With every page of the book I turned, I was increasingly overwhelmed by a despair over the depths that the barbarism of man can reach. The book is called The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924 Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi.
It was inconceivable to me that it could have been an official state policy – even under successive and different governments: from the Ottoman Turks to the Young Turks, to the Kemalists.
The genocide (geno = nation; cide = murder) was of the Christian subjects of those Turkish states, of the Greeks of Pontos, Ionia, and the rest of Asia Minor, the Greeks of Thrace, the Armenians, and the Chaldean Christians.
How was it possible that during those 30 years the Great Powers did not intervene to save them? And we’re talking about millions of people who were killed, in various ways – though their exact number is not known.
And yet the Turks still insist on denying that they committed genocide.
The weight of the crimes they committed is so great that they concluded no effort could erase the evil coloring of the deeds – so they systematically ignore and deny them.
Hitler’s take on genocide, almost 20 years later, was to exterminate the Jews. It was he who had infamously said, “who remembers the Armenian Genocide?”
And yet, people remember. It is our duty to never forget.
That is why today, Monday, January 27, 75 years after Soviet troops released Auschwitz’s living dead in Poland, we stop and reverently bow our heads, honoring the memory of those innocent people they found. About 1.1 million people were killed there – inhumanly – between 1940 and 1945.
Among them were many Greek Jews.
On a visit to Jerusalem, as Deputy Foreign Minister with Responsibility for Hellenes Abroad, I met with a few Greek Jews saved from the Holocaust.
It was a deeply moving moment both for me and for them. Out of politeness, they did not tell me why they left Greece. There was no need. Although many Greeks risked their lives to save many of their Jewish compatriots during the Nazi Occupation, many survivors felt more secure and comfortable in the State of Israel.
I was told that about 15 Greek Jews saved from the Holocaust are still alive in Jerusalem. I asked if they had the opportunity to visit Greece, but most had never returned, although they wanted to.
I promised that I would invite them and host them, with private, not public funds, to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
It was one of the things I really wanted to do…