Fred Kakis was a professor of chemistry at Chapman University for twenty-five years starting in 1964 and retiring in 1989. Most importantly, Kakis was a Holocaust survivor who was a part of the 2% of Greek Jews to survive the Holocaust. During WWII, Kakis was a member of the resistance movement, fighting against the Nazi regime. “The family decision not to follow the German commands and to join the resistance allowed me to walk proudly and hold my head high by knowing that I, and all the members of my immediate family, was able to strike some blows for freedom instead of going like lambs to the slaughter,” Kakis wrote in his book, Legacy of Courage.
When the Nazis stormed Kakis’ hometown of Drama, Greece, when he was only eleven years old, one of the only things that saved his widowed mother and three siblings was that his mother was one of the few who could speak German to the Gestapo. During the raid, the Gestapo entered their house based on a rumor that the family had a radio. “My mother started to laugh,” Kakis said. “She said ‘did you say a radio? You must be joking. I’m a poor widow with four children. Where would I get the money to buy a radio?’” The Gestapo ignored her and searched the house, finding nothing. While they were leaving, one of them spotted a wire hanging from the ceiling against the wall. They were curious why there was a wire hanging from the ceiling if they didn’t have a radio. Without hesitation, Kakis’ mother responded by telling them the former tenants had a radio and the Gestapo left the house.
For Kakis and the rest of his family, that moment was life or death. The way his mother handled the situation saved her children. Kakis relived his time during the Holocaust in his book where he goes into the details of what life was like resisting the Nazis at such a young age. After the war, he returned to school. After finishing high school at 17, he moved to New York where he received his Bachelor of Science in chemistry from City University of New York. After, he received his doctorate from Stanford University.
Eventually, he became the head of the chemistry department and chairman of the division of natural sciences at Chapman. Stories like this prove that everyone should be given a chance at life because we never know what they can possess. If that night during the Gestapo raid had gone differently, Kakis would have never been able to become such an important member of the Chapman community. When you’re in the Frederic J. Kakis, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus Study Room (LL 324), located on the 3rd floor in the Onnollee Elliott Library of Science & Technology, you are surrounded by certificates and plaques highlighting his extraordinary life. Along with the recognition, there is a statement written by Fred Kakis encouraging students to change the world. To finish this post, I’ll leave you with a quote from Kakis’ statement: “You have the chance to change the world. Go for it.”