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A tale of two men and a book donation: A community rediscovers its past

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By Mary Sinanidis.

Denise Zapantis chose a leap day, Thursday, February 29, to donate her family’s rare book to the State Library of Victoria.

The donation, a quadrilingual tome titled The Sacrifices of Greece in the Second World War wasn’t just any book donation; it was a story woven through the lives of two remarkable men: Panagis Zapantis, a Greek immigrant to Melbourne and butcher by trade, and Constantinos Doxiadis, a world-renowned architect and urban planner.

Zapantis purchased the book from a young bookseller in Omonia, Athens. Experiencing the atrocities of turbulence in Greece firsthand, the book became more than just words; it was a way to understand and share his history.

Denise Zapantis' parents were Kate and Panagis Zapantis.
Denise Zapantis’ parents were Kate and Panagis Zapantis.

“He never spoke of the personal trauma of being a political prisoner,” Denise told The Greek Herald.

“Instead, he would point to relevant chapters in this book and talk about history. He found solace in sharing the story of Modern Greece.”

The first time Denise and her brother were shown the book, they were adolescents.

“I saw a photo of people being hung at a central square in Athens, a shocking moment in history,” Denise recalled, highlighting the book’s documentation of the brutality of war.

“The book also documented the devastating impact of the war on Greece.”

Historian Jim Claven, present at the event, told The Greek Herald, “[The book] details the economic and infrastructure impacts, the destruction of villages and towns and the disastrous effects of famine and war on the Greek people. It estimates that Greece lost over one million in population. The war the Axis nations unleashed on the world brought nothing but terror and destruction. This book explains the cold, hard statistics, graphs, maps and stark photographs show how Greece was affected.”

Though Zapantis and the book’s author, Doxiadis, led different lives, they were linked by their shared history. Doxiadis also had a connection to Australia, living in Brisbane for a bit and experiencing the birth of his son there.

Denise and some of the attendees lingered after the event, discussing history and her father's decision to bring the book to Melbourne.
Denise and some of the attendees lingered after the event, discussing history and her father’s decision to bring the book to Melbourne. All photos copyright: The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.
Denise Zapantis and her friends, following the donation.
Denise Zapantis and her friends, following the donation.

While Zapantis cherished the book for its knowledge and intellectual conversations, Doxiadis, using his architectural expertise, wrote the book to meticulously document the war’s impact and advocate for reparations.

Sociologist Juliana Charpantidou explained, “Written in four languages, the book served as a persuasive tool for Greece to advocate for reconstruction aid. It laid the groundwork for initiatives such as the Marshall Plan.”

Greek Consul General Emmanuel Kakavelakis and Denise Zapantis.
Greek Consul General Emmanuel Kakavelakis and Denise Zapantis.

Present at the library event, Consul General of Greece in Melbourne, Emmanuel Kakavelakis also emphasised the book’s role in securing reparations. Doxiadis used his influence to further Greece’s cause.

Recognising the book’s historical value, Denise and her brother, Dennis, sought guidance upon their father’s passing in 2012. Paul Sougleris, a friend and business owner, connected them with Claven, who facilitated the donation.

“Future generations will be indebted to the Zapantis family for preserving this crucial piece of history,” Claven remarked.

Denise Zapantis and her nephew Peter Zapantis, honouring his grandfather.
Denise Zapantis and her nephew Peter Zapantis, honouring his grandfather.

This rare book, the only copy in Australia, is a testament to the enduring human spirit, the power of knowledge, and the importance of preserving historical narratives for future generations.

The story of Zapantis, Doxiadis, and the book goes beyond a simple donation. It’s a powerful reminder of the interconnectedness of human experience, the enduring strength of the human spirit, and the responsibility we have to preserve our collective history.

For Denise the book also goes a long way to preserving her father’s history.

“I felt him with me today. It was like a mnimosino (memorial),” she said. “It was a memorial for dad and for all who passed before him, for those who witnessed living history.”

*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.

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