A Greek family hid a Jewish family during the Holocaust. 70 years later, they helped open a restaurant.


Vasilios Kanaras was struggling. His Towson restaurant The Crabby Greek fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic when he was forced to shut it down due to the lack of business while everyone was quarantining. Following The Crabby Greek’s closure, he hoped to open a new restaurant, but finding funds for such a venture was not easy.

Vasilios Kanaras with his mother Angela and Josephine Velelli Becker. (Courtesy of Vasilios Kanaras)

Then help came from an unexpected place for the Greek restaurateur: a Jewish family looking to repay the debt they owed to his grandparents.

70 years earlier, winemaker Elias Michalos and his wife hid nine members of Velelli family from Nazis for nearly a year. “The Michaloses did so while risking their own safety and the safety of their three young children,” said Eileen Hollander, a descendent of the hidden family. “It is only because of their bravery that our family survived and grew.”

Hollander’s mother, Josephine Velelli Becker, was among those sheltered. Along with then seven-year-old Josephine Velelli was her one-year-old sister Regina, their parents Emily and Emanuel Velelli, their grandparents and Emanuel’s three brothers.

The two families reunited when they both moved to America — first the Michalos family in 1951 and then Velellis five years later.

“Somebody had told [the Velellis] that my grandparents and family were here,” Kanaras said. “They went down to Lexington and left a note at a local Greek store. They ran into each other while shopping. They’ve been very close since then. My mom would say that they spent their first Thanksgiving together.”

While the Velelli family tried to repay Michalos for what he had done, he refused to take their money. So, when Velelli Becker heard that his grandson was raising money to open a new restaurant, she took the opportunity to pay her gratitude forward: She shared his GoFundMe with the members of her family, and together they contributed enough to fund Kanaras’s new restaurant.

“My mother and Miss Josephine, they talk a few times a week,” Kanaras said. “It just came up in a conversation. My mother said I had some unexpected expenses and ran out of money. Next thing you know, Josephine’s daughter Yvonne [Fishbein] gave me a concept. She said ‘We’re going to help you,’ and sure enough, within a couple of days, I look at my GoFundMe and the money is pouring in.”

“There is no amount of money that can equal saving the lives of a family that almost certainly would have perished,” Hollander said, “but giving to the GoFundMe was a small thing that we could do.”

When Kanaras opened The New Southern Kitchen in Hunt Valley, word of the story spread fast. Several major news outlets, including The Washington Post, CBS, and People covered the unusual tale of kindness and charity, driving in a lot of business on the weekends.
Unfortunately, that buzz did not lead to long-term success. Kanaras recently closed The New Southern Kitchen, just as he did with The Crabby Greek.

“The weekends were doing okay, but it wasn’t enough to sustain the whole week,” Kanaras said. “During the weekdays, there were days where I wasn’t even making $200.”

“We are sad that the Southern Kitchen did not succeed,” said Hollander. “It was a really nice place.”

Kanaras is the son of a restaurant owner, though, and has not given up on the industry. He is currently looking for another place to open a restaurant. He does not know what he needs for his new venture just yet, but he knows the Velellis will continue to emotionally support his efforts as the friendship between the two families lives on.

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