A personal account by Dr. C. Leslie of historical and current events leading up to the erection of the Kos Holocaust
Memorial on 23 July 2001, recording those who perished after their deportation to Auschwitz, 23 July 1944.
Kos is the second largest island of the Dodecanese, smaller than Rhodes, but more centrally located, boasting the main airport
for the whole region. The 16C Traveler, Andre Thevet, wrote 'its colourful gardens and the fine fragrance of the flowers
make you believe that it is heaven on earth'. Not far off the beaten track one can still experience the same sentiments today.
The accident of geography that places Kos twenty minutes by sea from Turkey, has shaped all of its past. Not only has it
always been a wealthy centre of trade, but strategically important to a host of foreign powers.
At every turn there are historic ruins, including the famous Asklepion where Hippocrates (460-370 BCE) practiced his
medicine. Alas, such is the flaw in the psyche of man that the universal Hippocratic oath of caring for humanity was matched
in July1944 by the barbaric deportation of the Jewish community to Auschwitz, ending more than 2200 years of history.
This was not the first episode of persecution. As Kos changed hands like a shuttlecock between opposing armies, so, too, did
the fate of the community. Between 1306-1522 all Jews were expelled twice under the rule of the Knights of St. John, to
return again after the invasion by Suleyman the Magnificent in 1523. The Knights' imposing Castle still commands the
Harbour. There was a Blood Libel in 1850, under Ottoman occupation, but the Colonel in charge, Ramiz Bey, established
Jewish innocence. As we shall see, this is not the only example of a Turkish individual defending Jewish persecution.
War again, this time between Greece and Turkey, 1918-1923, led to an increase in population as Jews fled from Izmir. Their
number reached 160 by 1939. I am grateful for information supplied by Mr. Alfred Dunitz that the original Synagogue in the
hills, 'small but of great splendour' was built in 1747 by Eliza Tarica at his own expense. It was destroyed in the 1933
earthquake, to be replaced by the fine art deco building at 4 Alexandrou Diakou Street, close to the Harbour, and
recognizable by the Stars of David in the railings.
Italian troops invaded Kos in 1912, and the outbreak of World War 11 reinforced their presence. Such had been their tight
control of administration and the policy of 'Latinisation', that even in 1944 all Birth, Death and Marriage certificates were in
Italian. Looking at the ominous red stripe on the documents for every Jew made one realize how far back the community had
been in peril. The region suffered great hardship, hunger, and bombardment by the allies between 1940 and 1943. War
brings out the very worst in Man but perversely, occasionally, the best of spirit. Food supplies to the community were at
starvation levels. Observing their plight, the new commandant of the region in July 1942, Admiral I. Campione, enforced fair
distribution of food regardless of fascist dictates.
On 3 September 1943, the Italians surrendered. There was much rejoicing but fate played a cruel hand. The rescuing British
forces were out numbered by the Nazis who occupied the Island on the 3 October 1943 (an interesting account of the
campaign by the British Caithness regiment is at:www.internet-promotions.caithness). There were brave acts of Greek
resistance throughout the occupation, and after writing a courageous condemnation of persecution, the Archbishop of Athens,
Damaskinos, was threatened with the firing squad by the Nazi General Strop. Another example of indomitable spirit can be
seen across the harbour in Pothia where a number of citizens bravely painted their houses blue and white, the colours of the
banned Greek Flag.
The Nazi response to such things was demonstrated shortly after their arrival. They impressed their might by hanging non-
Jewish patriots, Elias Kapiris and George Zoumpoulikos, and the same fate befell Theokritos Kostoglou, Anezoula Patakou
and Stamatia Peri in April 1945.
For the Jewish community, all that had been feared throughout the war came to be on July 23, 1944. A few days earlier two
senior Nazi officers met with the elders of the community with instructions that listed Jews were to congregate in the
harbour. Despite the issue for Rhodes and Kos of some 42 exit visas by the Turkish Consul, Salahattin Ulkemen, an act
recorded in his honour at Yad Vashem, three small cargo boats transported some 2000 souls from the islands to Piraeus. First
hand accounts of the bestiality of the eight day boat journey and the subsequent 13 day train journey, where those who died
were unceremoniously thrown off, can be found in 'The Juderia: A Holocaust Survivor's Tribute to the Jewish Community of
Rhodes' (Laura Vardon, Prager, 1999) and 'The Jewish Martyrs of Rhodes and Kos' (Hiskia M. Franco, Harper Collins,
In the nine months before the War in Europe had ended, nine in every ten of those deported from Rhodes and Kos had died.
Of the 116 deportees from Kos, 104 perished. The Jewish population of this once small but proud community now stands at
three, the children of the late Moshe Menasce. Survivors do return but it is not easy - 'I fear so much I would hear the
whispers of my people in the streets' (Laura Vardon, p.166).
I first visited the Island in early July 2000. I knew from the Guide Books of the old cemetery where headstones ceased in
1944, and the sale of the Synagogue to the Municipality because there was no longer a community to attend it. I had decided
to pay my respects, although not to devote too much time from my holiday. The Synagogue was well tendered, but with a
large lock on the gates. The cemetery was less easy to find. If one goes to the small village of Platini from Kos town and
turns right at the cross roads, it is a few minutes drive on the right just after the Muslim cemetery. The clue once more is a
Star of David in the railings. It was also locked. By the side, outside the walls, is a small plot with flattened headstones dating
back to 1715. Sadly, then at least, the plot was covered with rubbish.
And so to the Dry Cleaner.
It was necessary to have a garment cleaned and I found the shop in the old town, open with piles of clothes everywhere and a
work table at the back on which sat an elderly man, feet not touching the floor, sewing some garment. A childhood image
came back to me that I had seen sixty years earlier in a ramshackle workshop in the East End of London where my old
grandfather, a refugee from Eastern Europe, sat cross legged, sewing in the sane way. Fraught with emotion, I asked myself a
still unanswered question. How could anyone take such people as these, innocent of any crime, together with their wives,
their children, their grandchildren, dispossess them of their homes and belongings, transport them to a foreign land in
conditions unfit for animals, put them in a gas chamber, and murder them? It was a haunting image.
Shame on one that the true realization of the Holocaust had come late, but from then on I was determined to honour the Kos
community, the memory of which seemed to me to have simply been discarded. I met with Michel Menasce, whose family
were amongst the survivors, and before returning from Kos, was courteously received by officials of the Tourist Office. They
readily agreed in principle to the erection of a plaque memorial and the issue of a brochure on the fate of Jews.
On the 16 July 2000, a three-pronged approach was launched, which ultimately was to take more than a year to complete.
Aaron Hasson of the Jewish Museum of Rhodes agreed to search out a list of those deported from Rhodes and Kos. It was on
my desk in a matter of days with other important references and an introduction to Stella Levi, whose help I will
By the 3 August 2000 I had already received a reply from the author Nikos Stavrolakis (Jewish Sites and Synagogues of
Greece, Talos Press, 1992). He has been retained to effect repairs in the Cemetery and whilst this is subject to financial
restraints it is clearly stated on the KIS (Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece) budget proposals (www. Kis.gr/)
Civil and Religious offices were contacted, at first with the intention that Greek authorities would complete the plaque. In
addition to my own contact with the Mayor's Culture office, Leon Gabrielides Director of KIS, was asked to follow up the
approval and in turn also wrote to the Mayor in November 2000. A special response came from the Chief Rabbi in London
who I had asked to send details of my progress in Kos to his counterpart in Greece. His office introduced me to Mr. Alfred
Dunitz JP. CC. Already responsible for good works in England, he approached the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs with
an account of Jewish history in Kos and, through the very generous auspices of the Greek Embassy in London, wrote to the
Mayor of Kos through Diplomatic channels on February 10 2001.
Added to the contacts already made there is absolutely no doubt that Mr. Dunitz' contribution greatly confirmed and
accelerated the approval process. On 28 February 2001, in a fine gesture, the Mayor, Miltiadis Fakkos, and Municipality
formally approved the Memorial and its cost 'out of respect and sensitivity for the Community'. Mr. Dunitz deserves much
praise for his skill and energy and his very significant input.
Obtaining a list of Kos deportees was a difficult task requiring 3 months full time activity. I am grateful to those who covered
my workload during that time. The early list of Hiskia M. Franco provides Kos Family names only, not individual members,
and the total for Rhodes and Kos combined is low in number. The incomplete source data was in fact provided by the British
Home Office (Kos was under British administration until 31 March 1947) but is was at least a first attempt. Zvi Bernhardt of
Yad Vashem kindly sent me personal testimony of survivors and the combined list 'A La Memoire des Communautes
Martyres de Rhodes et Kos', with the considered view that it would not be possible to sort out the Kos names.
Shortly after, I received a revised version of the Rhodes and Kos list, drawing on Professor Abraham Galante's work, which
had been produced by David Galante (a Rhodes survivor), and Rita Eskenazi (nee Levitus). Thanks to the help of Moise
Rahmani I was able to contact Rita Eskanazi in South America. By referring also to Professor Lillian Picciotto Fargion's list
and an important contribution from Viktor Alcana, a Sephardi genealogical specialist, the Kos list started to take shape. I
should like to express my sincerest thanks to all concerned. The bulk of the work came from Rita who would communicate
into the early hours of her night to coincide with daylight time here, and wake early to get communications back.
There were still many individual queries and in the USA Stella Levi's knowledge of the Camp and her subsequent contact
with survivors and relatives, was indispensable. She, her Mother and Sister survived, but her Father alas did not. Her personal
encouraging comments to me urged on the work when there seemed no light in the tunnel. I cannot thank her enough. She is
now engaged with others on ensuring the Synagogue stays open so that the Memorial is on display for all.
Two more inputs were also received. The first was from the Greek Historian V.S. Hatzivassilliou, who had a record of Kos
births, deaths and marriages, and the second from Mr. Theodosis Diakogianis, who over several months equally laboriously
researched the Italian records and arrest lists. I must take the responsibility for the final list of 104 names, on which I made
one subjective decision. Where in a few cases husbands and wives were separated, one living on Kos, the other on Rhodes, I
have included them together.
Hiskia M. Franco made a plea in his book that July 23 should become a commemorative day and the Mayor kindly agreed to
that date for the unveiling. It was thought that only a small number would attend but some thirty five people were present,
including the Mayor and President of the Municipal Board, Presidents, senior officials and members of representative bodies,
Mr. Theodosis Diakogianis, the Menasce families, visitors from as far as Istanbul, and TV and other media.
The Mayor gave an opening address concluding with his hope that the younger generation would become aware of their
history and so strengthen the resolve to deal with the challenges of today. Mr. Dunitz gave a moving eulogy and prayed for
the deceased, whilst I had the opportunity of describing the events 57 years earlier, and of thanking the Mayor, his staff,
Katerina Gerasimou and Nikos Sofos, and Mr. Diakogianis. Mr. Dunitz and myself then unveiled the Memorial in the
vestibule of the Synagogue.
At the back of the Synagogue was a lady who stayed on after the ceremony. She was looking intently at the Memorial and
explained to me that her father had been the Headmaster on the Island during the occupation, and had often mentioned to her
in sadness the name of a young pupil who had been deported and died. She had come to pay her respects. We shook hands.
'Let the names of those who perished be remembered for ever'.
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