Panagiotis Tziortsas was born in Tithronio, a village in Phthiotis, in 1926. His father was Leonidas and his mother Despo, née Koutsobelis. He had an older sister, Efstathia. In the summer of 1941, his father agreed to hide three fugitive British soldiers – Jews from Palestine who had enlisted in the British army, Aaron Yerousalmi, Moses Weinbaum and Asher Schwartz. The family looked after them for about two years. The young Panagiotis was responsible for taking them food every day in their cave, where they hid during the day. Moreover, Panagiotis’ father arranged for them to have fake identities, and accompanied two of the three to Athens so they could escape to the Middle East. In Athens they found relatives’ houses where they could stay – the sisters Maria Choleva and Cleopatra Minou. Even though the three soldiers were arrested by the occupying authorities in their attempt to return to Palestine, they survived. After the war they looked for the people who had hidden them, and they kept in close touch with the Tziortsas family. In 1968, Yad Vashem recognised Maria Cholevas and Cleopatra Minou as Righteous Among the Nations and, in 1989, Leonidas, Despo and Pangiotis Tziortsas.
Panagiotis Tziortsas was interviewed in 2009 at his house in Athens by Iasonas Chandrinos.
Excerpt from the interview:
Saving three British Jewish soldiers
They went to the first village, who didn’t accept them – the villagers were afraid because the Germans frequented that place. They came to our village, Tithronio. […] Someone we knew said to my late father, “Some English soldiers have come. They jumped off the train and they’ve come to the kafeneio.” My father got up and went to the kafeneio to greet them. […] He wanted to have them to stay, but he couldn’t understand if that was what they wanted. We had a close friend, who had lived in America and spoke English. Balomenos was his name. […] They spoke. “Yiorgo [Balomenos], ask them if they want to stay at my house. I will be happy to have them around. I don’t care if they burn it down or not, but I want to help these people, as they have come to this place. Let them burn the house down, just not the whole village.” [They said that] if Leonidas is willing, they would stay at his house. “Tell them,” he said, “they’ll stay here at home. They’ll leave in the day, [they’ll go] somewhere, to a cave. Panagiotis will take them.” [I was] a young boy […] “they’ll stay there all day. At lunch time [Panagiotis] will bring them food. Everything. And at nightfall they’ll come to the house and sleep here. And in the morning they’ll leave again.” This went on for one and a half years. Everyone in the village knew. No one turned them in.
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