Via the Athens News
YIANNIS Dimitriadis says he was always aware of his family’s wartime role in helping Greek Jews and that it still makes him very proud.
At a ceremony held in the Old Parliament building in Athens on January 18, Dimitriadis and his brother accepted the title Righteous among the Nations, awarded posthumously to their father, Nikos.
“It’s a great honour for our family to receive this recognition,” said Dimitriadis, an Athens businessman. “In a way, the award reflects a simple value that was always central to my family ethos – to be good to others.”
The medals were presented on behalf of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Institute and Museum in Jerusalem. The ceremony was part of the Greek events to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops.
Representatives of the Rovolopoulos and Kalligas families also received awards for their role in helping Greek Jews avoid arrest and death during the Nazi occupation (1941-1944) of the country.
Attending the ceremony was Thessaloniki native Yolanda Modiano Benuzilio, who, in 1943, found refuge at the Dimitriadis residence, an imposing building designed by Ernst Ziller located at the junction of Akadimias and Omirou streets in Athens.
When Yiannis Dimitriadis was young, he used to play with Yolanda Modiano’s daughters, before the family emigrated to Israel.
“My father, who was 25 when this happened, was the top of his class at university,” says Yiannis Dimitriadis. “His was an old, propertied Athenian family which didn’t have enemies and which always tried to help people.”
Modiano Benuzilio now lives in Jerusalem, where she has published a book recounting her experiences. The Dimitriadis and Modiano families have kept in contact since.
The granting of the title Righteous among the Nations is based on strict criteria and historical evidence, and the recent awards were made on the strength of an application submitted by Modiano Benuzilio.
The names of recipients are inscribed on a special wall at Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem. To date, 22,700 individual awards have been made, including 280 to Greeks.
Speaking at the event, Israel’s Ambassador to Greece Ali Yahya, said: “We are […] here to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit, the survivors who rebuilt their lives and those brave heroes who put themselves and their families at great risk to save their fellow Jewish citizens during the Nazi occupation.”
Previous Greek awardees include Damaskinos, archbishop of Athens, Angelos Evert, chief of police and father of politician Miltiadis Evert, and Loukas Karrer and Chrysostomos, wartime mayor and archbishop of Zakynthos, respectively.
The Modiano family rescue
YOLANDA Modiano was born in Thessaloniki. Because her father, Jacques, was of Italian origin, the family were not forced to wear the yellow stars and remain in the Jewish ghetto, established by the Nazis.
With great difficulty, in April 1943 the Modianos and some other Jewish families managed to make it to Athens, then considered somewhat safer than Thessaloniki for Jews, where they rented an apartment from Konstantinos Rovolopoulos.
In September 1943, when word spread that the Germans were seeking lists of the city’s Jews, Rovolopoulos urged the Modiano family to find shelter with his sister, Virginia Dimitriadou, who, with her two children, Fanis and Nikos, did everything she could to make them feel comfortable, despite the great personal risk.
A few days after moving in, Jacques Modiano died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Thanks to the help of Rovolopoulos and his nephew Nikos, a funeral was organised with false documents so that the burial could take place in a Christian cemetery.
Despite being interrogated by the Germans, Nikos Dimitriadis refused to reveal where his uncle’s Jewish tenants had gone.
The family subsequently found shelter with the Kalligas family.
Later, Yolanda and her widowed mother, Alin, along with another Jewish family, were spirited away to an area in Evia under the control of the Greek resistance.