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40 years of active presence

Saturday, June 10, 2023


    Iossif Nissim first saw the light of day on Sarantaporou St in Thessaloniki on 22 February 1919. He was the fourth child of merchant Gabriel Nissim, a merchant, and Maria Abastado. Their home was French-speaking and Iossif received a good education. He was a cadet at the School for Reserve Infantry Officers when the war with Italy broke out on 28 October 1940. With his love for military life and his hate for the Germans, as a Jew and a Greek soldier, he decided to continue the war, even on his own. During the German invasion, he and some colleagues escaped to Crete by boat. After the heroic defence of the island, he travelled to Alexandria, in Egypt, aboard the British cruiser HMS Warspite. The journey seemed to last for ages because of the constant bombardment by German Stukas.

    In the Middle East, he donned his uniform once again and started a fascinating military life. In the summer of 1942 he volunteered for the Sacred Band (Ieros Lochos) led by Col Christodoulos Tsigantes. He was the only Jew in this special unit of 300 Greeks who were trained in camps in Haiffa as an elite “commando” for patrols, parachuting, hand-to-hand combat, explosives etc. After the second Battle of El Alamein (October 1942) and the defeat of Rommel, the Sacred Band joined the unit of French General Leclerc. With his knowledge of French, Iossif acted as a liaison officer during the campaigns against the Germans in Tunisia. At the critical Battle of Ksar Ghilane (10–19 March 1943), his jeep was hit by a mine. For his injuries and his determination to save an injured fellow fighter, he was decorated with the highest distinction, the Gold Cross of Valour (“Chrissoun Aristeio Andreias”). It was the highest award given to a Greek Jewish solider in the Second World War. In addition to an operation onSamos (October 1943) and the mass evacuation of 14,000 Italian prisoners to Turkey, Iossif took part in numerous raids and operations in North Africa, from Lebanon to Cyrenaica, and retired in 1945 with the rank of second lieutenant. In Athens, he was reunited with his parents and three siblings Elias, Errikos and Dora, who were in hiding. Only the eldest sister, Rachil, perished at Auschwitz, along with 80 members of the Abastado, Asseo and Nissim families.

    In 1947 he married Zan Aroesti, a fellow Jew from Thessaloniki whom he met in a refugee camp in Aleppo, Syria, during the war. They emigrated to Italy where they still live.

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