This year Greece has made more headlines about a Neo Nazi hate group called Golden Dawn infiltrating society than her sandy beaches and illustrious history. We witnessed hate groups attacking immigrants in public and Nazi symbols parading on the streets of the birthplace of democracy.
"This is not my Greece," I thought to myself. This wasn't the Greece of my father and grandfather, who told me stories of fighting for freedom during the Second World War against these very animals who tried to bring tyranny to their land.
I often wonder what my dad, or grandparents would say today -- all of whom stared Nazis in the face and defied them on Crete during the invasion and occupation 70 years ago -- as they infiltrate Greek parliament and society like rats and spread their vile on a generation of Greeks that didn't experience the hardships and hatred of the Nazis. I often wonder. But they are not here to answer my questions.
Several months ago, along with Steven Priovolos, I launched a project under the auspices of the Greek America Foundation, to shed light and immortalize a story of humanity during World War II that has gone largely unknown on today's Greek, American and world society.
The short film project is called No Man is an Island and will tell the story of the complete survival of the Jewish community of Zakynthos, a Greek island that was overcome by Nazi oppression like the rest of Greece, during the dark years of World War II.
The story is special because it shows how the complete populate of the island -- 35,000 Orthodox Christians led by their mayor and archbishop, said "no!" to Hitler's final solution, opting instead to side with humanity.
Thanks to the leaders' continued courage and the islanders' steadfast refusal to betray their fellow Greek neighbors who happened to be Jews, all the Jews of Zakynthos survived the war. In the rest of Greece, more than 80 percent of the Jewish population was killed in the Holocaust.
Greek society is under threat today and it's films like these -- stories like these -- that will shed light on the Greece that I know, on the Greek people who I grew up around and was raised by.
The foundation has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for this project, which will shoot on the island of Zakynthos and pay tribute to the island that is known throughout the world as the Island of the Righteous. All of the film's producers and creative team thus far have agreed to work on a pro bono basis, realizing the significance of this story.
One of our early supporters was Frank Kakouros, a friend from Toronto who understands the significance of these efforts not only as a Greek, but also as a Canadian who has personally experienced the scourge of Neo-Nazis in his own hometown. His message to me:
In another lifetime, many years ago when I was still teaching, I encountered the ugliness of Nazism. I was teaching a unit on the Holocaust to class of grade nines.
One student was constantly disrupting the class always denying the Holocaust. I discovered from another teacher that he was a new recruit of a Neo Nazi group that at the time (23 years ago) infiltrating high schools and conscripting new members. The bitterness and hatred that this 14-year-old kid was espousing in my history class turned my stomach.
I took the kid out in the hallway and we had a discussion-- teacher and student. He was so blind to the truth because he had been fed a pack of lies. As a teacher I always wanted to give students the tools they needed for their own decision-making. This kid was completely without the power to think on his own because of the hate-filled diatribes he was being fed.
I made it a point to be graphic about the holocaust with my class and presented the ugliness that was, all before the advent of the internet no-less (using reel to reel projectors). At the end of the unit, the kid who was originally clueless had all the evidence he needed to dispute the deniers who would have him espouse filth.
Not sure why I even wrote this to you Greg. But somewhere in there is my rationale for spreading the truth and this story. Without knowledge we are clueless."
Follow Gregory C. Pappas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@gregpappas