Today we remember dearly the sacrifice of the 155 of our Jewish compatriots that lost their lives in the Nazi death camps. And at the same time we celebrate the spirit of humanism and solidarity shown by the people of Volos, who saved some 750 Jewish people, or more than 83% of the Israelite Community of our home town.
Greeks are a people that through their long history have suffered a long period of slavery and persecution. More than 1,5 million Greeks of the Asia Minor and Pontus were the victims of one of the worst genocides of our century. A genocide not recognized by Turkey, same as they do with the Armenian Genocide.
When we expect from others to recognize this injustices done to our people, we have to be equally sensitive to the pains and suffering of our brothers and sisters that have suffered, just because their different religion, or ethnicity, or race.
They say, a good deed is always repaid, one way or another. In August 1922, when the flames set by the Turks were burning the beautiful City of Smyrna in Asia Minor and its Greek population were dying by the thousands, there was a tobacco manufacturer, named Herman Spirer. His parents were Swiss Jews. Besides Smyrna, he also had business in Volos, Drama, Kavala and Salonica. Spirer hosted hundreds of Greeks in his factory, raised the Swiss flag for protection and paid for the ships that carried them to safety. Some of those refugees landed in Volos and even worked in Spirerʼs tobacco factory.
I donʼt think people of Volos ever forgot this gesture of humanity and kindness. Maybe this is the reason why our hometown is an example of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Maybe this is the reason even the German consul in Volos at the time, Helmut Scheffel, told Metropolitan Ioakeim that the danger for the Jews of Volos was imminent. Metropolitan Iakeim and Mayor Saratsis helped them, as well as the municipal clerk Zissis Mantidis and the police Chief, Ilias Agdiniotis. The partisans of the National Liberation Front, EAM, coordinated a huge evacuating operation and in only one night all nine hundred people left town. My father, a 16year old partisan at the time, was telling me of some of his Jewish comrades. And of course it was thanks to the leadership of the Israelite Community of Volos who didnʼt trust the German lies and left.
Thatʼs why the majority of the Jewish Community of Volos survived.
Asher Matathias, our speaker, and his parents were some of these survivors. He is a caveman, because he was born in a cave of Mount Pelion, in December 3 1943. He immigrated with his parents to America, in 1956, where he ʽs got an excellent education; he is a professor at the St Johns University and we are proud to have him and his lovely Voliotissa wife and my neighbor in Volos, Anna, as members of our association. And we all together contribute in sending to every one in the world this strong message of tolerance, brotherhood and understanding.