Erikousa’s wartime secret

Erikousa, one of the Diapontian islands off the northwestern tip of Corfu, for seventy years kept a secret. From June 1944 until the end of WW II the few hundred inhabitants of a 5 km2 islet managed to keep a Jewish family hidden from the nazi’s. Even when German soldiers came searching from door to door, they bravely cooperated to not give the secret away. Each at the risk of losing their lives.

After the war the surviving family emigrated to Israel and the bravery of the Erikousa population would have been lost in time. If it wasn’t for a Greek grandmother, sharing the story of her life with her American born granddaughter. Who happened to be Emmy Award winning writer and producer Yvette Manessis Corporon. Yvette decided to honour the brave activities of her grandma and the other islanders in a novel. Five years of hard work later – besides her professional and family activities in New York – Harper Books published When The Cypress Whispers (2014).

Fatal June 9th 1944
In her novel Yvette Manessis Corporon interweaves myths and magic with the tragic events of the Summer of 1944 . On June 9th the German occupying force starts rounding up the Jewish inhabitants of Corfu. Almost everyone of the 2.000 men, women and children is deported off the island in small boats. 91% of them will be executed in the concentration camps. A Jewish tailor, Shabtai (in Greek: Savvas), just in time escapes the pogrom in town. He takes his daughters to Erikousa. He knows his way well out there as he visited the tiny adjacent islands regularly to sell clothing and offer his tailoring service.

The inhabitants of Erikousa welcome Shabtai and his family, share the little food there is and by constantly hiding them save some of the very few Jewish lives in WW II Corfu. A story of courage, loyalty, kindness and hope, but it does not end with the novel. From the moment she started to work on her novel it was author Yvette’s ambition to let her family and the people of Erikousa know what had become of tailor Shabtai and his family.

My Heritage
Armed with just the first names of the family members after several attempts Yvette tries her luck with the Holocaust Museum in Jeruzalem and the platform for family history My Heritage. The founder of this platform, Gilad Japhet, helps her out and identifies Shabtai’s three daughters, a living grandson and several other descendants in Israel and Los Angeles. None of whom knew anything about the way their ancestors survived wartime in Corfu/Erikousa.

In 2016 Yvette arranges a meeting between descendants of both the Jewish survivors and some Erikousa families. Yvette produced a film documentary about her quest, Searching for Savvas and also wrote another book: Something beautiful happened.

In the last part of this second book Yvette admirably deals with a cruel tragedy. A brutal murder took place three days after the meeting that meant so much to the new generations of Israelis, Greeks and Greek Americans. Yvette’s 14 year old nephew and his grandfather were killed by a neonazi gunman in a parking lot in Kansas, who was out to kill Jews. Confronting her with the question: can we defeat great evil?

Yvette Manessis Corporon currently works as a Senior Producer with the syndicated entertainment news show, EXTRA. She lives in New York with her husband and two children, but her heart is also somewhere else: “Erikousa and Corfu are not just the setting of When The Cypress Whispers, they are truly my favourite places on Earth.  There is a magical quality to these islands that I think everyone should experience at least once in their lives.”

When The Cypress Whispers was translated in 13 languages. The sequel Something beautiful happened (2017) so far was published in English, Hebrew and Serbian. More information is to be found on the website of Yvette Manessis Corporon. The role of My Heritage is explained in a short video (6 min., 23 sec.), and the family members in Israel can be seen in another video (7 min., 10 sec.).

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