In 1943, the Germans began the persecution and deportations of the Jews of Greece to concentration camps. Archbishop Damaskinos, who was the spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox people of Greece, formally protested the actions to the Prime Minister, together with the leading citizens of the country, including university professors and scholars.
The appeal of Damaskinos reads in part:
”In our national consciousness, all the children of Mother Greece are an inseparable unity; they are equal members of the national body irrespective of religion (as it is stated): ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek’ and thus condemns any attempt to discriminate or create racial or religious differences. Our common fate in both days of glory and in periods of national misfortune forged inseparable bonds between all Greek citizens, without exemption, irrespective of religion…
Today we are…deeply concerned with the fate of 60,000 of our fellow citizens who are Jewish…we have lived together in both slavery and freedom, and we have come to appreciate their feelings, their brotherly attitude, their economic activity, and most important, their indefectible patriotism…”
Archbishop Damaskinos went ahead and published the letter, even though the Nazi Commander of Athens threatened to execute him by firing squad.
Damaskinos’ famous response to him was:
”According to the traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church, Greek Priests are hung and not shot. Please respect our traditions!”
The churches under his jurisdiction were also ordered quietly by Archbishop Damaskinos to distribute false baptismal certificate to Jews, saving thousands of them in and around Athens.
83% of Jews that lived in Greece prior to the Holocaust were exterminated by the Nazi Regime. However approximately 10,000 people were saved, due mostly to the hard work of the Greek Orthodox Church and thousands of ordinary citizens throughout the country who refused to cooperate with Hitler’s final solution.
The Central Board of the Jewish Communities has honored Archbishop Damaskinos this year with a plaque on his statue in front of the Cathedral of Athens. Archbishop Damaskinos is one of the Righteous honored by Yad Vashem and the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.