Special Holocaust Event: Rabbi-Partisan Warrior

Ceremony honoring Jews who rescued other Jews will award the daring efforts of Rabbi Pessach, who saved his community in Greece.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Swastika (illustration)
Swastika (illustration)

A special event will be held on Thursday in time for the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day, to commemorate Jews who rescued other Jews during the horrific years of the Holocaust.

The event, held by the B'nai B'rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF), will feature an honor guard of 200 Border Patrol Cadets, and 200 high school students will take part in the ceremony along with Jewish rescuers and survivors.

The ceremony will take place at the Martyr’s Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza at 10 a.m.

This years' event will memorialize Rabbi Moshe Shimon Pessach (1869-1955), an outstanding rabbinic and communal figure who served for 63 years as rabbi, and later Chief Rabbi, of Volos, Greece.

Rabbi Pessach – the scion of a long line of towering Sephardic rabbinic figures in Greece – shepherded the Volos Jews community of approximately 1,000 souls, through tumultuous times.

Fiercely loyal to his country and to his community, Rabbi Pessach initiated and orchestrated the rescue of his community during the German occupation with the assistance of the Bishop of Volos Joachim Alexopoulos and other non-Jews - efforts that led to the survival of 74% of the Volos Jews. This was an extraordinary achievement in a country where 85% of the Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

In addition to these efforts, Rabbi Pessach also led a partisan unit against the German Nazis.

On Rosh Hashana 5703, 30 September 1943, Rabbi Pessach was summoned to the headquarters of the German military governor Kurt Rikert, who demanded that he submit within 24 hours a list of all the Jews in the city and their assets, purportedly for the innocent purpose of determining the amount of food rations needed to sustain them.

Recognizing the danger, the rabbi at great risk to himself obtained a three-day extension, and then got the intervention of the town's Archbishop Joachim Alexopoulos to save the Jewish community. The bishop gave him letters of introduction to shelter the Jews in surrounding villages.

Thanks to the rabbi's intervention, the Greek underground spirited all but 130 Jews - who were later arrested, deported and murdered – including Rabbi Pessach and his family into hiding in the surrounding remote mountain villages over a three day period.

The Nazis put a bounty on the rabbi's head, two of his sons were caught and murdered, and his wife died while they were in hiding, as Rabbi Pessach established a partisan unit to rescue allied soldiers and fight the Nazis - actions for which he was decorated both by King Paul and by the commander of the Allied forces in the Mediterranean.

After the war, Rabbi Pessach returned with 700 members of the community to Volos, and engaged in efforts to rebuild the devastated city. In 1946 he was elected Chief Rabbinic Count Judge and Chief Rabbi of Greece, titles he held until his death.

In April 1955, Volos was hit by a devastating earthquake. The aged rabbi was forced to live in a tent, later forfeiting his house in order to build there a new synagogue, but he died shortly after, on November 13. In recognition of his contribution to Greek Jewry, Rabbi Pessach and his wife Sara were reinterred in 1957 in Jerusalem besides Chief Rabbi Ben Zion Uziel and his extensive library was brought to Israel and is archived as a separate unit at the Ben Zvi Institute. 

Rabbi Pessach will be represented at the ceremony by his grandson Moris Eskenazi and great grandson Dr. Ilias Pessach. Guests of honor will be Greek ambassador Hon. Spyridon Lampridis, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Theophilos III and Moses Constantinis, President, Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece.