New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust, the day commemorates the estimated six million Jewish people who perished as a result of actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, the Jewish resistance in that period, and the heroism of the survivors and of the rescuers.
67,000 Greeks were among the estimated six million Jewish people who perished in the Holocaust, approximately 87 percent of the Jewish population of Greece—the largest percentage of any European country experiencing the Nazi extermination of Jewish populations, said Master of Ceremonies Jimmy DeMetro, Director of the New York City Greek Film Festival, opening the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day of the Greek Jewry, commemoration of the Consulate General of Greece in New York, held at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, the Hebrew Union College, on January 25.
There were Greetings by the President of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece, Solomon Asser, the Deputy Consul General of Israel, Mr. Amir Sagie, Remarks by the Rabbi Dr. Martin A. Cohen intoned a solemn Kaddish, a Prayer for the Living Dead, “Magnified and Sanctified be the Great Name of G-d” (death is not mentioned; the glory of G-d is extolled), followed by the 23rd Psalm. An acclaimed cantorial student soon to be ordained sang two mournful funeral prayers, one being “El Mole Rahamim” in Hebrew. Rabbi Cohen spoke of the ties of friendship, brotherhood, and truth between Jews and Christians. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios delivered Closing Remarks. The Niarchos Foundation, Mayor of Thessaloniki, The Honorable Yiannis S. Boutaris, recipient of the Damaskinos Award in 2016, and the Tsakooulos-Kounalakis Foundation helped make the event possible.
The speakers individually moved toward the same positive exhortation: It is most important that on this painful day of mourning the tragedy of the Second World War we must address the future; In our actions and reactions to today’s ethnic and religious violence, a time when “the world is on fire,” in Archbishop Demetrios’s words, we must never again remain neutral, as neutrality is acquiescence. “‘Never again’, is a paradigm to help others in need,” said the Archbishop.
The horror of the Shoah, said Consul General Koutras, “came after millennia of discrimination, but it merely punctuated discrimination, much like a comma. It was not an end to discrimination.” In his talk, in which he also quoted Hannah Arendt, he said, “We must speak out. We must not allow silence to be misconstrued as consent or agreement. We must disagree vigorously, vigilantly. For ‘when you hearpeople speak ill of the Jews, prick up your ears – they’re talking about you.’ And to do all this. We have to make up our minds,” he emphasized, “For we have to have done with fanaticism, and we have to speak for justice.” Koutras ended with the moving plea: “Stand with us. PLEASE STAND WITH US….”
There were two artistic additions to this year’s well-developed program—the best of this annual event to date—corroborating the introduction of Consul General Koutras as a promoter of cultural events dedicated to the development of the Consulate as a cultural nexus.
Greek composer, performing/recording artist, lyricist and violinist, Evanthia Reboutsika, joined in the tribute, and an excerpt from Greek director Vassilis Loules’ documentary film Kisses to the Children brought reality to the commemoration. Reboutsika, best-known for her award-winning film music, one being A Touch of Spice, roamed the venue with her violin, filling the room with palpable emotion. Characteristically meticulous in his observation, Archbishop Demetrios, speaking later, humorously noted that while he greatly appreciated her melodies in the minor key, which appropriately brought sorrow to the fore, in future she might consider composing something in a major key.
Loules’ film, Kisses to the Children, the survival stories of five residents of Thessaloniki who as children, were hidden from the invaders, has now entered into the canon of significant contributions to the archives of information about World War II. The excerpt shown was the testimony of Rosina Asser Pardo, mother of Solomon Asser, who, after viewing the first screening of Kisses to the Children in the U.S. at New York’s Center for Jewish History in 2013 stood and said with great emotion, “My mother never told me this.”
Greek artist Yorgos Giotsas Installation of five distressed objects, a briefcase, a man’s hat and jacket, and a pair of slippers, conveyed displacement, poverty, wandering, and grief.
His Eminence Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey, Rabbi David Levy, The Honorable Maria Theofili, Ambassador of Greece to the UN; The Honorable Kornelis Kornellou, Ambassador of Cyprus to the UN; The Honorable Vasilios Philippou, Consul General of Cyprus; The Honorable Franceso Genuardi; Consul General of Italy; David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee; Jason Guberman, American Sephardic Federation; Menachem Rosensaft, General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress; Professor Dimitris Argyriades; Amalia Kosmetatou, Executive Director of the Onassis Foundation (USA); Dr. Katherine Fleming, Provost of New York University, were among the distinguished guests.