As you may know from my last post, I enrolled into college again to learn to be a teacher. It was a grueling course, but I’m finished now and ready to begin teaching English as a foreign language in junior high and high school. Usually I try to spend time planning a summer trip, but this year I was left with only a day to do so. We ended up flying cheaply to Zakynthos, Greece, with last-minute tickets along with hundreds of teens on a last fling before enlisting in the army in the fall. We had done no research, whatsoever, and ended up making strange and fleeting reservations for a car and place to stay while visiting. We had no idea what to expect, but were very pleasantly surprised, but not by what you may think.
Zakynthos is a beautiful place with blue caves and grottos big enough to drive a boat into, which was done at every opportunity. In Israel we have a very similar place in the north that can be visited called Rosh Hanikra. It has the same calcite-white rock faces jutting into crystal blue waters with sunlight reflecting off it all. In Zakynthos, however, there are hundreds of people motoring about trying to catch the light with their cameras and phones to show-off back home. We did do some of the regular tourist things on the island, and enjoyed a few private beaches as well, but the day we stumbled into a tourist shop to get out of the heat for a spell was the biggest find of all.
The owner of the shop was sweating profusely behind the counter. It was a typical tourist trinket shop, and I found a new hat there that I’m very fond of. But, the real story happened when the shop owner asked where we were from, assuming I’m sure, that we would be from America. When we said Israel instead, his eyes lit up and he told us an amazing story about the island’s Jews and the Nazis, who had been unsuccessful in shipping the Jews back to death-camps for extermination on the mainland. He told us that the German commander demanded that the mayor of the town, Loukas Karrer, give him a list of all the Jews on the island, including addresses, professions, and economic status, and if he failed to do so by the next day he would be killed.
Mayor Karrer then discussed the matter with the local Greek Orthodox Bishop, Dimitrios Chrysostomos, and they decided to burn all the records of the Jews that they had and sent the island’s Jews into hiding into the mountains with locals. Bishop Chrysostomos, who was fluent in German, told the Nazi commander that all the Jews had already left the island because of the war and bombings. But still, the list was requested over and over. After repeated refusals to hand over a list, Chrysostomos finally gave over a list with only two members of the community on it, himself and Mayor Karrer. They saved all 275 Jewish souls, and in 1978 both men were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations, an honor given to non-Jews who, at great personal peril, saved Jews during the Holocaust. After the war, in 1953, an earthquake destroyed one of the town’s historic synagogues and the entire Jewish quarter, prompting the remaining Jews of Zakynthos to either move to Athens or to immigrate to Israel.
Zakynthos was beautiful, but not nearly as beautiful as the story we heard from an eager to share shop-owner, or the two men on the island that saved their Jewish friends and neighbors from annihilation. The story made our entire week, and inspired me to search out and find the abandoned Jewish cemetery on the island. We wandered the grounds and visited numerous gravesites, many buried under foliage or about to slide down the hillside with erosion and neglect. It was a moving moment, and we said kaddish for the departed while trying to take it all in before flying back to Israel the following day. On the plane back I didn’t mind so much that it was full of young teens after summer vacation. We were all headed back home, to the Promised Land, and the family that we all share. We were heading home, each and every one of us, to the Land of Israel.
Drew (Doron) Noll
Drew Noll is a professionally trained fine artist and a self taught writer living in Zikhron Yaakov, Israel. He has taught privately drawing, painting, mixed media sculpture, ceramics, and creative writing, and he recently began teaching English as a foreign language at a local high school.
Drew has a background as a fine woodworker and business owner, and his artwork has been exhibited in the US and Israel. Drew has contributed to various blogs and websites as a ghost writer, along with producing The Brave New Land, a personal blog that revolves around his adventures as a new immigrant to the Middle East, his other travels around the globe, and his personal thoughts and experiences relating to his life and artwork.
Please feel free to contact Drew through his website: doronoll.com.