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On the Brink with Andi Simon


Feb 14, 2024

Hear this incredible story of steadfast bravery and human kindness

I am truly honored to bring to you today a very special guest, Panos Manias. A self-made entrepreneur who started his own industrial company in aluminium packaging materials, Panos is an inspirational and visionary businessman. But what we focus on in our interview is his personal story of how kindness and moral obligation saved lives during The Holocaust, and possibly can change the world today. You will feel uplifted and deeply moved, I know I was.

Watch and listen to our conversation here

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Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. I’m Andi Simon, and as you know, I’m your host and your guide. And my job is to help you get off the brink, to understand things and see them through a fresh lens. I’m a corporate anthropologist, and I’d love to share with you information from different cultures and times that will help you put into perspective your own situation today, and how to make sense out of it and understand it better.

So I’m really honored today to have Mr. Panos Manias with me. Panos is in Greece. He’s in Athens. He was introduced to me by a wonderful woman here in New York who wanted me to share his story. Now, Panos’s story is set back in the period when the Germans came into Thessalonica and really took over the city. And so I’d like him to begin to understand how to share that with you so that it is held in posterity so we don’t lose the story, and that the wonderful actions that he and his family took then are preserved.

So let me tell you about Panos. Panos Manias was born in 1934. He was one of five children. He’s married now and has two wonderful children and four grandchildren. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business, economics and international commerce from the Athens University of Economics and Business. He’s a self-made entrepreneur who started his own industrial company in aluminum packaging material in 1965. It’s now managed by his two children.

Panos, in his professional career, has spanned more than a half a century, and he’s proved to be an inspirational and visionary entrepreneur. His personal and business integrity, together with his determination on focusing on personal relationships, has been passed to the next generation of aluminum and continue to be the key drivers of the company’s success. Now, Panos is an amazing man, and I know he wants to tell you about the situations when the Germans came into Thessalonica, but what I’d like him to do is begin with his own journey. Tell us about yourself. How did you develop as an entrepreneur? Panos, give us some context to understand your own personal journey here. Can you do that, sir, please?

Panos Manias: Yeah. All right. Well, after finishing the American Veterans College, which is an American school and one of the best in the country in Greece, in Athens. I started working for a big company specializing in aluminum. And slowly they appreciated the job I was doing. And they offered me to go into a joint venture with this big company, whom I will never forget, because they really gave me a very good chance in my life. So I started working for them and they appreciated what I was doing, and they offered me to go into a joint venture in aluminum products.

And slowly but surely, it was expanding and expanding and expanding. And to make a long story short, after so many years, we are proud to say that we are a company which is 100% export oriented. We export everything all over the world and, thank God, both of my children, when they finished their studies in Greece and the United States, were both Brown University alumni. When they came back, I told them very openly and very clearly, now you are here, what do you want to do? It’s up to you. You decide, and I will respect your decision.

So they both said they want to continue working for me, I mean, for the company. And they said something which I will never forget. Listen, it’s your decision. You are never going to tell me you are not happy. If you are not happy, tell me now. They both agreed. They followed my steps and I must say that they did much, much better than I did. And I’m very proud of it.

The story we’re talking about starts in and stays where we were living. Before the war, we had the building, we had the big three stories building on our own, and we were living there. And the time was during the German occupation. It was a very difficult life, was very, very difficult, because people were asking questions and this and that and my aunt and my uncle who were living in the cellar, they were partners with my father, who was in Athens. They had both a joint venture in the food industry.

So one day he calls my father and he says in Salonika, there is a very good friend of the family, a Jewish family called Caruso. They were both living next to each other in a street in Salonika and were excellent friends together. They were not friends. They were brothers, although one was Jewish, neither was Christian. Every day they were going to meet together to discuss their problems, this and that. Before the war, everything was okay. And then when the German occupation started, everybody froze because they didn’t know what would happen. And unluckily the Germans were trying to find out if there were Jewish people in every neighborhood.

So one day they go to my father’s, to my uncle’s house, and they say that they would like to take it, not rent it. They wanted to have an officer living there, a German officer. They were frozen. So this is okay. And they didn’t know what to do. So they decided to take the Jewish family in their own home, hide them in an attic, but nobody would see them in the morning. And that’s okay. You can now have the home, the home which they knew was Jewish, but they left there. They’re not here. I don’t know where they are because they disappeared. And the Germans were living next to them. And it was very difficult. Very difficult thing to do.

And my uncle wanted to take them out of Salonika again, because in Salonika it was terrible. The Germans were killing Jews by the thousands. It was a genocide. It was incredible. I have to say something. My uncle, my parents and my father, they were very good businessmen, but they were not, as today, educated and things like that. But they had a good straight mind. So he called my father from Thessaloniki, and he said to him, Listen, there is a family here, that we are brothers with them, father and mother and four siblings.

So they said they made the plan. First of all, my uncle had very good connections with them. Then probably what they laughed at is the guerrillas who were fighting against the Germans, they issued for them fraud identity cards with the name Angelides. For Angelides, that was the name. And then he said he discussed it with the father and the family left and went to a fishing village very close to this island to hide themselves, waiting for a boat to take them to Athens. The boat was not arriving and not arriving, and the mayor of this small fishing town started asking questions. Who are they? What are they doing? Why are they here?

Somebody told them that he was going to call the Germans, that there is a Jewish family living on this island. They were frozen to death. And then they left because the Germans said, if you don’t give them up to us, we’re going to burn the whole island. They were doing it. Burn the whole island. I’m sorry, village. So the mayor told them, Listen, the whole village is in your hands. So the fact that they said, no, forget it. We are leaving right away. And they left and went back to Thessaloniki. They decided to return to Athens for sure.

Then you know, at that time there were no trains, there were just big old buses that were going from Salonika to Athens, which would take ten hours. And he decided after having the fake identity cards to put them on a bus and take them to Athens, where my father was living, my family, so that they would hide in Athens and nobody would know anything about it. My uncle insisted that he send them to go all together. Listen, he said it is a massacre. They killed Jews by the thousands. You must all go together. No, Mr. Carlson said, No, Mr. Manius. No. I’m going to stay here with my wife and the two children.

And he sent the other two with a bus. He didn’t take no for the reply. So my uncle said, okay, you want to do that? Do that. So with the fake IDs, they went to the bus station. They stayed in the third row and the fifth row, but far apart from each other, so that they wouldn’t know that their brother and sister and they were going in Larissa, which is half way from Athens to Thessaloniki, the bus stop for the rest. And the driver, who was not a good man, understood that something was wrong with these children. I don’t know how. He went and looked at them and said nothing, and he was going down to report it to the Germans.

All of a sudden, and this is something which is unbelievable, one sturdy man, very big, with not a knife but with a stick, stood up and went to the driver and told him something in his ear. And the driver froze to death. And he didn’t report to the Germans. He was going to tell the Germans they were Jewish and he would get money for it. So this was a big obstacle. Thank God they continued to Athens, where my family was living, and they were accepted by my family. And they stayed in our house. But, people there started talking. Who are they? What are they doing here and all that?

And my father thought of something very smart. In order to have them do something, he said, Listen, I will give you money. You will buy olive oil, which was during the German occupation, it was more than gold. I will give you bottles of oil. You will stay and you will sell them for peanuts and get some money. Not only this, they will say he’s a Greek doing some business to make some pocket money. And every day there was a Greek officer of the police passing by, and the guy in the garage gave him one bottle of oil free every day. Every day, every day, every day.

After maybe one month, the other policeman got a little bit suspicious. And what is this? So they go and ask him, who are you? What’s your name? His name was Angelita. They didn’t believe him. Where are you coming from? Listen, I’ll take you to the Gestapo and they will take care of you. He took them. He took the boy. And he was going to the Gestapo. And then he asked a policeman to take them to the Gestapo. And I don’t know how this happened. The policeman was the same who was getting the oil for free. So he gave back the little boy and he let him free. And the boy asked him, what are you going to say? I said, I slipped and you ran away. So he was saved.

He went back to our house where they were living. And then after that, I guess after that they started discussing who these are? Who is that? And my father went a little bit far away and rented a small apartment for them, and they were safe there because nobody knew them. And then they gave them the food and clothes and everything. And then the lady who owned the apartment started getting a little bit curious. Who are they?

By that time, the German occupation was finished. The Germans left the country and they were freed.They came back home and they said, we want to go now to the Serengeti to find our parents because the parents were there. So they went to Salonika again and my uncle told them they had to tell them where their parents were. The parents with three other children were caught by the Germans, and they were put on the last train from Thessaloniki. 

Some years ago, we had a wonderful, very emotional meeting with the descendants of the Carrasco family in their house. That was maybe ten years ago. Maybe 15 years ago. They invited the whole Carrasco family and the whole Martinez family for dinner at their home, and we were about 35, 40 people. And I will never forget something that the old lady said. She said, of course she raised her glass to say hello to everybody and say, listen, Everybody listen. If there were not the Manias family, nobody would be here. Nobody. Both the Manias and the Carrasco, they would all be dead. This I will never forget.

So you know, we tell you all that because I think I have a moral obligation. I think because I’m an old man now. I am 90 years old. And I think I have an obligation to the coming generations to hear this story, to have the same feelings. No matter if he’s Jewish or Armenian or Hebrew, I don’t care. Human beings. Human beings must behave like human beings. And I hope this is going to be a good heritage to the coming generations. That’s why we tell you this story.

Andi Simon: The reason this is so beautiful is because at times you worry that humans have forgotten how to be human, and the Manias and Carrasco families are a tribute to what the good in us can do, isn’t it? If we can be kind, we can care, we can love each other, and we can help each other thrive. And it’s a beautiful story. And Panos, your tribute to your family and to theirs and to everyone is absolutely exquisite. It’s beautiful. Your English is very good too, sir.

Panos Manias: Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

Andi Simon: Would you like to say anything at the end here to your sons and daughters and their grandchildren and anything special you would like to end with? Because you’ve told a beautiful story. But I have a hunch in your heart you just want to hug everybody.

Panos Manias: You mean to say something too.

Andi Simon: Did you want to say something in the ending to your story. 

Panos Manias: Yes, yes. I just want to repeat that as human beings, we have the moral obligation to behave like human beings. And look at the people who are around us not according to the religion or the city, I don’t care what they are. They are human beings. And we must behave like human beings. We must have the moral that God, Almighty God, whether it’s God or I don’t know what the name Almighty gave it to us and we have to respect what we get.

And I believe very strongly that really in life you get what you give. You give love, you get love, you give hate, you get hate. So simple. But simple things are difficult to understand sometimes. So I’m very proud that I leave this heritage to my family, and I hope they will have the same mentality to behave like human beings. Human beings. 

Andi Simon: This is a beautiful story. I’m honored that you gave us the opportunity to share it. I’ve been to Greece several times, and I did my research in Greece, and I was in love with Greek people because they embraced the work I was doing to better understand how people embrace change. And this is just a wonderful compliment.

So I’m going to pause for a moment and say goodbye to my audience, and then I will come off the tape and we can talk for a moment further. So bear with me for a second, because I want to thank everyone who listened today or watched. And I know Panos is going to be sharing this. So for those of you who are not familiar with our podcast, what we try to do is help you see things through a fresh lens. I will tell you that we live the story that’s in our mind. So think about Panos’s story and his desire to tell it. It’s one thing to have it, it’s another thing to want to share it. And by sharing it, hoping to spread his own big heart with others.

You’re smiling at me, Panos, because this is a gift that you’re giving to others, and there’s nothing better for their well-being and your own than to share this gift. So I want to thank you all for coming today. If you’re watching or listening, and remember that our job is to help you get off the brink and soar. So thank you again. And thank you, Panos and your family for joining us

Panos Manias: And do me a favor when you come to Athens, you are going to visit us.

Andi Simon: Oh, absolutely. Let’s do it quickly. Is it sunny there? Because I need some sun.

Panos Manias: Oh, it’s beautiful today.

Andi Simon: I know, hold on while I say goodbye to everybody.

P.S. You can read a more in-depth version of Panos’s story here.

 

 

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