Last night before going to bed, I checked my emails one final time. It was an email that would prevent me from going to sleep right away— overwhelmed by the power of a single image and the accompanying text written by none other than our Israeli-angel, Roy Schweiger.
Roy came out of nowhere a few months ago— he heard about the film the Greek America Foundation was producing called “No Man is an Island” and wanted to be involved, to offer his support and his talent. Since then, he has painstakingly researched, located and met with Greek Jewish survivors from Zakynthos.
Yesterday, Roy spent the day with Haim Constantini, a Zakynthos-born Greek Jew and his Greek wife Myriam. The couple now live in suburban Tel Aviv. Roy described Haim as “80-years-old who feels like 50.” and said that the man’s “positivity was indescribable.”
Haim was born on Zakynthos to a long line of Greeks of Jewish faith and was a young boy when the Nazis invaded his island and began hunting his people. He remembered like yesterday when his uncle, Moshe Ganis, the leader of the Jewish community was paid a visit by Archbishop Chrysostomos the day the Nazi commandant arrived with his ultimatum. In Haim’s words:
“My uncle Moshe Ganis, was the head of the Jewish community during World War II. He was the first man to be told by the Bishop that all the Jews had 24 hours to disappear and run to the villages. When that day finally arrived, in a matter of hours, there was no one left in the city— we all disappeared separately to the villages— We ran to a village called Halikero.”
Haim also recalled a near-death experience when he was walking with his father and almost came face to face with a Nazi soldier.
“My brothers used to collect metal that the Germans left on the ground and we made boxes and plates (from the scrap metal). My dad used to visit the villages every other day and sell them in order to be able to buy medication for my other brother who was sick and had Typhus. I used to join my dad on his trips to the villages. Back then there was no transportation and we had to walk 20-30 kilometers each time.”
“One day on our way, we saw a partisan (non Jewish member of the Greek resistance). He was walking 2-3 minutes ahead of us and suddenly we noticed a German soldier pointing his rifle at the him! For an emergency situation such as this we were prepared with a secret language only we knew…Hebrew words transformed to Greek so no one would ever guess what we were saying. And so my dad whispered the “magic words” and we turned around quietly and started walking the other way as we were never there. The partisan knew we were Jews but never said a word.”
This is an amazing day in the further development of our short film project— to hear first hand from a survivor, that the story we wish to share from seventy years ago— is alive, still today. Haim Constantini represents that life.
And our work is even more powerful, recalling Haim’s closing words to Roy:
“Back in the day you couldn’t tell the difference between us and the Christians Greeks. Why?
Because we all lived happily and humbly. We worked hard and were down to earth kind of people. Therefore the Christian Greeks appreciated us.”
Happy, humble and with appreciation. So simple, yet so powerful.
This powerful statement goes beyond the concept of “tolerance” that so many people try to use today as a benchmark for peaceful coexistence. It’s a statement about humanity and respect… and appreciation.
Steven Priovolos and I will be in Tel Aviv a few days after Christmas interviewing Haim and other survivors. Watch for updates and remember, we cannot make this film and share these stories without YOUR involvement and support. Please ad dour voice today and make a contribution to our Kickstarter fundraising campaign here.