Evangelis, Helene and Michalis Voliotis rekindle the Eternal Flame in the Hall of Remembrance
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31 May 2016
On 31 May 2016, Yad Vashem held a ceremony posthumously honoring Apostolos and Maria Voliotis from Greece as Righteous Among the Nations. Following a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, the medal and certificate were presented to the children of Apostolos and Maria Voliotis, Evangelis, Helene and Michalis Voliotis, by Director of the Yad Vashem Righteous Among the Nations Department Irena Steinfeldt and Greek Holocaust survivor Moshe Ha-Elion in the presence of Ambassador of Greece to Israel H.E. Mr. Spyridon Lampridis.
At the ceremony Apostolos Voliotis, grandson of Apostolos and Maria, spoke of his grandparents: "They were two simple people, from a small village, who disregarded the potential ramifications of their actions and offered refuge to the Hakim family, an act in the spirit of 'Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself'... It is my hope that their actions will serve as an example to the generations to come of bravery, tolerance and humanity." Survivor Abraham Hakim described his family's reunion with their rescuers: "Maria was very moved to see us... After 52 years, she remembered everything about our family, every detail. She said, 'Why would anyone want to murder you? You were just young children. They only wanted to murder you because you were Jewish... Despite the great risk and danger we encountered by saving you, I would do it all again today."
The Rescue Story
The Hakim family lived in Volos, a coastal city in Thessaly, central Greece. Eliahu Hakim and his brother Leon were traveling salesmen, and became friendly with a non-Jewish grocer Voliotis who lived in the village of Lechonia. With the occupation of the southern part of Greece by the Germans in September 1943, the situation for the Jews became dangerous and the Hakim family were forced to leave their home. On 30 September, the German commander of the Volos province approached Rabbi Moshe (Moissis) Pessah and demanded that he hand over a list with the names of all of the Jews of Volos. Rabbi Pessah turned to Archbishop Ioakim Alexopoulos (recognized as Righteous Among the Nations in October 1997) for assistance, and at the same time warned the community against the pending danger. Eliahu Hakim found a horse and buggy, and together with his family - his wife Anna, children Yulia-Levana, Abraham, David and Moshe, and his brother Leon - managed to flee the town to the Pillion Mountains. When they arrived in Lechonia, the family immediately sought out their grocer friend Voliotis, who made contact with his brother Apostolos from the nearby village of Karabas.
Apostolos Voliotis welcomed the Hakim family and arranged a hiding place in his packinghouse, which was located on the outskirts of the village. The Jewish refugees stayed there for more than a year, under the careful watch of Apostolos and his wife Maria. Conditions were difficult; they lived mainly off the fruits from a local orchard and leafy greens and fungi that Apostolos taught them to forage from the nearby forest. Once a week, Anna and Leon would go into the village to stock up on a few groceries and other necessities. Eliahu suffered from a stomach ulcer that caused him great pain, and was unable to leave the hideout. The Germans carried out regular searches of the area in an effort to catch partisans and Jews, among others, often together with the assistance of local Greek collaborators. During these searches, the Hakim family would hide in caves in the area.
After the war, Levana Shalish recalled that during one of these raids they were spotted by the Germans; Apostolos Voliotis maintained his composure and claimed that they were his workers, and the Germans left them alone. When the Germans set up an outpost in the monastery overlooking Apostolos Voliotis's packinghouse, the Hakim family relocated to a small cabin concealed by trees. During that time, other relatives of the Hakim family moved into the first hiding place, but were caught a short time later. In light of the growing threat, the family decided to leave the village and go deeper into the mountains. They wandered from one village to another in search of shelter and food, somehow surviving until liberation. After the war, the family returned to their home in Volos. In 1946, they decided to leave Greece and came to Eretz Israel aboard the illegal immigrant ship Henrietta Szold.