New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Outside the temperature plummeted and snow and ice were making roads impassable, but the warmth of community at the gathering for the commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day of the Greek Jewry at the Greek Press & Communications Office in Manhattan on February 2, overwhelmed the elements.
Attendance at the commemoration demonstrated the deep commitment of so many to this important remembrance of the Holocaust in Greece, in which the greatest percentage of Greece’s Jewish community was lost; a percentage that exceeded that of any other country in Europe. In his moving welcome, Consul General of Greece Ambassador Georgios Iliopoulos host of the commemoration in the presence of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, reminded the assembly of this tragic distinction.
Rabbi Martin A. Cohen, Professor of Jewish History at Hebrew Union College spoke passionately, expressing the courageous concept of the great importance of remembering this part of Greek Jewish history while moving forward in life; living, itself, being an act of honoring those who perished.
Rabbi Cohen gave a Kaddish, a Prayer for the Living Dead, followed by a a recitation of the 23rd Psalm by a Cantorial student from Hebrew Union College in melodies that touched the soul.
Dr. Katherine Fleming’s presentation, “Glykia mou Saloniki: Memories of Greece”, was a feature of the evening. Dr. Fleming, who is Vice Chancellor and Deputy Provost of NYU and Alexander S. Onassis Professor of Hellenic Culture and Civilization in the Department of History at NYU, and Chairman of the Board of the University of Pireaus, discussed in great detail the fervent attachment that Greek Jews felt for their Greek homeland. She illustrated this love of Greece by quoting from letters written by Greek Jews in Auschwitz which wrenchingly described their yearning to return to their beloved motherland.
She also discussed how after the utter devastation and destruction of their communities at the hands of the Nazis, those Greek Jews who survived the war were forced to deal with their longing and nostalgia for the Greece and the communities they knew when they were growing up.
Dr. Fleming argued that Greek Jews today–those who live in Greece as well as those who live in NYC and Israel–continue to be fiercely proud of their Greek nationality and heritage. She closed her presentation with a stirring song by Yehuda Poliker, “Wait for Me, Salonika”. A famous musician in Israel, Poliker is the son of Greek Jewish Holocaust survivors from Thessaloniki. “Wait for Me, Salonika” is about how Greek Jews long to return to their home of Thessaloniki, to return to Greece,
Finally, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios in his closing remarks, as always, was uplifting, speaking about the importance of the commemoration, about the intense similarities and connections between Greek and Jewish cultures and between the Orthodox and Jewish faiths, and the importance of remembering the horrific events of the Holocaust as a means of building a more optimistic and respectful society.
Greek Jewish Holocaust survivors Solomon and Koula Kofinas, members of the Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue in Manhattan, stood to great applause when one of the speakers asked any survivors present to please rise.
Mr. Solomon Asser, President of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece, gave brief remarks about the critical importance of continuing this event and thanked the Greek Press Office for their amazing hospitality and dedication to honoring Holocaust Remembrance Day. During the ceremony, Mr. Asser was presented with a $5000 donation for the Jewish Museum of Greece, which he described as a living memorial to those Greek Jews who perished in WWII.
January 27 is the International Day of Commemoration of the Holocaust. Here is a chronological account of commemorations throughout Greece.
In Thessaloniki the British Embassy and the Jewish Community co-organized a series of events in memory of the Jews of Thessaloniki, both victims and survivors of the Holocaust, on January 24. The events were under the auspices of the UK International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Chairmanship which the UK assumed in February 2014. The President of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, David Saltiel, joined by British Ambassador John Kittmer, laid a wreath on behalf of the members and observers of IHRA at a ceremony that took place at the Holocaust Memorial. Earlier that day, representatives of the diplomatic corps in Greece were given a tour of the Jewish Museum and historic sites in Thessaloniki which included the “Monastiriotes” Synagogue, the Baron Hirsch neighborhood near the railroad station, where the city’s Jews were deported from to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, and the University, the site of the old Jewish Cemetery.
In Volos on February 1, a wreath was placed at the Holocaust Memorial of the city in Plateia Riga Feraiou. The President of the Jewish Community of Volos, Marsel Solomon, the Metropolitan Bishop and Mayor of Volos, and the President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities of Greece, Moisis Konstantinos, were in attendance.
The Jewish Community of Athens held a series of events on February 2, including the placement of a wreath at the Holocaust Memorial in the City. Minos Mousis, President of the Jewish Community of Athens was present.