Bloomfield restaurant owner aids bid to immortalize Jewish Greek hero.
Special to the Jewish News
estaurateur Stefanos Becharas
knew he could rely on his custom-
ers, many of them -Jewish, to help
preserve the memory of a Jewish Greek
hero of the early part of World War II.
Owner of the popular Gallery
Restaurant in Bloomfield Township,
Becharas, a native of Greece, and two of
his friends have been on a crusade to
memorialize Col. Mordechai Frizis, 47, the
first high-ranking Greek officer to die in
the war as he led a major military victory
of the Greek army against Italy's attempt-
ed invasion of Greece in 1940. Riding his
trademark white horse to rally his troops,
Frizis was shot and killed by strafing
planes and slumped with his feet caught
in the saddle stirrups.
A Detroit Jewish News article four years
ago documented Becharas' efforts to
make sure no one forgets Frizis, and the
word spread in Jewish and Greek com-
munities in Michigan and Greece through
more newspaper, magazine and television
reports. He formed the Friends of Col.
Frizis Committee, a tax-exempt organi-
zation, enlisting the aid of his longtime
friend, Greek-American Telmer Constan
of Troy and Constan's son-in-law, David
Neary of Royal Oak, a computer and tech-
The group has raised close to $250,000
to erect an equestrian statue of Frizis to be
unveiled next spring near Athens.
"The financial and moral support
from individuals and social and philan-
thropic groups has been remarkable said
Becharas. "At first, we thought we would
have just enough funds for a bust of Col.
Frizis, but then we set our sights on a
bigger monument and commissioned
sculptor Ioannis Bardis of Greece to do a
22-foot-high marble and bronze statue.
But costs have risen and we continue our
Becharas quietly passed among his cus-
tomers with a notebook and pen, related
the story of Frizis' heroism and obtained
contributions. "In the first few hours alone,
I got $6,000 in pledges:' he beamed. "I'm
very grateful for the benevolence of my
customers; many of them are prominent
members of the Jewish community
"I'm fortunate to have so many Jewish
customers who I owe my success to. Some
World War II hero Col. Mordechai Frizis is to be honored with an equestrian statue
to be unveiled and dedicated next spring.
Friends of Col. Frizis Committee: Telmer Constan, David Neary, Stefanos Becharas
of them even think I'm Jewish because I
know a lot of Yiddish expressions and I tell
them Jewish jokes; I'm thankful for their
generosity:' said Becharas, who has oper-
ated the Gallery since 1983.
The statue quest also was assisted
financially by communities in Greece and
by the New York-based Association of
Friends of Greek Jewry, which originally
was organized to help restore Jewish cem-
eteries and synagogues in Greece, and to
honor the Greeks who risked their lives
to help their Jewish neighbors during the
war. The Nazis annihilated about 70,000
of the 85,000 Greek Jews; only about 5,000
Jews remain in Greece now
Becahras also convinced the Holocaust
Memorial Center in Farmington Hills to
give Frizis a place of honor there com-
memorating his heroism; it was dedicated
In connection with the ongoing effort,
the 2008 Frizis Award was presented to U.S.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., at a Washington,
D.C., ceremony. The award, conceived by
the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes, is given
only to high-level Jewish leaders in the U.S
government who have made significant
contributions to Hellenic causes.
Becharas first became interested in
Frizis when he saw a documentary about
him on one of three TV channels he picks
up from Greece over a satellite dish at his
home. Frizis, one of 13 children and once
an aspiring lawyer, served in campaigns in
Macedonia, the Ukraine and Turkey in the
1920s, spending a year in a Turkish prison.
Wherever he went, he stunned local Jews
by speaking to them in Hebrew.
Frizis' big battle came when his ill-
armed forces repelled the well-armed
Italian fascists invading Greece from
Albania, killing hundreds of them and
taking 700 prisoners.
"The victory was significant because
Hitler then had to send Nazi troops to
invade Greece to make up for Italy's fail-
ure," Becharas explained. "This diverted a
lot of German manpower and resources
away from Germany's battles with England
and Russia and let them hang on until
America entered the war in 1941. It took
Germany almost three months to overrun
Greece, longer than any other country they
Buried on the battlefield, Frizis' fame —
and Jewishness — spread in Greece. He
was reburied with honors in Stavroupolis
in 2002. His grandson, a rabbi, officiated
at the services.
Becharas was a youngster during the
war and saw his brother shot and wound-
ed by the Nazis. He served in the Greek
army in peacetime, coming to America at
age 25 in 1961.
"The admiration for Col. Frizis and
our efforts to remember him with a
statue have regenerated respect for the
entire Jewish community in Greece said
Becharas. "It has resulted in a new bond-
ing between Greek Jews and other Greek
people. The Friends of Col. Frizis are look-
ing forward to returning there early next
year for dedication of the statue!'
December 3 • 2009