This year marks 80 years from the deportation of the Jews of Thessaloniki to Auschwitz during World War II.
In honour of this dark anniversary for the Greek Jews, this year’s Greek Film Festival in Australia will feature four exceptional documentaries and a feature film commemorating the victims of the Holocaust and especially the Jewish community of Thessaloniki.
One of the documentaries, titled Kisses to the Children, shares the stories of five Greek-Jewish children who were saved by brave Christian families during the German occupation. The children share stories of terror and anguish, but also stories of salvation and carefree childhood in the arms of “strangers.”
People who watch Kisses to the Children will be taken on a 114-minute cinematic and emotional journey by film director, Vassilis Loules, and the children. The documentary is in Greek with English subtitles.
Ahead of the documentary screening at the Greek Film Festival, The Greek Herald spoke with Mr Loules about what people can expect.
“Kisses to the Children is not just another film about the Holocaust; it’s a film about childhood in the shadow of the Holocaust,” the director said.
“The documentary would never have existed were it not for the five people who speak in the film, the five characters. Five Greek Jews, Romaniote and Sephardi, descended from Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Athens, Chania.”
Focused on the lives of Rozina, Iossif, Marios, Eftychia and Shelly, Mr Loules said the children dared to bare their souls in the documentary, digging deep inside their memories and returning to their childhood.
“In making this journey back into their past, these people relived the terror and the anguish of German brutality, experienced once again the agonising emotion of the loss of relatives, friends and neighbours,” Mr Loules said.
“Once again they came face to face with feelings of guilt: that they survived and not so many others who were much “better” than them. The thousands of other children who died in the concentration camps come alive again through the memories of these five people.”
The film director added that these difficult memories are contrasted in a meaningful way with memories of the children’s childhood.
“This journey of the film’s five “protagonists” brought to light moments of a carefree childhood, the sounds, the smells, the mischief and the pranks that they had almost forgotten,” Mr Loules added.
“It is a journey that bears the aura of their childhood. The childhood that was so abruptly interrupted because they had to lose their childhood in order to be able to live.”
When we asked Mr Loules what he found the most confronting when he was directing the documentary, his answer was simple.
“Personally speaking, I am deeply moved when I see in the film five children hidden in elderly bodies slowly coming to the surface. I feel proud when I see these elderly faces reflect a childhood longing, the wonder, the guile and the naughtiness, the airs and graces but also the terror and the agony and all the bad feelings they experienced then, when they were children,” he explained.
“I remain ecstatic when I see these elderly people looking at the camera with the same eyes with which they looked at the world then, when they were children. It is a deeply emotional experience when you feel that for a while these people regained their childhood, that they managed to win back their childish gaze.”
He added that it was also important to showcase the brave saviours who protected the children, ranging from the “Christians or non-believers, whether in the Resistance (Left or Right) or not, ordinary people who simply did the right thing at a time of absolute evil, and people who risked their lives in order to save “others,” people with a different religion – the Jews.”
“They were people with a rare morality and dignity whose actions not only saved lives but also salvaged supreme values and ideals,” Mr Loules said.
“Their example is even more timely today when the Neo-Nazi menace has once again raised its ugly head, hunting down, terrorising and skilling people who are “different”.”
Ultimately, Mr Loules said he wanted to created a film “that deals with personal, little stories in the turbulence of history.”
“These five people gave us a film through their childish eyes. Through their little everyday stories, the larger historical picture, the history itself, is illuminated and revealed. That’s the sort of film I have always tried to make,” he concluded.
The Greek Film Festival in Sydney is presented by the Greek Festival of Sydney and the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW, proudly supported by Bank of Sydney. This year’s screenings for the 80th anniversary of the deportation of Jews from Thessaloniki will be held with the support and cooperation of the Jewish Board of Deputies of NSW. The festival will return to Leichhardt’s Palace Norton Street Cinema from 19 to 29 October 2023. For more details visit: https://greekfilmfestival.com.au/sydney