When Perry Rizopoulos was 11 years old, his grandfather, Pericles Rizopoulos, sat him down and showed him an old book. The volume was about 200 pages long, all handwritten. It contained an account of how the older Mr. Rizopoulos and his family survived World War II in their home country of Greece, including his capture by Nazi soldiers as he and his brother were trying to bring home wheat for his family. They were imprisoned in a concentration camp, but eventually escaped. The older Mr. Rizopoulos soon immigrated to the United States, where he settled in the Bronx.
That moment of sharing had a profound impact on the younger Mr. Rizopoulos, who grew up in the borough. The text eventually became the subject of his master’s thesis at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and he is currently turning that thesis into a book. On Wednesday, Oct. 7, Mr. Rizopoulos, 23, will share his grandfather’s story and discuss the impact of World War II on Greece in a talk at Manhattan College’s Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Education Center (HGI).
“It’s a very personal yet comprehensive understanding of what occurred in Greece at the time,” he explained.
The talk marks a homecoming for Mr. Rizopoulos, who attended Manhattan College and was named valedictorian for the class of 2013. His relationship with HGI runs deep. Mr. Rizopoulos said without the guidance of the center’s director, Mehnaz Afridi, he never would have pursued this story.
Ms. Afridi never had Mr. Rizopoulos as a student at Manhattan College, but said the two became close after Mr. Rizopoulos expressed interest in working with HGI. Ms. Afridi said one day, Mr. Rizopoulos told her about his grandfather’s story.
“I said, you should really write something about this,” she recalled, explaining that she thought the story of a Greek Orthodox survivor would be an important different perspective on the Holocaust.
“I believe it’s so important for young people like Perry to keep the memories going,” she added.
The two kept in contact after Mr. Rizopoulos graduated and started at Teachers College, and after he wrote his thesis, he told her he was thinking about expanding it into a book.