NEW YORK – The annual commemoration of the International Day of Holocaust Remembrance, the Holocaust Remembrance Day of the Greek Jewry, organized by the Consulate General of Greece in New York, was held on January 21 at Hebrew Union College in Manhattan.
Hellenic Film Society president James Demetro gave the welcoming remarks at the event and served as Master of Ceremonies. He introduced Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras who also welcomed all those present, emphasizing the responsibility we all have in the fight against anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance. He noted that “if we want to break the vicious cycle of ignorance and racism, then each of us, instead of stepping aside, should step in when and where we see our brothers and sisters being victimized by words or deeds.”
Koutras said that we must cherish hope, seek meaning, and pray for redemption, adding that the righteous will have prevailed when the dust settles.
American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece President Solomon Asser spoke about the Museum’s central role in raising awareness of anti-Semitism and invited all those present to support the Museum and spread the word of its efforts. In addition, Mr. Asser called for a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Holocaust.
Consul General of Israel Dani Dayan in his remarks noted that last year he had spoken of the history and experience of Greek Jews in the Holocaust and their Greek Orthodox fellow citizens who had taken a stand for them during World War II, but this year, he said, “I feel the need to speak for the present. Anti-Semitism is here, it exists to an extent we could never have imagined. It exists equally in the countries of Europe and America.”
He pointed out that “words are not enough” and “an alliance of action” is needed “to defeat all anti-Semitism.”
Rabbi Diana S. Gerson, a student of Rabbi Dr. Martin A. Cohen who could not attend this year’s event, spoke about her first trip to Greece in 2014, visiting the Jewish Quarter of Rhodes, and noting how she visits Greece every year. She then led a prayer in honor of all those who were killed in the Holocaust.
A video by the Jewish Museum of Greece was also screened at the event which showed present day Greek students and the tremendous impact on them during their trip to Auschwitz and learning about the atrocities that took place there.
The keynote speaker of the evening was David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Commission (AJC), who has previously been described by Israeli President Simon Peres as “the Jewish people’s foreign minister.”
Mr. Harris began his speech by welcoming the audience in Greek, Hebrew, and German, and noted that “Holocaust Remembrance is important and essential, but not enough… For me, the true test of the remembrance events is not the tear drops, but the actions we take on the day after.”
In reference to the rise in anti-Semitism all over the world, Harris noted that we must stand up for the living since we cannot bring back those who perished in the Holocaust. He said that the true test is a call to action, and it up to us to protect the living and those whose lives may be in danger.
The event concluded with a music program by Chamber Music Hellas. William Hobbs offered an introduction, noting how the works were chosen to reflect the themes of remembrance, the Holocaust, and the Jewish experience. The concert began with the work of Olivier Messiaen, Abime des oiseaux. Messiaen wrote the piece while he was a prisoner in Stalag VIII-A, Gorlitz. The program continued with mezzo soprano Maria Zoi who sang, accompanied by William Hobbs on piano, Mikis Theodorakis’ Asma Asmaton (Song of Songs) and When the War Ends, both with lyrics by Iakovos Kambanellis.
Finally, Sergei Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes (1919) and Maurice Ravel’s Kaddish (1914) were performed by the gifted musicians of Chamber Music Hellas. The music program was supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
Among those present at the event were Greece’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Maria Theofili, Consul General of the Republic of Cyprus in New York Alexis Phedonos-Vadet, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Chief Administrative Officer and Co-Chief Operating Officer Vasili Tsamis, Atlantic Bank President Nancy Papaioannou, Cultural Attache and Public Affairs Officer for the Consulate General of Greece in New York Evelyn Kanelleas, Economic and Commercial Affairs Attache Vasilios Liveris, Founder and President of Chamber Music Hellas Vassos Papagapitos, Chef Maria Loi, Professor Demetrios Argyriades, Dr. George Liakeas, and many more. After the program, a short reception followed with catering by Gyro World, contributed by Ms. Nancy Papaioannou.