New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
The General Consulate of Greece with the co-operation of the “Argonauts” Association of Magnesia Prefecture in New York, honored the victims of the Holocaust during an emotional ceremony, last Thursday in Manhattan. More than 120 people participated in the ceremony, among them Archbishop Demetrios, Permanent Representative of Greece Ambassador Anastasis Mitsialis, Rabbi Martin Cohen and the President of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece Solomon Asser.
The head of Greek Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic and Historical Archives Service Fotini Tomai, was the main speaker (the full text of her speech in page 44). A screening of Fotini Tomai’s documentary “The Greek Revolt” took place.
In her speech Tomai spoke about her book, a publication of the Foreign Ministry through which the shocking story emerges of the more than sixty five thousand Greek Jews who experienced untold torture and death at the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
“Each time I hear a survivor to forgive those responsible for this suffering, I blame myself because simply I cannot forgive them (the Nazis)”, she said at the conclusion of her speech.
In opening the ceremony, the hostess Consul General of Greece, Ambassador Aghi Balta, pointed out that the event takes place to commemorate the Holocaust Remembrance Day established under a UN resolution and by a decision of the Greek Parliament.
“65 years have passed. Almost a life time. Many of the witnesses who survived the Holocaust are no longer with us. Day by day we are losing steadily their gentle voice to remind us that man can be responsible for the best of actions, or for the worst of evils”, she said.
Ambassador Balta encouraged every one to remember the survivors’ testimonies and keep alive their memory.
“What took place during those horrid days of the WW II cannot be interpreted, denied or put aside. It is our duty to remember and never forget the crimes against the innocent victims, the children who died in their mother’s arms, the bravery that existed, the generosity, but also the treason. Not because we are guided by vengeance, but because we want to insure that phenomena such as the Shoa must never take place ever again.”
Rabbi Martin Cohen, Professor of Jewish History at the Hebrew Union College wondered “how it was possible for those who perpetrated the horrendous acts that we commemorate today, armed with the latest technology. What is missing, he said, is the morality that was taught by Judaism and Christianity, the sense of human dignity and compassion”.
The president of the “Argonauts” Association of Magnesia, Demetra Savelidou, pointed out that her association is proud to be the first Greek organization of the Diaspora to establish a Holocaust Commemorative event this event 4 years ago, under the auspices of the consulate general of Greece and the Greek Embassy, honoring the victims of the Holocaust, among them 150 Greek Jews martyrs from Volos that died in the hands of the Nazis; but also honoring the heroic Greek Christians who hide and saved approximately 800 of their Jewish compatriots.
“One of those people saved was our board member Asher Matathias, born in a cave at Mountain Pelion, while his father was fighting with the resistance whose life story inspired us all.”
Savelidou said that during the war and the German Occupation, Greece suffered many atrocities; mass starvation, executions, becoming the nation with the most victims according to its population. Volos and Magnesia were one these places.
“At the martyric village of Drakia, few meters away from the hiding place of young Asher Matathias, the Germans executed 133 men.
The tragic events that occurred during the German Occupation in Greece also allowed for the bravest of the brave to come out and help defend and protect the lives of many Jews in Magnesia and through out Greece.”
The president of the Argonauts paid tribute to people of Volos like Metropolitan Ioakeim of Dimitrias, Mayor Saratsis, town registrar Z;isis Mantidis, the Police Directos Ilias Aidiniotis, the leaders of the Greek Resistance, and even the German Consul Seffel, who contributed to the effort of saving the Jews.
“The will be remembered for ever as beacons of Humanism, Bravery, Brotherhood, tolerance and reconciliation, making us all proud to be their ancestors and followers.”
Solomon Asser paid tribute to the important book by Photini Tomai, as well as the documentary.
“No other country in the world has put such a book”, he said, paying also tribute to a photographic exhibition by Victor Kohen, displayed at the Consulate, on Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majdanek and Treblinka.
Solomon Asser presented briefly the efforts of the Jewish Museum of Greece to keep alive the memories about the Jews of Greece before the war. He also stressed that he and others wouldn’t be here tonight, without the help of their Christian brothers who offered the refuge.
“When you leave tonight’s event, please talk about the Holocaust. Because we must forgive, but not forget”, he concluded.
Archbishop Demetrios spoke about the common roots of Judaism and Christianity and pointed out certain Jewish theologians who wrote in Greek. He also recalled the holocaust ceremonies that he attended last year in his homeland Thessaloniki, where he was made honorary member of the City’s Israelite Community. During the visit and at a reunion of old friends, they all remembered one of their classmates perished in the death camps.
Demetrios compared the holocaust victims to the martyrs of our Church, that occupy a central position in our religion.
“Martyrdom centers in the quality of the victims, rather the viciousness of their tortures”, he concluded.