MONTREAL — On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Jewish and Greek communities, along with civic and diplomatic officials, gathered at Montreal city hall to honour a little-known local man who risked his life during World War II to save a Jewish stranger.
Mayor Denis Coderre and Greek Ambassador Eleftherios Anghelopoulos were among the diginitaries paying tribute to the late Angelo Chalikias, who was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s Holocaust authority, Yad Vashem.
The posthumous induction ceremony was held by the Israeli Consulate in this city where Chalikias settled after immigrating from his native Greece in 1957.
The true extent of Chalikias’s heroism only came to light after his death in 2012 at age 92, when his family found letters of gratitude from the man he sheltered, Niso Moustaki, also now deceased.
His son, Dimitrios Chalikias, said his father was a “simple man,” who would have been uncomfortable with the grandeur of the tribute being paid to him in the city hall’s majestic foyer.
In a video message from Moustaki’s family in Israel, his eldest daughter, Rivka Marom, said Angelo was an apt name. “It was like he was sent from heaven,” she said in Hebrew.
On June 7, 1944, Moustaki, his parents and his siblings were among the 1,850 Jews on the island of Corfu rounded up by the Germans and Greek police for deportation to Auschwitz. He escaped during a stopover on Lefkas, an island south of Corfu.
Moustaki had been on the run for several days when he entered a barbershop in the village of Spanokori, where Chalikias recognized him as the son of the man from whom his father bought soap.
For the next couple of months, Moustaki was sheltered by Chalikias, his parents and four sisters, who asked for nothing in return.
Moustaki insisted on returning to Lefkas, despite Chalikias’s warning of the danger. Chalikias gave him his own identification papers, replacing his photo with one of Moustaki. He stayed with Moustaki, disguised as a peasant, until he was safely on his way aboard a barge.
After liberation in Corfu, Moustaki immigrated to Israel and settled in Kibbutz Ein Harod. Except for a brother, his entire family died in Auschwitz.
He married and had three daughters, and today, there are seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, many of whom appeared in the video.
His widow, Malka, said that from the time they first met, Moustaki spoke of how he owed his life to Chalikias.
Chalikias, who was involved in the Greek resistance until war’s end, married Filomeni in 1949, and Dimitrios (Jimmy) was born in Salonika a year later. A daughter, Olga, also present at the ceremony with her mother, was born in Montreal.
In 1957, Moustaki wrote the first of a number of letters to the Jewish community of Ottawa telling how Chalikias had willingly endangered his own life and that of his family to rescue him.
One year ago, Yad Vashem recognized Chalikias as a righteous gentile.
The Righteous Among the Nations medal and certificate were presented to the Chalikias family by Israel Consul General Joel Lion. He said the United Nations-designated day was “not about laying wreaths and making nice speeches… It’s about education – schools have to teach” about the Holocaust and its lessons.
Students from Bialik High School and École Socrates, a private Greek school, participated in the ceremony, the Jewish students singing Hebrew songs.
This was the first time a righteous among the nations ceremony was held at city hall.
A solemn Mayor Coderre recalled how his visit to Yad Vashem changed him.
“We have a duty to remember, to be aware of this atrocity,” he said, quoting the Talmud: “He who saves one life, saves the entire world” and concluding: “Never again.”
Yaron Ashkenazi, executive director of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, said Chalikias was one of a very small minority who did what was morally right during the Holocaust, and Israel and the Jewish People are forever grateful.
Dimitrios Chalikias said, “We came here to remind ourselves of two things: the evil that men can do and, at the same time, their kindness and courage…
“My father was a simple man. He did what he did because it was the right thing to do.”
The ceremony’s MC was Naomi Azrieli, chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation, which publishes memoirs of survivors living in Canada. Copies of the books were distributed free that day.