New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
The cheering crowds celebrating the presidential inauguration would have been fewer this year due to pandemic precautions, but there wouldn’t have been room for them anyway, because filling the National Mallwere armed soldiers and police required to guard the new President of the United States in view of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. The riot at the US Capitol, a scene drenched with racist and anti-Semitic slogans, made obvious the current rising threat of racism and anti-Semitism.
While the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day of the Greek Jewry eventpresented (virtually this year) by The American Friends of the Jewish Museum (AFJMGon January 21,) has always had great emotional impact, the threat of the January 6 riot entered into the talks of all the speakers, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, Her Excellency Alexandra Papadopoulou, Ambassador of Greece to the U.S.A., Solomon Asser, President of the AFJMG, Rabbi Diana Gerson, and Mimis N. Cohen, a founding member of the American friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece, historian and lecturer and narrator of “The Good Shepherds” Exhibition presentation.
Held under the auspices of the Embassy of Greece in Washington DC, with the participation of every Greek Consular Authority in the US, the commemoration, with Jimmy DeMetro, founder and president of the Hellenic Film Society USA as MC, the event featured a presentation of “The Good Shepherds”, an exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Greece, with the cooperation of the AFJMG.
The idea for the Good Shepherds exhibition originated with the President of the Jewish Museum of Greece, Samuel (Makis) Matsas, a child of the Occupation, who survived the Holocaust thanks to the timely escape of his parents and the generosity of friends and strangers.
“The Good Shepherds”, narrated live by Mimis N. Cohen, who, in reaction to its moving content, was sometimes unable to continue, is a history of the hierarchs and average citizens instrumental in saving the lives of Greek Jews during the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis during the Second World. Greece suffered the largest percentage of loss of any European country. 67,000 Greeks, representing 87% of the Jewish population of Greece were among the millions who perished.
The storming of the Capitol by members of anti-Semitic groups shows that Semitism is still with us, as are Holocaust-deniers, said Dr. Cohen, relating that at the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz with other leaders last year, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis quoted historian Ian Kershaw, who said, “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference.” “The Holocaust could have been prevented, said Mimis N. Cohen, in his narration of the exhibition, showing the August 15, 1943 TIME Magazine cover picture of Pope Pius XII, if the heads of the major religions had confronted NAZI leaders.
Comprising the exhibition are also maps, historic pictures from World War II, impressive portraits of both the Christian and Jewish hierarch “shepherds”, photographs of events such as The Honorable Yannis Boutaris, Mayor of Thessaloniki, receiving the Damaskinos Award, and the American, Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Council, and founder of the Lauder School for Jewish Children. Capturing a rare and unusual moment, pictures of the last of three Greek sisters, orphans, who sheltered a family, show the 96-year-old surrounded by the forty descendants of the family who came from Israel to honor her and tell her that they all owe their existence to her and her sisters.
Some among the many religious leaders and citizens of Greece who acted as “Good Shepherds” saving lives: Archbishop Damaskinos in Athens who ordered the church to issue false baptismal certificates, Athens Police Chief Angelos Evert, who issued false identification cards to Greek Jews, Metropolitan Chrysostomos and Mayor Loukas Karrer who saved the Jews of Zakynthos, Metropolitan Ioakeim of Dimitriada, and Metropolitan Grigorios of Halkis who hid the Torah and other religious books and holy objects in the altar of his church, thus saving the community (considered one of the oldest in Europe, with a continuous presence from before the first century CE) community from “persecution by the barbarian conqueror.” Proclaimed a great benefactor of the Jews of the city, his name was engraved on a marble plaque on the synagogue wall.
Ambassador Papadopoulou thanked all those who helped organize the event, including Consul General Koutras, who was pivotal in in its organization.
Archbishop Elpidophoros, moved by hearing the 23rd Psalm in the original Hebrew, said that he was reciting the psalm in Greek version along with the Rabbi. “‘The Good Shepherd’ exhibition reminds us of the need for true spiritual leadership and is also a brutal reminder that we shepherds must be ever vigilant, because the wolves of hatred are not extinct,” he said, adding that commemorations like this are vital and necessary to never forgetting. noted that Greek Jewry and Greek Christianity are bound to the one, true God and share common core values, morals, and ethics. “Let us embrace one another, even virtually, in agape, love, mutual respect and understanding and follow in the footsteps of the Good Shepherds and never forget the Good Shepherds.”
The American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece (AFJMG) was founded in 1982 by Dimitri Molfetas in order to promote and provide much-needed financial support to the Jewish Museum of Greece that was founded in 1977.
The video of the Holocaust Remembrance Day event can be seen on the American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece Facebook page.