In the presence of camp survivors and to the sound of a solo violin performance of the haunting theme from Schindler’s List, a memorial to the thousands of Greek Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust was unveiled in Athens on May 10.
The Athens Holocaust Memorial consists of a broken marble Star of David. Poignantly, each of the monument’s six triangles points in the general direction of the 25 Greek cities and towns whose Jewish populations fell victim to the Nazis.
Situated near the ancient Kerameikos cemetery in the pedestrianised section of Ermou St, the new monument stands close to the Athens synagogue, where, on 24 March 1944, the Gestapo trapped hundreds of the city’s Jews. They were later transported to Auschwitz, where it is estimated that 1,000 Athenian Jews died.
In all 67,000 of Greece’s Jewish citizens, or 86 percent of the community, lost their lives in the Holocaust, most of them at Auschwitz.
The monument was jointly unveiled by Nikitas Kaklamanis, mayor of Athens, and Benjamin Albalas, president of the Jewish Community of Athens, at a ceremony attended by political and religious leaders, members of the judiciary, diplomats, Israeli representatives as well as a large number of Greece’s Jewish communities.
Referring to the Holocaust monument, Kaklamanis said that thememorial ”reminds us that the men, women and children who were tortured and murdered in the name of racism, xenophobia, bigotry, intolerance and anti-Semitism were our people, our neighbours, our relatives”.
This monument is ”dedicated to the memory of thousands of Jewish men and women who tragically perished in concentration camps”, Albalas said, adding that his community was presenting it to the people of Athens as an ”eternal reminder of the horror which human beings can cause to other human beings because they are different [and] so that it will never happen again”.
Placing a small stone atop the triangle pointing to Thessaloniki was Heather Nahmias, whose husband’s family lost 17 members to the Holocaust, nine of them children.
”Athens is the last European capital to have a Holocaust memorial, so this is very important for us,” Nahmias said.
The sculpture is the creation of Greek-American artist Deanna Maganias, whose design was selected from among 19 entries submitted in a competition.
”One of the most important things about the monument is its scale and the fact that it doesn’t have an orientation that is front, side or back. It’s in and around. Watching people interact with it was very important and moving for me.”
Maganias explained that the design was inspired by a ”common inheritance of Jews and Greeks and that’s the notion of the diaspora”.
”I think the monument has everything to do with distant places and movement. It made sense to use the Star of David, which is a beautiful geometric form and the ancient symbol of the protection of the Jewish people, as a compass,” Maganias said.
The monument is surrounded by trees and some low shrubbery. As landscaper Simon Rackham explained, ”this garden has been planted without any irrigation and serves as a model of what green spaces in Athens could look like in the future.”