The Archbishop of Athens was the spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox people of Athens and All Greece, and Damaskinos worked very hard to live up to his position during those hard times. He frequently clashed with the German authorities and the quisling government. In 1943, the Germans began the persecution of the Jews of Greece, and their deportations to Nazi concentration camps. Damaskinos formally protested the actions of the occupational authorities.
According to The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation the appeal of Damaskinos and his fellow Greeks is unique as no document similar to the protest against the Nazis during World War II has come to light in any other European country.
The letter in part reads:
|“||The Greek Orthodox Church and the Academic World of Greek People Protest against the Persecution… The Greek people were… deeply grieved to learn that the German Occupation Authorities have already started to put into effect a program of gradual deportation of the Greek Jewish community… and that the first groups of deportees are already on their way to Poland…According to the terms of the armistice, all Greek citizens, without distinction of race or religion, were to be treated equally by the Occupation Authorities. The Greek Jews have proven themselves… valuable contributors to the economic growth of the country [and] law-abiding citizens who fully understand their duties as Greeks. They have made sacrifices for the Greek country, and were always on the front lines of the struggle of the Greek nation to defend its inalienable historical rights…
In our national consciousness, all the children of Mother Greece are an inseparable unity: they are equal members of the national body irrespective of religion… Our holy religion does not recognize superior or inferior qualities based on race or religion, as it is stated: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek’ and thus condemns any attempt to discriminate or create racial or religious differences. Our common fate both in days of glory and in periods of national misfortune forged inseparable bonds between all Greek citizens, without exemption, irrespective of race…
Today we are… deeply concerned with the fate of 60,000 of our fellow citizens who are Jews… we have lived together in both slavery and freedom, and we have come to appreciate their feelings, their brotherly attitude, their economic activity, and most important, their indefectible patriotism…
|“||According to the traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church, our prelates are hanged, not shot. Please respect our traditions!||”|
The Archbishop was being boldly sarcastic, as he was referring to the lynching and hanging of Patriarch Gregory V of Constantinople by a Turkish mob in 1821, the point being made that the SS commander would act in a similarly barbaric fashion if he were to carry out his threat.
The churches under his jurisdiction were also ordered quietly by Damaskinos to distribute Christian baptismal certificates to Jews fleeing the Nazis, thus saving thousands of Romaniote Jews in and around Athens.