The name Scheffel is well known in Volos. Many people have seen this name on a road sign, off the main, Ermou Street, commercial strip. How many people have thought about the history associated with of this name? Unfortunately, Greek citizens remain unlearned in matters pertaining to the Holocaust of Greek Jewry, either through intentional neglect, or cultivated indifference. For some, in the limited segment of Greek society in my native city of Volos, in Thessaly, Helmut Scheffel’s name is linked to another German Phil-Hellene, Karl Krazeisen. The question persists, who was German Consul Helmut Scheffel, serving the Third Reich in Volos during World War II?
Helmut Scheffel first arrived in Greece in 1905, intending to pursue commercial interests. He was initially imported agricultural machinery in the Prefecture Magnisias, in the aforementioned agrarian environment of Thessaly. He assumed his diplomatic post as German Consul in Volos as the then known Great War was raging in 1914; which, given political realities, he had to vacate. Scheffel returned to assume his previous designation in 1920.
During the Nazi occupation of Greece, he was able to deter some German retaliations against the resisting local population. However, he remains a key figure in preventing a more massive slaughter of Jews, in the manner that preceded the fate of Thessaloniki’s Jews, the Mother of Jerusalem in the Balkans, who perished in massive numbers in the gas chambers and ovens of Auschwitz.
Along with Zakynthos, an Ionian island, whose Metropolitan and mayor masterminded the safety of all its Jewish residents, the Jewish community of Volos was destined to become the second community in Greece with lowest casualties, having the majority of its Jews saved!
Through humane instinct, the German Consul collaborated with Metropolitan Ioakim, and the city’s leaders, to inform in a timely manner, the planned German assault on the local Jews, advising him to do everything necessary and in his power — false baptismal certificates, assumed Greek names, and encouraging Orthodox Christians to offer refuge — to help the Jewish People in their hour of maximum danger!
Metropolitan Ioakim contacted Chief Rabbi of Volos Moshe Pessach, together coordinating a massive effort to save their Jewish Greek compatriots; one example of heroism is especially highlighted, among several instances of compassion: the young Matathias family (Iakovos, Nina, and baby Asher), who were hidden for the duration on Ayos Lavrentios by the childless couple Phroso and Yorgos Stamos.
Still, after the end of war, this German Consul twice was confronted with official charges by the Greek State. Additionally, he faced trial from a people’s court, a Communist tribunal set up by the leftists who contested for political dominance in the four-year ensuing civil war, following liberation. Thrice he was declared not guilty, living his remaining years in Volos, where he died in 1963, at the age of 83.
Metropolitan Ioakim is named a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. In a an institutional seminar, I raised the question of the Consul’s absence from the list of heroes, and was told that this German, while doing the unusual, and brave/decent thing, he was never in danger for his life. In my view, this is an omission in judgment that needs correction.