“I’m a Greek but it seems I’m kind of different from my fellow countrymen. Most of the people in my family have uncommon names that don’t really sound Greek like Rachel, Daniel, and Nissim. Till the 1940s, these names were not uncommon in my country. But while I was growing up, they were. My grandfather had an uncommon name, as well: Leon. I never met him. Mom describes him as adorable, charming, and funny. His life was just as uncommon…”
This is the introduction to the ground-breaking documentary film “My People” by Anna Rezan, whose grandfather Leon was arrested by German Nazi occupiers in Athens during WWII. Rezan’s Jewish great-grandmother, Rachel, was deported and lost her life in Auschwitz.
“My People” relates the stories of Greek-Jewish victims and survivors of the Holocaust, as well as the heroic resistance of the Greeks against the Nazis. The film is the “brainchild” of Rezan, whose mother is a Greek Jew and father a Greek Christian. Rezan, 30, wrote, produced, directed, and narrated the film mainly by herself. She dedicated 7 years to thoroughly researching the history of the Holocaust, Greece’s resistance against the Nazi occupation, and her own Jewish-Greek family origins in making this documentary.
The multi-talented Rezan, known well as an actress, filmmaker, and musician with a fashion model background, began the project alongside cinematographer Zafeiris Haitidis, completing it in 2022. It was co-produced by Academy Award-winning Mitchell Block and multi-Academy Award-winning Kim Magnusson. John and Jason Filippidis, Eleni Purgioti and Pantelis Kodogiannis serve as Executive Producers.
Rezan first went to Auschwitz to find out more about her Jewish family roots and about the story of her great-grandmother who was killed in Auschwitz. During her voyage, she learned about the history of the Jews of Greece — a history that she recounts in her breathtaking documentary.
The film sheds light on the largely unknown resistance of Greece against the Nazis. It includes the moral courage of the Greek Orthodox Church, its clergy, the Greek Christian civilians, and the Greek guerrilla fighters across the country that helped save thousands of Greek Jews. This Greek resistance was instrumental in the defeat of Nazi Germany and her allies and the ending of WWII. See the official trailer here.
Rezan describes in the documentary how Greece was targeted by Italy and Germany during WWII:
“On October 28, 1940, the Italian government led by fascist Benito Mussolini gave an ultimatum to Greece allowing the Axis forces to enter and occupy the country. The Prime Minister of Greece, Ioannis Metaxas, simply responded “oxi”, meaning “no” in Greek. In response, the Italians, aided by Albania, attacked Greece.”
Alongside the Greek military approximately 13,000 Jews, including Rezan’s grandfather Lian, fought in the Greek-Italian war.
“Although the Greeks were poorly equipped, they fought heroically, and forced the invaders to retreat… Up until then, it was the Axis powers’ most significant defeat.”
This highly important historical fact will now become better known because of this heartwarming piece of cinema.
“Following desperate pleas from Mussolini’s government for help, Nazi Germany invaded Greece on April 6, 1941. Despite the Greeks’ valiant resistance, the country was overrun by the Nazis.”
During the Nazi occupation of Greece, Rezan narrates, “Jews were forced by the Nazis to submit ‘wealth declarations’ and to wear the yellow star. They were also prohibited from practicing their professions in German-occupied areas.”
“On March 15, 1943, the nightmare of the Jewish community unfolded as the Nazis implemented the final solution,” Rezan relates. Trains started deporting Greek Jews to Auschwitz.
One of the most significant aspects of this history is the unique role the Greek Orthodox Church played in its resistance to the Nazis. As the cruelty of the Nazis increased, so did the courageous resistance of the Greek Orthodox Church. Archbishop Damaskinos, the archbishop of Athens and of Greece, issued a letter of protest to the German Nazis. This was signed in Athens by the Archbishop himself and 27 other prominent Greek leaders. The letter, which protested against the persecution of Jews by the Nazis, reads in part as follows:
“Our Holy Religion does not recognize superior or inferior qualities based on race or religion… Our common fate, both in days of glory and in periods of national misfortune, forged inseparable bonds between all Greek citizens…
The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has said: “There is no similar document of protest of the Nazis that has come to light.”
The Nazis’ plans were countered by strong local resistance as well. Rezan gives further examples:
“The police chief of Athens, Angelos Evert, issued thousands of false identity papers to desperate Jews. Rezan’s grandfather Leon was one of them…”
“Hundreds of Greek Orthodox priests and civilians were deported to the death camps for having helped Jews.”
The documentary tells the stories of Greek Jews not as only victims but also as resistance fighters. For instance, the ranks of the Ethnikós Dimokratikós Ellinikós Sýndesmos, or National Republican Greek League (EDES), and the Ethnikó Apeleftherotikó Métopo, or National Liberation Front (EAM), who fought against Nazi occupiers included many Greek Jews.
Various stories from Greece will fascinate the spectators.
“In the port city of Volos, the birthplace of Rezan’s family, the EDES and EAM protected the Jewish community…”
The courageous resistance of the Greek island of Crete was also extraordinary.
“Crete was vital to Hitler’s plan to take over north Africa. Germany attacked Crete by an airborne assault,” Rezan reports in the film.
The documentary features interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses of the Holocaust at Auschwitz and during the Nazi occupation of Greece.
A Greek Jewish Holocaust survivor Rezan interviewed said:
“At Auschwitz there was a children’s hall called ‘Kinder’. They [Nazis] were obsessed with identical twins. They took identical twins and opened their scalps to examine their differences. One went crazy. They cut the penis off of another. So the victim could never have children. They experimented on children. None of them [children] returned.”
Rezan then recounts another case of brave resistance to Nazis in Greece:
“Meanwhile in the island of Zakynthos, bishop Chrysostomos and the island’s mayor, Loukas Karrer, were commanded by Nazis to surrender a list of the Jews living on the island. They defiantly responded with two names: their own.”
The Holocaust survivors that Rezan interviewed discussed not only the persecution and torture they and other prisoners were subjected to, but also the rebuilding of their lives after liberation. Also, one of the incidents the documentary reveals is the courageous, self-sacrificial revolt of a group of Greek-Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz.
“Meeting these survivors was a life altering experience. They represent happy endings in real life. They are the epitome of courage,” Rezan said in an interview with the author of this piece.
“‘Love brings love, and it is the greatest power of all’ is my motto and they are the first three words of the name of my film production company. The message in my motto has been an absolute inspiration to me. Hopefully, it can inspire others, as well. These resilient people decided to continue their lives, get married, have families, and be grateful for what they still had in their lives. They are real-life superheroes.
“Even though the Holocaust survivors experienced terrible traumas and horrific, atrocious situations, the ability to transform this experience into something positive and powerful is so impressive. It becomes a universal message that empowers the audience to believe in love and life.”
Rezan stated how excited she is that the film competed at the Vail Film Festival, which is a favorite of hers.
“We had our world premiere in LA and the next stop was Chicago. We won the “Audience Award” following our premiere in New York which was hosted by the Hellenic Film Society. We also had our New Jersey premiere hosted by AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) and various other locations. Our international premiere will happen soon at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (TDF) in Greece. We would like to have an Israeli premiere as well.
“The film is a love letter to Greece with universal messages. I hope that ‘My People’ will become available globally soon,” Rezan added.
Already this new film, “My People”, is a classic, and it should be shown at schools, universities, film festivals, and other venues across the world.
“My People” is described as “a hymn to love and courage as it is discovered by a young woman in her quest to uncover her Greek Jewish family’s history.” This documentary is undoubtedly one of the most significant depictions of the Holocaust ever made. It is awe-inspiring to view, particularly on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a reminder of how one can remain courageous and stand against evil even when plunged into the bleak darkness of its abyss.