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  The Trainbusters of Olympos

THE TRAINBUSTERS OF OLYMPOS

One of the special partisan units was the elite “Engineers Company” of the ΙELAS Division, operating in the Mt Olympos region, under the command of Lieut. Antonis Angeloulis (“Vratsanos”). Among the 250 partisans of that special unit were two Jews: Vital Solomon Aelion from Thessaloniki and Esdras Beniamin Moissis from Larissa. Vital was the oldest and first to join. He was born in Thessaloniki in October 1917, fought in Albania with the 67th Infantry Regiment and, after the roundup of the Jews on Thessaloniki’s Eleftherias Square (11 July 1942), he was conscripted to work in a German labour camp at Karya in Pieria. He escaped and went into hiding until December 1942, when he joined the first ELAS group in southern Mt. Olympos. He was the first Jewish partisan in all of Greece. In January 1943 he joined the fledgling Olympos engineering unit. He became a platoon captain, member of the Communist Party (KKE) and responsible for collecting material dropped by the British and edited the small, handwritten newspaper of the company that was entitled To Akariaion (“The Instantaneous”), a name inspired by explosive fuses. Born in 1925, Esdras went into hiding with his family at Ambelonas, Larissa and decided to join up in April 1943. As he himself said: “I was 18 years old and I’d already seen enough. But from that point, I would experience plenty”.

From March 1943 to October 1944, the "Trainbusters of Olympos" became mythical. They carried out 96 attacks in the Tempi valley, blowing up trains, tens of kilometres of track and technical installations. At the same time, they were involved in fierce battles with the Germans in the villages of Rapsani, Pyrgetos, Kallipefki, Ambelonas (Kazaklar), Argyropouli (Karatzol) and others. The Germans suffered the loss of hundreds of men and tons of material.

On 6 May 1944, the battalion’s finest hour involved heavy fighting and the rescue of Jews. Ata place called “Karalakkas” in Olympos, Vital’s platoondecimated a German fighting unit that had come from Larissa, huntingthe families of Markos Ganis, Iossif Ovadia, Moissis Magrizos and Yehuda Koen who were hiding outside the village of Karya. Some of the young men from the pursued families joined the battle. The Greek losses were eight dead partisans and at least three dead Jews. Besides a triumph, the Battle of Karalakkas has been immortalised as one of the symbolic events in history of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Greece.

 

Esdras Benjamin Moissis of Larissa in a partisan uniform, 1945


 
Partisans of the I ELAS Division Engineers Company on Mt Olympos, February 1944 (KKE Archive).
Identification card of Vital Aelion, 1945 (JMG Photo Archive).
ELAS discharge papers issued to "Synagonistis Vital Aelion" attesting to his “excellent” service, February 1945 (JMG Photo Archive).
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