Ottawa resident Dimitra Georgiou, one of five daughters of Antonios and Areti Hatzis, told a touching story about how her parents saved two Jewish boys and their grandomother from the Holocaust in Greece.
“Our parents were very, very, courageous to put their own family in jeopardy. Our parents saved the boys and their grandmother, but were unable to save their parents and baby sister,” Dimitra Georgiou told the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
Dimitriou’s sister, Tina Trigylidas, also spoke to Ottawa Jewish Bulletin relaying the story of the courageous act of her parents who had rented a space in the house of the Kofinas Jewish family in Athens right before the German Occupation:
“Our parents rented space in the Kofinas’ house after my first sister was born in 1940. They had Dimitra in 1942 and Litsa in 1943. We had two rooms and a kitchen, they had two rooms and a kitchen, and there was a nice patio for all of us.”
In 1943, the persecution of Greek Jews was in full force and the Nazis were sending Greek Jews to the death camps in German occupied countries. The Hatzis family took action to help their Jewish friends, managing to hide Zino and Solomon Kofinas and their grandmother Perla and finally managed to save them from certain death.
“Our parent started to hide the boys and their grandmother Perla, who was rotated among different homes,“ said Tina. “The boys were looked after by my father and mother, and were hidden under the floor and in someone’s attic. Our father would take food to them and give my mother their clothes to be washed by hand.”
The boys’ parents and their baby sister were also being hidden in different homes, but they made the mistake to come out of their hiding – despite Antonios Hatzis’ advice – and they were killed by the Germans on the spot, Trigylidas said.
Dimitra Georgiou, the second oldest sister, grew up with the boys after the war and called them her brothers.
“One of them got TB and my mother visited him in hospital. We played games with them, and celebrated their Jewish holidays. We helped them make matzo balls,” she said.
Later, Solomon moved to New York City but returned to Athens often for visits while Zino stayed in Greece.
By 1966, most of the Hatzis family had moved to Ottawa. Dimitra and her husband Nicolis Georgiou, have children and grandchildren living in Ottawa, and three of her four sisters – Litsa Pantieras, who the parents lived with in Canada, Angie Karagiannis, and Tina Trigylidas – also live in Canada.
“I am also filled with emotion talking about our dear parents, and the tremendous courage they had risking their own lives, and the lives of their three children that they had at that time, Jenny, Dimitra, Litsa,” said Tina. “Jenny is the oldest and witnessed the atrocity of the Nazis placing a gun on our mother’s throat asking the whereabouts of their Jewish neighbours.”
“Zino Kofinas had asked for my sister to be interviewed. He said it was his last duty to my father for saving Zino and Solomon. After that interview, my parents’ names were placed on their wall of moral courage,” Tina said.
Dimitra is a good seamstress who did work for the families of prime ministers Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney, and the story of her parents’ heroism was brought to the attention of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin by one her clients.
Areti Hatzis passed away in 1987, and Antonios in 1999. Both are buried at Pinecrest Cemetery in Ottawa.
“During their time in Ottawa, they were surrounded with lots of love by their four loving daughters and wonderful sons-in-law, and the grandchildren kept coming,” Tina said. But they missed their oldest daughter, Jenny Karamoutsou, who was married before the rest of the family left and remained in Athens.
“Our father never talked about what he did,” said Tina. “If someone would ask him about it, his answer was, ‘I did what everyone could do for his neighbour, for a friend, for a human being.’ He was a very simple man with a lot of dignity,” the touching Ottawa Jewish Bulletin feature concludes.