An account by Mrs Katilena Singelaki, a Haniote Christian who lived in the Jewish Quarter, gives a rare picture of what took place on the morning of the 21 May 1944, when the community was arrested. The article was published in the Evraiki Estia in Athens on 1 July 1947 and was titled “In Twenty-Four Hours.”
[…] At dawn we were woken from our beds by shrill voices and loud knocking. At first we all thought it was some sort of a landing that had taken place but then we were sadly faced with the frightful truth. Battalions of the occupying forces had surrounded our little neighbourhood and in a terrible and violent uproar they were rousing all of the Jews from their houses. They were allowed to take only bare essentials of clothing and food that could last them for eight days.
What moments of horror and agony! They were forced to flee, to leave their homes, their workplaces, stores and dear friends; they lost in ten minutes whatever they had achieved through many years of hard work and the sweat of their brows. They had all been very hardworking people and now suddenly they were being marched down to the harbour carrying a few pitiful possessions on their backs, departing like prisoners. […]
In only a few moments they were all assembled in the streets. Instead of celebrating the Sabbath in their little synagogue (Etz Hayyim) they were being pressed along out of their neighbourhood by murderous soldiers. I cannot describe to you the tragic sight of our farewell. We had all lived for so many years together. Perhaps this was going to be the last time that we would see them and the grief was sharper because their lives were going to be so bitter now. They were all leaving and we, their fellow-citizens, were not given any permission to help them in any way and my friend, the one who had been such a good student at school now overwhelmed me with a plea from the crowd, “Katina, please, my books! Say good bye to the school, to my friends there – say good-bye for me.” […]
When the sun had risen we could see that our neighbourhood had been almost emptied of all human presence. […] Soon another expulsion would come, this time purging each house of its inanimate objects. The soldiers proudly began to carry out the various possessions of Jewish peddlers and loaded them on their trucks: chairs, tables, beds, just as they were, with their linen and even the pillows from the night before. The first house that they emptied was that of my two orphan girlfriends, but soon the other houses suffered the same outrage. I went to their house and after repeated requests to the soldiers I was permitted to take a few books. Another of our friends did the same and she too saved three of the girls’ notebooks.
I was in such a state that I couldn’t prepare my lesson for the day. It was the same nervous agony that we had all suffered when before, almost three years to the day, the first bombs fell and the (German) hands had seized our sweet island. […]
After they (the Germans) had loaded their cars with all of these things, another scene of horror and disgust came to pass. Greeks, so-called Christians, the neighbouring women who only minutes before had seemed to be grieving, were now laughing with the soldiers, asking for permission to steal for themselves the belongings of their unfortunate neighbours. Luckily I didn’t see any respectable people amongst them. […]
And now, I swear upon these books which escaped destruction, with tears in my eyes, that I will keep them as a memory of my dear friend and fellow student who had been so concerned about their safety. […]
After eight days several cars came to empty the synagogue. Our so-called cultured people, they ransacked that tiny assembly, the House of God. They took all of the valuable objects and then rented the building as a dwelling. This was the culminating scene in this horrible drama. It was terrible. The Jews waited fifteen days in Ayias prison of Hania without food or clothing and afterwards they were taken to Heraklion – and the next day they were taken away and no one knows where they are. Are they alive? Or…
They were Greeks, they were our own brothers, and their sons fought with us for freedom during the terrible but victorious battles in Albania. The expulsion took place in May 1944.
Source: public domain