January 27, 2006

Remembrance Day of the Holocaust for the Greek Jewry

Under the auspices of the Consulate General of Greece in New York, The American Sephardi Federation with the Sephardi House, The American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece, The Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce and The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, marked the commemoration of Remembrance Day of the Holocaust for the Greek Jewry, as designated by the Greek Parliament, the European Union and the United Nations, in a ceremony attended by 400 guests.

Some of the highlights of the evening included remarks by Mrs. Catherine Boura, Consul General of Greece in New York; His Grace Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, Director of the Ecumenical Office of the Greek Orthodox Church in America; and testimonies from Rosina Asser Pardo and Laura Molho Sard, two Greek Jewish women who were ‘hidden children’ during the Second World War. Also speaking were Mr. Andre Gregory, the President of the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Mimis Cohen, original founding member of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece; Abigail Tenembaum, Vice President of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, and David Dangoor, the President of the American Sephardi Federation.

Greek Jewry suffered almost total destruction during the Holocaust. Eighty-seven percent of the 77,000 Jews living in Greece before the Second World War were deported and brutally murdered in concentration camps in Germany and Poland. This is one of the highest percentages in Europe. Most of the Jews who survived owed their lives to the help offered to them by the Christian population of Greece. The leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church, Greek police, but above all ordinary citizens, risked their lives (the penalty for sheltering Jews was death), providing assistance and shelter, and moral and physical support to their Jewish compatriots. Others assisted Jews to escape from occupied territories or join the resistance against the Axis forces in the mountains.

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation awarded medals to honor the memory of four citizens of Greece for their eminent patriotism and their courageous efforts to help save the lives of their Jewish compatriots during the Second World War: Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens and all Greece (1891- 1949), who stood strong to German command and formally petitioned against the deportation of Greek Jews during the Second World War; Angelos Evert (1894-1970), who put his life on the line producing fake Greek identification certificates to all Greek Jews who requested it of him; and Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Zakynthos (1890-1958) and Loukas Karrer, Mayor of Zakynthos (1909-1985), whose steadfast courage, when a Nazi commander demanded a list of all Jewish inhabitants on the island, caused them to give them their own names instead of Jewish names. Following the award ceremony, an exhibit organized by the Jewish Museum of Greece, ”Hidden Children in Occupied Greece”, brought to the United States for the first time was displayed.

In November of 2003, Deputy Interior Minister Nikos Bistis made an announcement that opposition parties and competent government ministers agreed to designate January 27th as Holocaust Remembrance Day. There had been a public request for the introduction of a Holocaust Remembrance Day in February of that year by the Jewish community of Thessaloniki. The Greek Parliament in 2004 officially proclaimed January the 27th as: ”Day of Remembrance of Greek Jewish Martyrs and Heroes of the Holocaust.”

In addition to Greece, the UK, Germany, Poland, Spain, Italy, Romania, France, Norway, Finland, Russia, Etonia, Israel, the Council of Europe and the United Nations recognize January 27th as Holocaust Remembrance Day and will commemorate the date with events every year.