The eldest son of cloth merchant Leon Hatzis, from the northwestern city of Ioannina, and Sarina (Nina) Samuel, from the central city of Trikala, Isaak Hatzis was born in Ioannina on 27 September 1931. On the eve of the war, he lived with his parents and two younger siblings, Chrysoula and Moris, at 3 Aixoneon St in the Athens neighbourhood of Petralona. The family got through the famine of 1941–42 thanks to food sent by his mother’s parents and siblings from Trikala. When the Germans sought to register the Jews of Athens in September 1943, the road to Thessaly was one again the path to salvation for the family. It was only years later that Zakis, Isaak’s diminutive, would learn that all other passengers on the wood gas-fuelled bus, which departed for the town of Karditsa around Yom Kippur, were Jews like himself, who escaped from the German-occupied capital with false papers. When the bus arrived at Sofades, it was in liberated Greece, the only part of Greek territory where the word “Jew” was not a source of shame or a passport to certain death. The fighting between the ELAS partisans and Germans in the region brought more adventure. After staying for a month in Loutra Smokovou, they were put up in Karditsa and finally settled in Volos, where a cousin of his mother’s, Ilias Kapetas, lived. Even though Volos was under German occupation, the strong presence of EAM in the city was a further guarantee of safety. The struggle to survive, however, was daily and Zakis accompanied his mother, under the nose of the Germans and collaborationist Security Battalions, to the villages of Mt. Pelio in order to find food. He travelled as far as Trikala to give his grandfather, Isaak Samuel, enough fabric with which to restart the family business. The then 13-year-old Jewish boy experienced the Liberation – the most beautiful days of his life – in Almyros, in Magnisia prefecture, with his mind full of partisan marching songs, the hope for a better tomorrow and a burning desire to tell his story some day.
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