Photographer Emmanuel Santos met one of the hidden Jewish Greek children who survived occupied Greece, Marios Sousis. His tale is told in the film Kisses to the Children.
“He is an incredible looking man, a strong character,” says photographer of diaspora communities, Emmanuel Santos. “He has this twinkle about him that in spite of what’s happened to him, he’s here to tell the tale and that’s a great pleasure for humanity itself.”
Santos is talking about Marios Sousis; one of the Greek Jewish children who were hidden by families during WWII. When he was just five, his father and other family members were taken by train to Auschwitz, never to return. He escaped the train by being saved by a Christian family in Greece.
Now well into his 70s, he still tells his story with vigour to remind all that in a time of pure evil, there can be good.
“He’s one of the most inspirational people I’ve met,” Santos tells Neos Kosmos, “not just as a human being, but his whole way of recollecting, and his dedication to giving voice to the Holocaust survivors of Greek nationality, is part of this whole inspiration which is himself; miracles happened in his life to be saved.”
For 25 years, Santos has dedicated his life’s work to documenting and photographing Jewish communities of the diaspora. For the first time last year, he visited Greece’s Jewish communities and photographed ten regions, which included Ioannina, Corfu, Halkidiki and Rhodes, just to name a few. Jewish communities have been fostered in Greece from the time the Romaniote communities were there in 586 BC, and the Jews who migrated from Spain following the Inquisition in 1492. Eighty-seven per cent of Greek Jews perished under the Nazi occupation of Greece in WWII; at the same time, many Greeks risked their lives by hiding Jews or helping them escape deportation.
“It’s a very old and fascinating community,” says Santos, “and in places like Corfu and Chalkidiki, I came across some of the oldest synagogues that I have encountered in my 25 years of documenting Jewish communities all over the world.”
During his time he met with important and significant members of the Jewish community and survivors of the Holocaust.
“The survivors were very hospitable and willing to talk about the history and the past and lives of the Jewish people in Greece and one of those was Marios, who gave us a very illuminating aspect of what it was like to be a hidden child during WWII.”
The film Kisses to the Children, directed by Vassilis Loules, tells Sousis’ story, along with another four Greek Jewish children who were saved by Christian families during the German occupation of Greece. This documentary also features Rosina, Iossif, Eftyhia, and Shelly, who reveal the true stories of their lives as children in hiding and the effects this has had into their adulthood.
It will be screened as part of the Holocaust Film Series (HFS), presented by Jewish International Film Festival (JIFF), that aims to highlight the resilience and courage of the human spirit through true stories of love, identity, hope and survival against the odds, and in that comes a tale of survival from Greece. This film also beautifully describes and recreates the lives of Greek Jewish communities before World War Two via rare archival material as well as amateur films by German soldiers and once-illegal footage shot by Greek patriots.
Santos will speak after the screening of the film – along with documentary maker Carol Gordon, with whom he travelled to Greece last year to shoot the documentary Shira’s Journey – about the history of the Greek Jewish community and their situation today.
Even though WWII is in the past, the survivors live it every day. And even more so now, says Santos, with the rise of Golden Dawn.
“We arrived in Greece at the height of Golden Dawn and now [Sousis’] attention is on that and he thinks is the Holocaust coming again with the neo-Nazis.”
In all the Jewish communities Santos and Gordon visited in Greece, he said that the rise of Golden Dawn was a “big concern” and that their “insecurities and fears have come back” due to their growing popularity.
“[Sousis] was reminiscing about the beginning of the German Occupation and said it was like a very poisoned flower about to bloom; we have to be aware of it,” Santos repeats Sousis’ warnings.
“As a person who survived the war and the Nazi occupation – where most of his family perished – the threat [of Golden Dawn] is very real,” says Santos.
The Holocaust Film Series showcases the passion of filmmakers young and old, united by their desire to make sense of an event that encouraged both the finest and most evil aspects of humankind. Films about the Holocaust tell universal stories as well as those that are deeply personal. They tap into the very human themes of courage, tragedy, identity and hope, often in an attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible. The Holocaust Film Series not only tells stories of the Holocaust, but also engages in a contemporary conversation about social justice and how the past relates to the present.
The documentary Shira’s Journey – that is part of the travels to Greece by Santos and documentary maker Carol Gordon – follows the journey of the character in the script written by Gordon. The shoot involved visiting 10 communities throughout Greece.
They envisage that as part of this film and book, launches, as well as exhibitions of photos by Emmanuel Santos, will be held in Melbourne and other major capitals worldwide.
Kisses to the Children will screen in Melbourne: Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick – Sunday 23 March, 3.30 pm and Sunday 29 March, 7.00 pm. Sydney Jewish Museum, Darlinghurst – Sunday 23 March, 4.00 pm.