The other day, I attended a forty-day memorial of a lady that lived to be 92 years old. She was a sweet lady who never said an unkind word about anyone. She never gossiped behind anyone's back. Instead, she would welcome friends and strangers to her home with a warm smile and a tray full of cookies and sweets. She was my hero. She wasn't an athlete or a stellar student. Nor was she a talented singer or musician. Instead, she excelled by being a friend, to the point of risking her own life.
In war, both the horrors and virtues of humanity are exposed. This is a story of a girl's goodness during WW II. As the German Army invaded the small Ionian island of Zakynthos, the island's religious leader, Bishop Demetrious Chrysostomos, ordered his priests to hide all the Jewish families on the island. As a result, all 275 Sephardic Jews were secretly hidden in various homes in remote mountain villages. The mayor of Zakinthos, Loukas Karrer, was asked at gunpoint to produce the names of all the Zakinthian Jews on the island on September 9th, 1943. The following day, the mayor presented the Nazi commander with a list of Jews on the island. It contained two names, the Bishop's and his own.
One little girl, Labriné, was happy to have a new friend stay with her. She and her family remained in the cellar beneath her parent's small stone home. The cellar was small, and barely fit a bed, let alone two. The house was precariously close to the road, so the family stayed hidden for most of the day. The German soldiers were harsh. Food supplies were scarce, and it was not uncommon for the German soldiers to storm your cellar for food. But Labriné's family risked death to save a Jewish family.
I asked Labriné about ten years ago about that time, and she said it was beautiful because she had met a new friend, and they quickly became the best of friends. She related that the priests feared retribution from the Nazis if their plot was discovered. But, Bishop Chrysostomos was very stern and forceful with his priest. So, in the end, the priests feared Bishop Chrysostomos more than Hitler.
The family stayed hidden in Labriné's home for over a year in the small town of Hartata, outside of Katastari. As soon as the war ended, not one Zakinthian Jew was discovered. All 275 had been saved. Her friend and her family, like many Zakinthian Jews, decided to move to Israel after the war.
The two girlfriends reunited years later in the 1990s. They hugged and kissed. They sat in the same old house, and Labriné doled over her friend; she even insisted upon her friend stay for dinner. The time seemed too short for both of them, for they had a lot of catching up. They showed pictures and talked about their grandchildren but mostly held hands and smiled. In the end, her friend had to leave, but Labriné just cried. She knew this would be the last time they would see each other. She would not let go of her wonderful hand. The last thing she said to her friend as she fought away the tears was, "When will I see you again? Promise me you will come back".
Labriné died on June 20th, 2022. May her memory be eternal.