“Without them, my family would not have survived the war,” said Velelli Becker, who is from Patras, a town about 130 miles from Athens.
Her father, Emmanuel Velelli, had traded with Elias Michalos, and they became friendly. In 1943, when Germany occupied Greece, Michalos bravely offered to give the Velelli family shelter – a kindness that came with enormous risks.
Velelli Becker and eight family members – including her parents, sister, three uncles and grandparents – hid from the Nazis in Michalos’ two-bedroom cottage, which was originally intended to house employees and had no running water or bathroom.
Although the Velelli family spent every night sleeping fearfully on the floor for more than a year, they felt lucky. They were filled with gratitude for Michalos, who put himself and his family in grave danger of protecting them.
Shortly after the war, both families emigrated to Baltimore, and they still live in the area today. On several occasions, Emmanuel Velelli tried to pay Elias Michalos for everything he did, but Michalos refused to take his money.
Finally, almost eight decades later, Velellis was presented with a meaningful opportunity to thank them.
They raised their funds to help Vasilios Kanaras, Michalo’s grandson, open a new restaurant. His former eatery, Crabby Greek in Towson, Md., Was forced to close amid the pandemic.
“I lost my restaurant because of covid,” Kanaras explained, adding that the crazy Greek was in an office building, and with widespread telework, customers dropped drastically. “The money was gone.”
Black woman named high school teacher 38 years after snub
On one of their usual catch-up calls, 84-year-old Angela Kanaras – who is the mother of Vasilios Kanaras’ mother and the daughter of the late Elias Michalos – told Velelli Becker about her son’s struggles.
When Velelli Becker’s children heard about the Michalos family’s financial situation, they knew what they wanted to do.
“We wanted to give back,” said Velelli Becker’s daughter, Yvonne Fishbein, who sent an email in January to her extended family requesting support. “We all took care of ourselves and helped. Everyone put in what they could.”
“Their whole family has just started pouring in money,” Vasilios Kanaras said. With their help: “I did not have to worry.”
Their generosity was much appreciated, though not at all expected.
“I was overwhelmed,” Angela Kanaras said. “I could not believe they would do it.”
A displaced Ukrainian father asked for legos for his son. Gifts poured in.
In total, the Velelli family contributed more than $ 10,000 to help the Canaries get their latest venture, New Southern Kitchen in Cockeysville, Md., Up and running. The money went to electrical repairs, food and other supplies. In early February, the restaurant was open for business.
Not only did Velellis feel indebted to the Michalos for what they did 80 years ago, but to this day, families are still close.
Over the years, they have been present at each other’s milestone events, never missing a christening, bar mitzvah or wedding. They have also celebrated Thanksgiving together.
“They are the most wonderful people,” said Velelli Becker, who moved to the United States with her family in 1956.
When they first arrived in Baltimore, they heard that the Michalos also lived there, but they did not have an address or telephone number to contact them. So they left a letter for them in a Greek grocery store near Lexington Market, thinking Michaloses would probably shop there.
“We saw each other again and have been friends for 80 years,” said Angela Kanaras, speaking of her late parents’ unwavering kindness and acceptance of others.
“My mother and father were very good people,” she said, adding that her family also provided shelter to several British intelligence agents during the war.
The heroic defiance of the family, however, did not come without consequences. In early 1944, when the Nazis invaded Michaleika, they heard about Michalos’ efforts to hide the agents, and they burned down his house. At that time, the Michalos family moved into the small cottage with Velellis, and the two families lived there together for several months.
They were prisoners of the Holocaust together. They have just been united.
The Velelli children played with the Michalos children, while the men chopped wood and carefully exchanged food, and the women took care of the cooking and cleaning. Angela Kanaras said she and her family never bought into the Nazi falsehood of superiority of race, ethnicity or religion.
When the Nazis left Greece in October 1944, and the Velelli were finally free, they returned to Patras. The Michalose family also moved there and started a trucking business before moving to Baltimore in 1951.
In the early 1980s, the Velelli family submitted the story of their friendship to Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to Holocaust victims. The Michalos family was named “Righteous Among the Nations” – a tribute to non-Jews who risked their own lives to save Jews from the Nazis. In 1984, the family was honored at a Holocaust memorial service in Baltimore.
Yvonne Fishbein’s son, Joshua Fishbein, a composer, also sought to commemorate his family’s deep connection with Michaloses – in the form of a song. He recently composed “Out of the Ashes of the Holocaust,” performed by the Washington Master Chorale, and captures the bravery and hospitality of the Michalos family.
If her parents were still alive, they would have been very proud of how the families’ support for each other has continued, Angela Kanaras said. “It is up to the younger generations to continue this friendship.”
Their bond, she added, is stronger than ever.
“All these years they have always said that if it were not for my family, they would not be here,” Angela Kanaras said of Velellis. “Now, if it were not for them, my son would not have a business. So it all came.”
Do you have a story for Inspired Life? How to submit.