Athens, Greece

My name is Joseph Koen. I was born in Athens on the 12th of December, 1938. I am 77 years old and I have lived a whole adventure with my family that started since the occupation of Greece by the German Army on the 27th of April, 1941.

I remember the year the newspapers were reporting that the Germans had occupied Greece. The German Army had announced that all Jews living in Athens would be able to live in the city safely provided they reported their names at the synagogue for the German official records.

Many Jews did not believe them and joined the resistance. My father did not believe them, either. As a result, we escaped to Marousi where we were protected by a resistance group called EAM. We also changed our name from Koen to Papadopoulos for our protection. We were changing hiding locations very often so as not to be traced by the Germans. One time we were all sleeping at a very small side building of a villa that was meant to be inhabited by the security guard. He used to give us every now and then a single potato for the family to eat. Most of the time we were starving.

My parents could not work because if they did so, they were risking being recognized by the Germans. My father was pretending to be a tuberculosis sufferer to justify the fact that he was not working. When he had to go downtown he was always going on foot following side-paths. He was never using a bus because they were frequently stopped and checked by Germans with the help of informers in order to arrest more Jews. Sometimes these informers were giving false information to them, making them believe they were indeed turning in Jews and members of the resistance in order to win their favor.

One day my father was too late for our lunch and we were very worried. When he got back he was pale and frightened and said that we should immediately leave the place because they had arrested the Jews at the synagogue. On Friday, the 24th of March, 1943, the Germans said they were going to distribute flour at the synagogue and called all the Jews there. Then they locked the doors and captured everyone present. In the afternoon a track showed up and they were all taken to a jail in Chaidari.

Sometime later, we had to live to a house next to a horse stable and I contracted psora. My mother took me to the Christian priest of the town--who knew we were Jews--and he sent us to the hospital in the German military camp where one of his friends was working. The problem was that the doctor would find out about my circumcision and he would understand that we were Jews. He indeed found out, but he chose to ignore it and he went on to treat me with the suitable drugs.

In spring 1943, I was walking with my sister on the street and a German truck stopped before us. A number of Germans got out of it and my sister panicked and screamed that we were arrested. Then one of them approached us, asked us to excuse them and informed us that they were performing a military exercise.

One of the most traumatic experiences I had during the war took place in Neo Hrakleio in Athens. We had gone there with my father to find food and supplies and we ran across about six dead bodies of citizens who had been executed the last night.

In general, we changed about six houses during the war. When the war ended we were informed by a man called Nikolopoulos that the occupation of Greece had come to an end. The end of the civil war that followed found our family financially destroyed. We had sold everything we owned to survive. I finished school and went on to study at the university to become an architect. I was taught and influenced by the best professors. When I finished my studies I got married and I now have two sons. The first one is an architect and the second one an artist. I have an incredible grandson, as well, and I live happily with my family.

country category: