Thanks to Antonios and Areti Hatzis, two young Jewish boys in Athens, Greece, Zino and Solomon “Booly” Kofinas, and their grandmother, Perla, were saved from the Holocaust.
“Our parents were very, very, courageous to put their own family in jeopardy,” said Dimitra Georgiou, a longtime Ottawa resident and one of five daughters of Antonios and Areti. “Our parents saved the boys and their grandmother, but were unable to save their parents and baby sister.”
“Our parents rented space in the Kofinas’ house after my first sister was born in 1940,” said her sister, Tina Trigylidas. “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, with Greek Jews being deported to the Nazi death camps, the Hatzis family took action to help their Jewish friends.
“Our parents 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 came out when they thought it was okay,” Trigylidas said. “Our father told them not to come out, but they did. Unfortunately their lives ended right at that time.”
Dimitra, the second oldest, 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.”
As an adult, 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 – are also living here.
“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.”
She said that Jenny, who remained in Athens, gave an interview to a representative of the Kehila Kedosha of Janina Synagogue in New York in 2002. Kehila Kedosha Janina is the last remaining Romaniote synagogue in the western hemisphere and it has a museum showing the 2,300-year history of the Romaniote Jews of Greece.
“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 an expert 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 Claire Bercovitch, one her clients.
“My daughter Susan found Dimitra Georgiou as a seamstress, and I went to her,” said Bercovitch. “One day she told me, ‘I feel very close to the Jewish people,’ and she showed me a certificate done in honour of her parents by one of the boys her parents hid.”
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,” said Tina. 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.”