Sifis (Iossif) Venturas was born in 1938 Chanea, Crete. His particularly wealthy family originally came from medieval Venice and had kept their Italian citizenship. In 1942 the local Gestapo began considering the issue of the island’s Jews. The Jewish Community had to hand in a register, listing the names of its members. The Venturas family with their two children, Sifis and her older sister Yvette were included in this register.
A friend of their father’s who had access to Gestapo information, warned them to leave as soon as possible, “…for things are not going to go well for the Jews”.
The family escaped Crete in 1942 in a boat, for the comparative safety of Athens.
At first they stayed at their grandfather’s home, in Sepolia. But with Stroop’s order for the registration of the Jews, they had to hide. After a few days wandering on Mt. Hymettus, when his father carried Sifis on his shoulders, and they slept in schools and churches, a house was found in Zografou. Their refuge could not stay secret for long though: Greek collaborators of the Germans discovered it and started blackmailing them for money. The family decided to split up.
Sifis, together with their servant, Athina, settled in the house of a friend, Petrochilos, in Ekali. The young boy was presented as the illegitimate son of Athina. Playing with Petrochilos’ two children and going for walks in the countryside of Kokkinaras, were their diversions. During a walk to Nea Erithrea the sole surviving Occupation-time photograph with Sifis and Athina was taken.
As he was still so young, he quickly forgot his natural parents and became attached to Athina. She, for her part, loved him as if he were her own son.
The children’s favourite recreation during the summer was diving and playing in the fountain in the middle of the garden. While the Petrochilos children were allowed to swim naked, Athina forbade Sifis to do so. Since the garden was separated from the adjacent German prisoner’s camp only by a wire fence, there was a great danger they would see the little boy was circumcised.
The separation of the family lasted for months. They were not reunited until the Liberation.
When Sifis, after all that time, first met his parents again, he did not remember them! “I do not recognize my parents as my natural parents. I stay close to Athina, it’s her I love, she is my mother. For many years after the Occupation this troubles me. Those events are traumatic, they have followed me in all my life. They have left indelible marks” he confesses. Even today he attributes some traits of his character, like easily feeling panicky and insecure, to the experiences of that time.
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