This past Monday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a beautiful ceremony took place at Montreal’s City Hall. During this moving commemoration, the “Righteous Among the Nations” medal and certificate was awarded, posthumously, to Angelo Chalikias, a Greek who saved the life of the Jew, Niso Moustaki, during the Second World War.
The distinction was presented to Chalkias’ widow, Philomena, and his children, Jimmy and Olga, by Israeli Consul-General, Joel Lion, and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashemin in the presence of Montreal Mayor, Denis Coderre, and Greece’s Ambassador to Canada, Eleftherios Angelopoulos, as well as many dignitaries from the Jewish and Greek communities.
The accolade was given to late Angelo Chalikias in recognition of the Jewish people's gratitude for having saved late Niso Moustaki, a Jew persecuted in Greece by the Nazis during the war, at great risk to his own life.
The tribute was meant to shed light on one of the hundreds of stories of Jews in wartime Greece who were victimized by the Germans and on the courage of the many Greeks who risked life and family in order to hide the hunted.
The events that led to Niso’s rescue began in mid 1944. On June 7th of that year, the German and Greek police ordered the Moustaki family, along with many other Jews living on the Ionian island of Corfu, to congregate on a football field.
Until that day, Niso had been living a comfortable and happy life with his family, swimming and partaking in various sports and enjoying the company of friends. Besides his brother, Shlomo, who sought refuge with his family in a non-Jewish home, the rest of the Moustakis, including Niso’s father, Mordechai, his stepmother, Rosa, and his brother, Shalom, with his wife and three children, were taken to the soccer pitch without any forewarning.
Two days later, the SS and the police, with the assistance of the Wehrmacht, initiated the deportation of 1,850 Jews from Corfu to Auschwitz. The process began with the transfer of the Moustaki family and the other Jews living in Corfu to the old fort of the island from which they boarded a ship bound for the neighboring island of Lefkada. Upon their arrival in Lefkada, they were immediately emprisoned in a concentration camp without food or water for several days.
Soon after, Niso, who had been studying the patrolling Nazi guard for days, decided to escape. When the opportunity arose and with his father’s blessing in hand in the hope that at least one member of the family might survive, Niso made a run for it. To avoid being caught, he hid in shops, slept in vineyards, and for a short time, joined up with a group of rebels.
Then, one day, Niso, in dire need of a shave, walked into a barber shop in the small Lefkadian village of Spanohori. There, he was approached by a man who identified himself as Angelo Chalikias and who told him he recognized him as his father regularly frequented Corfu to buy soaps from Niso’s father.
Upon exiting the barbershop, a collaborator of the Nazis attempted to arrest Niso, only to have Angelo appear and whisk him away, claiming that Niso was under his responsibility.
For the following months, Niso would enjoy the warmth and hospitality of the Chalikias family which consisted of Angelo, his father, Dimitri, his mother, Olga, and his four sisters, Efthymia, Mavreta, Cleo and Andriana. The family refused Niso’s offer to work in exchange for the food and accommodation they provided.
Dressed as a peasant, Niso would try and mix with the locals. In case he needed to ' disappear,’ the Chalikias home, perched on top of the hill among the vineyards, provided excellent coverage.
Angelo confided that, despite the German surveillance, a boatman was sailing between Corfu and Lefkada and he asked Niso if he wanted to send a letter back home. But, instead of a note, Niso decided that he would go himself. Angelo tried to dissuade him from such a dangerous journey but Niso was adamant in his decision so Angelo provided him with his identity card, replacing his own photo with that of Niso’s.
Pretending to be fishermen, the two arrived at the port of Lefkada where Niso was to depart after nightfall. With tears in his eyes, Angelos refused to leave until he was certain that the boat carrying Niso had cast off.
Niso arrived safely and remained in Corfu until the liberation. Eventually, he left for Israel and settled in Kibbutz Ein Harod where he was married to Malka Amramand and had three daughters. Besides his brother, Shlomo, the entire Moustaki family was executed in Auschwitz.
For his part, Angelo Chalikias continued to participate in the resistance in Greece until war’s end. In 1949, he married Philomena and a year later, in Thessaloniki, they had a son, Dimitri . Seeking a better life for his family, Angelo emigrated to Ottawa, Canada in 1957. Two years later, Philomena and Dimitri followed him to Montreal where his daughter, Olga, was born in 1963.
In 1957, Niso began a correspondence with the Jewish Community of Ottawa. In one of his letters, he wrote, "After he (Angelo Chalikias) heard my plight, through his own free and good will…took it upon himself to hide me...He endangered both his own life and that of his family.” The letters were discovered by Angelo’s family after his death in 2012, at the age of 92, and were sent to Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority).
On February 19th, 2013, Yad Vashem recognized Angelo Chalikia as “Righteous Among the Nations.” To this day, this honorary distinction has been received by 315 Greeks, including the blessed Archbishop of Athens, Damascus, and Princess Alice of Vatemvergis.
Last Monday was a day of remembrance for the Jews but also a day of honoring the altruism of those who aided their plight during the Second World War.