President Reuven Rivlin this morning (Tuesday) met in his office with Lana Carrer, daughter of the Lucas Carrer, who served as Mayor of the Greek island of Zakynthos during the Nazi occupation of the island. Mayor Carrer, together with the local bishop, were responsible for saving the nearly 300 Jews who lived on the island by refusing the order of the Nazi occupying forces to provide a list of the Jewish community.
President Rivlin greeted and hugged Mrs. Carrer and thanked her for the actions of her family and her community for the sake of the Jewish people. He said, “We want to thank you for the actions of your family. Their bravery is an example of the very best of what humanity is capable of. Their actions go to the very heart of the history of the Jewish people.”
Mrs. Carrer thanked the President, and spoke of the respect and warm relationship between the peoples of the island, and spoke of her admiration for the President and his work to combat discrimination.
On the 9 September 1943, the commandant of the Nazi occupying forces on the Greek island of Zakynthos called the mayor of the city, Lucas Carrer, and demanded a list of all the Jews on the island. Distraught at the task asked of him, Mayor Carrer consulted the local Bishop Chrysostomos and the two together made the courageous decision to deny the Nazi's request.
The next day the Mayor and the Bishop were ordered to appear before the commandant, who repeated angrily his demand for a list of the island’s Jewish community. The Bishop explained that while they did not share the same religious faiths, the Jews and Christians had lived on the island in peace and harmony for hundreds of years, without any one of them disturbing the other. He said the Jews were as
equally Greek citizens as the non-Jews, and their leaving would be detrimental to all the residents.
Unmoved, the Nazi commander again insisted on the list of names. Left without any choice, the Bishop stretched out his hand and gave the commandant a piece of paper bearing just two names; Mayor Carrer, and Bishop Chrysostomos. With it, the Bishop handed over a letter from Hitler’s own bishop stating the Jews of Zakynthos were under his personal responsibility. Shocked, the commandant took the two documents and sent them to his superiors in Berlin.
In the meantime, the city’s leaders went to the Jewish community and hurriedly instructed them to hide in Christian homes in the hills, away from the towns.
Surprisingly, the command to round up the Jews of the island was canceled, all thanks to the bravery and moral courage of the Mayor, the Bishop and the island’s leaders who risked their own lives to save their Jewish neighbors and friends. In October 1944, the Germans retreated from the island, leaving behind them the 275 Jews of Zakynthos.
The entire community survived, while millions of their fellow Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their supporters. In 1947, many of the Jews of Zakynthos made Aliyah, and in 1948 as a sign of their deep gratitude for the heroic acts of those who saved them, the Jewish community donated stained glass windows to the island’s Saint Dionysios Church. Sadly, in 1953, a massive earthquake struck the island leveling the Jewish Quarter entirely, after which many of the remaining Jews moved to Athens.
In 1978 Yad Vashem recognized Mayor Carrer and Bishop Chrysostomos as Righteous Among the Nations. The historic story of the Jews of Zakynthos has been recorded in a book by Dionysios Stravolemos called ‘An Act of Heroism - A Justification’, and in a film by Tony Lykouressis called ‘The Song of Life’.