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Menachem Simantov: a different rescue story of 600 Christians from Serres Print E-mail
Friday, 24 November 2017 12:24
 
By VICTOR ELIEZER (E.J.P., Nov. 20, 2017)
It was a June 2017 morning when my phone rang and on the end of the line I heard the kind voice of a lady:   - "I want to talk to you about the Jews of Serres, (a city in North Greece),  and the history of my family", she tells me and somehow she surprised me because –to tell the truth– I did not believe there was a single Jew from Serres that was alive. - "I had no idea", I answer, "that you are from Serres, and of course I am interested in your story".

ATHENS----It was a June 2017 morning when my phone rang and on the end of the line I heard the kind voice of a lady:  
- "I want to talk to you about the Jews of Serres, (a city in North Greece), and the history of my family", she tells me and somehow she surprised me because –to tell the truth– I did not believe there was a single Jew from Serres that was alive.

- "I had no idea", I answer, "that you are from Serres, and of course I am interested in your story"
And so, on the evening of Friday, June 13, Mrs. Mimika Simantov-Samouilidou welcomes me in her apartment just opposite the Acropolis. The dining table was full of photos, publications and books. Her discourse is accompanied by photographs of a distant past. Favorite faces, houses and streets that no longer exist. Her voice trembles with emotion when she shows me the photos.
"My grandfather, Abraham Simantov, was born in the city of Serres in 1850 and he was a student at the school of the Jewish Community of Serres. He was a merchant and his activity was up till Egypt. He was married to Rachel Abravanel and they had nine children. One of these nine children, Joseph Simantov got married to Daisy Kambeli and had two children, me and my brother Albert".

Mrs. Mimika serves the coffee drink and she is looking forward to continue the narration.
- "I will not tire you too much, but I believe people need to learn the unknown aspects of history showing that human solidarity can overcome social or religious differences in order to protect the value of human life".
My uncle, my father’s brother, Menachem Simantov was a great cosmopolitan of the time, with a wide education; he had the full acceptance of the local community. His successful business in the trade of tobacco, wood, cotton, and his involvement with the first steps of the cinema made Menachem Simantov an internationally prestigious personality and Italy had appointed him as a consul in the city of Serres.
Why, however, was Menachem Simantov so important? Mimika Samouilidou delivers me some relevant publications.
According to the historian Petros Pennas, when the Bulgarians invaded Serres on June 28, 1913, six hundred people originated from Serres sought shelter in the Simantov’s family house, where the Italian Consulate was housed, in order to escape from the massacre.
The building was surrounded by the Bulgarian army. As the journalist Haralambos Vouroutsidis writes in the journal “Proodos”, according to the historian Petros Pennas: "Menachem Simantov, as consul of the Italian state, he went up in a of the Consulate and praised the soldiers to save the life of his fellow citizens; as he didn’t have any response, he used his personal property to save the lives of his compatriots.
 He threw to the Bulgarians who were ready to put on fire the siege-stricken people, hundreds of pounds of golden liras, while the expensive carpets of the mansion, had been damped and spread out on the roof of the building in order to avoid the risk of fire from the nearby buildings that were on fire. The entry of the Greek army's brigades into the ruined city earlier on in the afternoon of June 28 meant the redemption of the besieged Greeks in the Simantov building. "
In 1916, after the second invasion of the Bulgarians in Serres, the family of Menachem Simantov, along with other Jewish families, abandoned the city and settled in Thessaloniki. Menachem Simantov died in 1929.

The building of the Simantov family was demolished in 1988 by the Greek Authorities; in its place, at the crossroad of Hatzipantazi and Romanos streets, there is now nothing left from the historical building of the city of Serres, nor even a commemorative plaque reminding the rescue story of 600 Christians from Serres.

Only in 2001, as part of the Holocaust memorial events, the Municipality of Serres honored Menachem Simantov for the rescue of his 600 fellow citizens.
“Of course I have a feeling of sorrow, not because there is no mention of his name anymore, but mainly because there is not even a little stone to teach to the young people that in that place there was a building owned by Menachem Simantov in which 600 fellow human beings founded shelter and were saved" confesses his niece, Mimika Simantov-Samouilidou, who along with the two great-grandchildren and the four great great grandchildren of Menachem Simantov living in Athens are the descendants of a symbolic and important personality of Greek Jewry.

The Jews of Serres
The final station for the Jews of Serres was the terrible night of March 3, 1943, when the Bulgarians gathered all the Jews in a tobacco warehouse just outside the city. In a few days, they started the journey of no return. Many of them were drowned on the Danube when the barges that carried them were overturned. Those who were saved in the river, they were exterminated in the Treblinka camp. About 600 Jews lived in Serres. Less than ten survived. The exemplary human attitude of the citizens of Serres is noteworthy, since no one went to the auction organized by the Bulgarians to buy the Jews’ possessions.
There is only one commemorative plaque, standing in the wall of the Jewish Primary School -now a kindergarten of the Municipality of Serres- that reminds of their presence in the city. After the war, the Jewish School passed in the property of the Central Board of Jewish Communities of Greece and houses today the 6th and the16th Primary Schools of Serres. In 2000 the Municipality of Serres placed a votive column in the former Jewish School in the memory of the exiled Jews of the city.

I sincerely thank Mrs Mimika Simantov-Samouilidou for the information and the precious material that she gave me about this aspect of our modern history that remains unknown for many people.

·     *  Victor Eliezer is Editing Director of 'Alef', the Magazine of the Jewish community of Athens and correspondent of Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot. 
 
 

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