What a demonstration of courage and character these Greek peasants had shown. A pity the world does not know more about them.” – Olga Lengyel, Author and Auschwitz survivor
These brief words in Ms. Lengyel’s book “Five Chimneys” began a very personal journey for me— to find and identify the story she was referring to about the “courage and character” of some unknown Greek peasants whose act had gone largely unrecognized by history.
Who were they? Where did they come from? What did they do to merit such admiration from a woman who had surely experienced numerous horrors— herself a survivor of Auschwitz and the only member of her family to survive.
What followed for me was an investigative journey that would take me half way around the world, to Poland where I spent several days at Auschwitz doing research and uncovering the truth about these 400+ Greek men who commanded such admiration from Ms. Lengyel.
I was fortunate to have the support of Piotr Malarek, a Polish translator and researcher who has helped countless people find traces of their families that were destroyed during the Holocaust.
Upon arrival at the camp, I quickly realized I had arrived at the ugliest place on earth– a place where hundreds of thousands of innocent people were brutally murdered in an assembly-line factory of death that was run like a well-oiled machine.
I uncovered documents that survived the fires that the Nazis set in order to conceal their brutality— quarantine records that listed the date of the arrival of the 400+ men and even their tattoo numbers. I also walked amongst the ruins of the crematoria— ruins because the Nazis blew these up too in a frenzied attempt to hide their atrocities from the oncoming liberators.Another document— testimony from a Polish doctor who shared his recollection of the incident— added to my growing folder of evidence as I started to piece together the mystery of these Greek heroes.
I found barrack number 8— one of the most bone-chilling experiences of my life to get to stand in the exact spot where these men lived their final days during the Summer of 1944.
It was June of 1944— the final train from Greece included about 2,000 prisoners— mostly Jews from Corfu and Athens.
Further research revealed that also onboard were political prisoners and numerous fellow Greek Christians who were arrested for being rebels or hiding Jewish families in their homes.
Of these 2000 Greeks, 1600— mainly elderly men, women and children were herded off the trains and sent directly to the crematoria for immediate death.
Four hundred or so men were considered able-bodied and healthy enough to be put to work in the camp and were immediately separated from their families and moved to the quarantine barrack— barrack number 8.
At the same time there was an influx of Hungarians arriving at the camp— the Hungarian Jewish ghettos had just been emptied and dozens of trains were arriving daily— the gas chambers and crematoria were working around the clock in order to murder people faster.
The Nazis needed more workers in their Sonderkommando units— those that had the grisly task of pushing lines and lines of unsuspecting people into the “undressing rooms” and eventually into the “showers” for “disinfection.”
Of course they weren’t showers but gas chambers and after the murderous task was done, Sonderkommando had to drag hundreds of bodies to the crematoria for incineration, but not before checking them for hidden jewelry, gold teeth or other items that might be worth something to the despicable Nazis.
After a few weeks in quarantine, the 446 Greeks were assigned the Sonderkommando unit. They were moved to the barack above the gas chambers and were given their instructions— and ordered to begin the following morning.
Hours later at the crack of dawn, these 446 Greek men made history.
Fast Forward to the Present Day
We’ve just wrapped filming the majority of the film. One scene remains which will be shot in New York City in January and after that, final editing, color correction and preparation for submission to film festivals throughout the world. I’m honored and proud to be a part of this process, which was led by my co-producer Joanna Tsanis, who transformed a few lines of a story that I wrote into a stunning film.
Stay tuned by following the Eleftheromania page on Facebook for regular updates about the film.
In August of 2014 I took a trip to Poland to visit Auschwitz and conduct research on the Eleftheromania film project. I documented my journey on my blog back then.
On the Set in Toronto filming Eleftheromania: