Bearing Witness: Stories Behind the Artifacts in the Yad Vashem Museum Collection

Preserving the Traditions of an Ancient Community

Moshe Matza's circumcision kit, which he used in Zakinthos during the war years. The kit includes socks for the baby. According to his granddaughter, “grandpa wanted each baby to be properly dressed for the festive occasion and thus he kept a pair of socks for the babies whose parents were too poor to afford socks for the babyMoshe Matza's circumcision kit, which he used in Zakinthos during the war years. The kit includes socks for the baby. According to his granddaughter, “grandpa wanted each baby to be properly dressed for the festive occasion and thus he kept a pair of socks for the babies whose parents were too poor to afford socks for the baby   More photos

The town of Zakinthos is located on the island of the same name, the westernmost of the Greek islands. From 1482-1797, Zakinthos was under Venetian rule, then British, and since 1864, it has formed part of Greece. The presence of a Jewish community there is documented as far back as the Venetian period. From May 1941 through September 1943, the island was subject to Italian rule. When Italy surrendered to the Allies, the area was then taken over by the Nazis. The island was liberated in September 1944.

A reign of terror ensued as soon as the Nazis took power. The mayor, Lucas Carrer, consistently evaded the Nazis’ demands for lists of Jewish inhabitants, and Carrer and Archbishop Christomo Dmitri were eventually successful in saving the island’s Jews from deportation. They found the Jews hiding places in the neighboring villages, and only gave the Nazis their own names, as opposed to a complete list. Despite the Nazis’ tempting offers of food and money to anyone who would report a Jew’s location, none of the inhabitants were prepared to betray his Jewish compatriots. According to further testimonies, the commander of the partisan organization on the island, Dimitri Catvatis also sided with the Jews, and warned the Nazi commander of the island against deporting them.

The community of Zakinthos is the only Greek Jewish community that was saved in its entirety from extermination. After the war, most of Zakinthos’s Jews immigrated to Eretz Israel. In 1984, Molcho, the last Jew living on the island, died and was buried in the local cemetery.

The Matza family – parents Moshe and Esther (née Porta), and seven of their nine children: Rosa, Shulamit, Devora, Michal, Dino, Avraham and Herzl were hidden by Stephanos and Panayiota Villiardo in the village of Katastari. Their son Shlomo immigrated to Eretz Israel before the war. Their son Aharon, who left the island and moved to his wife’s hometown in Corfu, was deported to Auschwitz together with the rest of Corfu’s Jews, and perished.

In an effort to maintain his large family while in hiding, Moshe spent each day going to different villages and selling haberdashery from his traveling stall with the help of his older children.

Moshe, who served as a cantor and mohel in his community and in the Jewish communities of the Greek Isles, continued, fuelled by a sense of mission, to fulfill these duties during the Nazi occupation, in spite of the grave danger.

After his death during the festival of Hannuka, in December 1944, his daughters Michal and Devorah kept his circumcision instruments and brought them to Israel when they immigrated.

Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection,
Gift of Michal (Matza)Albela, Dvora (Matza) Levi and Sheila (Albela) Cohen, Israel