied parts of the country were able to find temporary refuge. However, when Italy capitulated and the Germans took over the former Italian – administered territory, they set about their monstrous task there too. The difference now though was that, the Jews here had advance information about the fate of others of their faith and took steps to hide. They were many cases of Christians who willingly helped their persecuted fellow human beings, especially the children, by hiding them.
Attention should be drawn to the particularly intense emotional expressions in the accounts of the children. The anxiety over survival is one of the most noticeable features in them. The same goes for feelings of loneliness and separation from loved ones, of loss, and in some cases rejection, which even in unfounded, gripped the children’s innocent souls. The constant need to play a role, which was necessary for their survival, coupled with sudden separation from their real parents and long periods of time spent with strangers, towards whom they had to behave as they would to their parents, frequently led to confusion, which in many cases went on after the Occupation was over.
However, the overriding emotion running through almost every single account is fear of everything and everybody that could betray the children themselves or their families. It was the fear of even pronouncing their own names, which was not overcome for a long time after the Liberation, and which in many cases left indelible marks on their personalities and even on their whole adult lives.