Heroes of the holocaust: The love of Sofia Kritikou
In these blogs we’ve detailed many stories of boldness and heroism. From housewives becoming spies, to teenagers fighting with the Resistance, there are many stories of exceptional acts of bravery. But it’s important to remember that perhaps the bravest act of all is to love without exception or thought of repayment. To love like Christ.
That was the kind of love that moved through Sofia Kritikou. Sofia was a humble woman of modest means. A single mother raising her daughter Agapi on her own, Sofia worked as a house cleaner and maid in Athens to support her small family. In September of 1943, the German army occupied Athens and the world she lived in began to change.
Immediately after the Nazis took over, the persecution of the Jewish population began. War time shortages put everyone into hard straights, so when rumors that extra rations would be distributed at the central synagogue, people took the bait. This included the Kazansky family. The women of the family went to temple to see if they could secure some extra food for their children, only to find soldiers waiting for them. They were taken by the Nazis to Auschwitz and later murdered.
Devastated, the father, David Kazansky, took his remaining family and blindly fled. He had an older son, the 18-year-old Tsvi, a teenaged daughter, Liana, and the 8-year-old baby of the family, Jeny. David secured some false identity cards that claimed the family was Greek and hit the road, desperate to stay a step ahead of the Gestapo.
They meandered through the country, staying with relatives, friends, and acquaintances for short periods of time. It was a tough life. David was trying to pay his way with these families they were staying with, and the children were constantly being uprooted, never knowing where they would be sleeping next. He needed to restore some semblance of security and safety to their lives.
That’s when a friend got him in touch with Sofia. She was known as a hard-working and compassionate woman. The kind of person who put action to her words and cared for her fellow man. Despite her own precarious position as a single working mother, she didn’t hesitate when she was approached to help the Kazanskys.
At first she thought she was just offering room to a family down on their luck. Sofia welcomed them with open arms. But soon the real plight of their situation was understood. But such was Sofia’s compassion and love that even with the knowledge that they were in fact a Jewish family, and all the terrors that could bring upon her and her own daughter, she couldn’t turn them away.
David’s work took him away from the family regularly, doing whatever he could to support this makeshift homestead. Tsvi, the son, eventually left to join the Resistance, visiting now and then while doing what he could to support fellow local Jews and men and women of conscience resisting Nazi rule. The girls, Liana and Jeny, stayed home and started becoming like daughters to Sofia and sisters to Agapi.
They weathered it out together, a family united by perseverance and love in the face of oppression and hatred. For the entire rest of the war the family stayed with Sofia, skirting suspicion and dodging the eye of the gestapo. It wasn’t easy, they were impoverished, food was scarce, and Sophia worked from sun up to sun down every day walking miles to the homes she cleaned, but they made it work.
After the war, the family went their separate ways. David and Liana stayed in Greece, while Tsvi and Jeny decided they needed a change and moved to Israel to start new lives. But love brought this family together once and it would do it again. In 1964, Tsvi went to visit Sofia when he met Agapi again. Now a grown woman, they fell in love with each other. They married. Agapi converted to Judaism and together they moved to Israel, taking Sofia with them. Bonds of love tying them together forever.
- Photo from Yad Vashem
Sofia lived in Israel till the age of 100, an honored mother and grandmother. A fairytale ending that was only possible because Sofia extended an open hand to the needy, because she risked herself to love like Christ. If you’re looking for a powerful example of how living in Christ should look, you’ve found it in Sofia.