NEW YORK – This year, the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day of the Greek Jewry was held virtually via Zoom on January 21. The event featured The Good Shepherds, an exhibition by the Jewish Museum of Greece (JMG) in cooperation with The American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece (AFJMG). The speakers included His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, Ambassador of Greece to the United States Alexandra Papadopoulou, Rabbi Diana Gerson, AFJMG President Solomon Asser, and Dr. Mimis N. Cohen.
Held under the auspices of the auspices of the Embassy of Greece in Washington, DC, and with the participation of every Greek Consular Authority in the USA, the event highlighted the especially vital need to Never Forget and also to continue to stand against anti-Semitism and hatred in any form. James DeMetro, founder and president of the Hellenic Film Society USA, gave the welcoming remarks and introduced the speakers.
Ambassador Papadopoulou said she was honored to host the commemoration and thanked all those who helped organize the event, including the Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras, Rabbi Gerson, the AFJMG, and the JMG for its exhibition honoring those who showed the courage to honor the sacred values and principles of humanity, honor the sacred duty to obey God's law, to value human beings, and human life. Ambassador Papadopoulou also noted that it is our duty to remember and to recognize the signs of future horrors we can prevent and never allow these horrible acts to be committed again.
AFJMG President Solomon Asser noted that the commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day becomes more and more important as the survivors are disappearing. He also spoke about the efforts of the JMG, founded 44 years ago to preserve the culture of Greek Jews and also educate about the Holocaust. Asser mentioned the Kounalakis family, including California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who support the Museum's educational trips for Greek Christian students to Auschwitz.
The idea for The Good Shepherds exhibition by the JMG originated with Samuel (Makis) Matsas, President of the Museum. A child of the Occupation, who survived thanks to the timely escape of his parents and the generosity of friends and strangers, Matsas asked the museum to research the conditions under which senior members of the Christian clergy and eminent rabbis acted in various ways to assist persecuted Jews during the Nazi Occupation.
Dr. Cohen gave the moving presentation on the exhibition, noting that there are well-known names among those featured, including Archbishop Damaskinos in Athens, and Metropolitan Chrysostomos and Mayor Loukas Karrer who saved all the Jews of Zakynthos, but there were many other religious leaders and average citizens who acted as “Good Shepherds” to save lives in Greece.
Dr. Cohen read from Archbishop Damaskinos' Petition of March 23, 1943 which noted, among other powerful statements, “In our national consciousness, all the children of Mother Greece are an inseparable unity: they are equal members of the national body irrespective of religion or dogmatic differences.”
Slides including historic and contemporary photographs and maps were included in the online presentation by Dr. Cohen who was visibly moved as he spoke about the heroic efforts amid the tragedy of the Holocaust. The Jewish community of Halkis is considered one of the oldest in Europe with a continuous presence from before the first century CE and survived the Holocaust. Metropolitan Grigorios of Halkis, among his efforts to help save the Jewish community “from persecution by the barbarian conqueror,” hid Halkida's seven Torah scrolls in his church's altar room, along with the synagogue's books and holy vessels. He was proclaimed a great benefactor of the Jews of the city and his name was engraved on a marble plaque on the synagogue wall.
Dr. Cohen also pointed out that anti-Semitism is still with us and beware of Holocaust deniers, referring to the storming of the U.S. Capitol which included members of anti-Semitic groups. He noted that last year was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and among the leaders at the commemoration was Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis who quoted historian Ian Kershaw, that “the road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference.”
Rabbi Gerson recited Psalm 23 and the memorial prayer in Hebrew and English and noted that “we stand on the shoulders of those who lived and those who perished” in the Holocaust. “May they rest in peace,” she said to conclude the prayers.
Archbishop Elpidophoros mentioned that he was moved hearing the Psalm in the original Hebrew and was reciting the Greek version along with the Rabbi, adding that 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.”
Archbishop Elpidophoros said that commemorations are vital and necessary to never forget and 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,” His Eminence concluded.
James DeMetro echoed Ambassador Papadopoulou's words that remembering is not enough. “We have to stand up for what is right, to remain silent is to be complicit,” DeMetro said, and concluded by thanking all the organizers of the event, and all those who participated.
More information is available online: https://afjmg.org/.