Biography (by Victor Zorbas)
“I was born on Rhodes, an island in Greece, to Jewish parents. My father came from Thessalonica in Greece and my mother from Smyrna in Turkey. I was very young when I moved with my family to Turkey due to the atrocities against the Jews during the Second World War. Greece was occupied by the Germans and Turkey was neutral.
Still a boy I learned to live as a member of a minority in a hostile environment. I studied at a Jewish school named Allianz Israelit and later in a catholic college named St. Joseph de Frère. After the war and with the declaration of the state of Israel, I immigrated here with my family and during my service I became a pilot in the new Israeli army. Due to personal problems and a forthcoming marriage with a Dutch girl, I immigrated again but this time to the Netherlands.
My life changed when I choose to work for the minorities of foreign workers who were brought to the Netherlands in 1963 at the time that the economy was growing. After my studies for a social worker I found that these kinds of human beings were treated as second category communities. It was a big deception for me because I couldn’t achieve my target to help to integrate this people in their new environment.
In 1980, after my divorce, I decided to return to Israel. By bad or good luck I visited on the way the island of Crete.
During my stay here I visited the former leper colony on Spinalonga. It was incredible for me to believe that the lepers that used to live here from 1903 until 1957 had a good life and that they had a certain prosperity on this island. This story could maybe be true from 1950 until 1957, the years that they had found the drug to cure leprosy.
I tried to find the truth about the life of the lepers during the banishment to this colony. I found survivors, eyewitnesses, documents and photographs and compared. After getting the interviews I also compared the stories with other leper colonies in the world, like Karundaya in India, were father Marian Zalazec was working from 1971 (television documentary made by the BBC called the untouchables) or Kalaupapa in Hawaii, shut down in 1968 but where 49 lepers are still living until today. They declined to leave the colony because of their fear not to be accepted or tolerated in a for them new environment and that because of mental and physical handicaps.
All stories brought me to the following conclusions:
· The life of lepers in any leper colony was horrible, at least until the cure was found.
· While today there are 2 million lepers concentrated in India, Brazil, Africa and Asia, there are even more millions of modern lepers in our modern western and prospered countries. These modern lepers are for example carriers of the HIV virus, mental or physical handicapped, homeless or senior citizens isolated by their families.
· To avoid new kinds of Spinalongas and a new kind of leper colonies, the world must learn to accept, to tolerate and not to forget to help mankind without expecting an award and in that way we can start to build a new world for our next generation.
In this spirit I have written a book called Spinalonga, the isle of the damned’.
This book contains the history of this little island, the life of the lepers and photographs.”