Although the Jews of Zakynthos share a similar history with the Jews of the Ionian islands, all 275 Zakynthos Jews survived the Holocaust. The courageous actions of Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Loukas Karrer in helping save Zakynthos Jews led Yad Vashem to recognize them as “Righteous Among the Nations.”
On September 9, 1943, the governor of the Nazi occupying forces on the Greek island of Zakynthos called the mayor of the city, Loukas Karrer, and demanded a list of all the Jews on the island. Distraught by the implications of the task, Mayor Karrer consulted 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 angrily repeated his demand for a list of the island’s Jews. The bishop explained that while they did not share the same religious faith, the Jews and Christians had lived on the island in peace and harmony for hundreds of years. He said the Jews were equal Greek citizens, and their leaving would be detrimental to the other residents.
Unmoved, the Nazi commander again insisted on the list of names. The bishop stretched out his hand and gave the commandant a piece of paper bearing just two names: Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos. In addition, the bishop wrote a letter to Hitler, declaring that the Jews in Zakynthos were under his personal authority. 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, thanks to the bravery and moral courage of the mayor, the bishop and the island’s leaders who risked their 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 immigrated to Israel, 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 Dionyssios Church. Sadly, in 1953, a massive earthquake struck the island, leveling the Jewish quarter entirely, after which many of the Jews moved to Athens.
In 1978, Yad Vashem recognized Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos as Righteous Among the Nations.