The wartime Archbishop of Athens, Damaskinos was born on March 3, 1891 in Dorvitsia in central Greece. He was head of the church during the difficult years of the Nazi occupation. He was the only mainstream Christian leader in all of Europe to openly defy Hitler’s plans to exterminate Jews with a strongly-worded letter he sent to the commanding officer of the Nazis in Athens, objecting to their deportation.
His famously defiant response to the Nazi, when he was threatened with death by firing squad, has gone down in history. “It is the tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church that its hierarchs are hung, not shot,” he said. Damaskinos was actively involved in the survival of Athens’ Jewish community by colluding with then police chief Angelos Evert to issue false ID cards to Jews bearing Christian names, effectively saving thousands of lives. Damaskinos has been honored in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial as “Righteous of the Nations” for his part in saving Jews during the Holocaust.