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Culture

Consulate General of Greece Hosts Holocaust Remembrance of the Greek Jewry

NEW YORK – The Consulate General of Greece in New York hosted the annual Holocaust Remembrance of the Greek Jewry on March 2 at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Manhattan. The event, usually closer to Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, was delayed due to the pandemic and was held again in person, after last year’s virtual event, to once more commemorate the Shoah and unequivocally reaffirm the commitment to oppose and counter anti-Semitism.

Among the speakers at this year’s event were Consul General of Greece in New York Dr. Konstantinos Koutras, Consul General of Cyprus Michalis Firillas, Consul General of Israel Asaf Zamir, American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece (AFJMG) President Solomon Asser, Rabbi Diana Gerson, and keynote speaker Mark Mazower, the Ira D. Wallach Professor of History and Director of the Institute for Ideas & Imagination at Columbia University.

Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras, at podium, asked for a moment of silence for the victims of the invasion of Ukraine during the Holocaust Remembrance of the Greek Jewry at Hebrew Union College on March 2. Photo: TNH/ Zafeiris Haitidis

James DeMetro served as the Master of Ceremonies for the event and gave the opening remarks, noting that Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Greeks Abroad Andreas Katsaniotis who was scheduled to attend would instead offer his greetings via video due to the events in Ukraine. Katsaniotis highlighted the important efforts by Greece during its presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in educating future generations about the Holocaust to prevent such atrocities from ever again happening, while also fighting hate speech, discrimination, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust denial.

Consul General Koutras before his remarks asked everyone to turn their thoughts to the people of Ukraine and to stand “for a moment of silence for the victims of this latest illegal invasion.” He then noted that “we should honor those who in an instant were no more” in the Holocaust. “We owe a debt to the dead” to remember them and also “owe a debt of honor to the survivors,” Koutras said. “We can still make our world different from theirs” by taking “the moral stance rooted in remembrance to honor the fallen and stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves, stand up for those who are different from us” since “all of us, of every creed and color, we are strangers who walk alone. Walk together, walk tall during the day, so we can rest in peace at night.”

AFJMG President Solomon Asser welcomed everyone to the event and spoke about the mission of the Jewish Museum of Greece and the program organizing visits to Auschwitz for schoolchildren to teach Greek Christian students about the Holocaust. He shared about his mother’s diary, published in 1996, which offers insights into the Greek Jewish experience. Asser also noted that the Jewish Museum’s Good Shepherds exhibition, highlighted in last year’s virtual commemoration, will be opening in Boston next week.

Consul General Zamir in his remarks said it was heartwarming that the Greek Consulate hosts the annual commemoration for the 18th year to say “never again.” He pointed out that there is still a need to teach about the Holocaust and the greatest challenge is reaching the younger generations as the “war on the narrative will be an ongoing war forever.”

Consul General Firillas shared his personal experience as the son of a diplomat and being married to an Israeli woman for 26 years. He read from a piece he wrote in 2008 that highlighted how his views changed about the Holocaust after learning that a local elderly store-owner was a survivor.

Rabbi Gerson in her remarks noted that she is one-quarter Romaniote and pointed out that last year’s virtual event reached 10,000 viewers around the world. She then led the prayer to honor those who perished in the Holocaust.

Professor Mark Mazower was the keynote speaker at the Holocaust Remembrance of the Greek Jewry hosted by the Consulate General of Greece in New York. Photo: TNH/ Zafeiris Haitidis

In the keynote speech, Prof. Mazower spoke about his own experience visiting Greece for the first time and learning about the Jewish community, sifting through the archives of documents from the war. He focused on the year 1943 and highlighted the letters written by Sarina (Sara) Saltiel in Thessaloniki to her son Maurice Saltiel in Athens. The letters, likely smuggled out of the ghetto by Greek Christian friends, offer a very personal aspect of the experience of that time, showcasing the struggle to keep families together and how quickly things can change for the worse. Mazower noted the importance of history in helping us “understand who we are.”

The musical portion of the program, sponsored by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, was the conception of the Atelier d’ Excellence with mezzo-soprano Maria Zoi, pianist Mary Pinto, and cellist Paloma Ferrante presenting a moving performance of works by Gustav Mahler and Max Bruch, as well as The Mauthausen Song Cycle by Mikis Theodorakis and poet/lyricist Iakovos Kambanellis who was a survivor of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.

Among those present were His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios formerly of America, Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Archimandrite Nektarios Papazafiropoulos- representing His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Chief Administrative Officer Vasili Tsamis, Popita Pavli, Consul of Greece in New York Dimitris Papageorgiou, Atlantic Bank President Nancy Papaioannou, Cultural Attaché and Public Affairs Officer for the Consulate General of Greece in New York Evelyn Kanelleas, Professor Demetrios Argyriades, Peter Stavrianidis, and Dr. George Liakeas.

After the program, a reception followed with catering by Gyro World was contributed by Ms. Nancy Papaioannou.

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