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February 22, 2012 9:24 am

Greek Rememberance Provides Grand Opportunity

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Synagogue in Athens. Photo: wiki commons.

In the wake of the economic drama now playing out in Greece, the annual Commemoration of the Holocaust of Greek Jewry, under the auspices of the Greek Consul-General Georgios Iliopoulos, held February 18 in New York may seem of small consequence. But, the awakening of the Greek American community to the history of their country, however, is significant. That growing awareness, coupled with unofficial conversations encouraging the Greek government to finally reverse its 1947 United Nations vote against Israeli statehood could add a distinctly positive aura to the growing relationship between the two countries.

87% of the pre-war population of Greek Jewry was lost in the holocaust, the highest percentage loss of any country. In New York, Consul-General Georgios Iliopoulos opened the program with greetings from Greek Ambassador to the U.S. Vassilis Kaskarelis, Rabbi Martin A. Cohen, professor at Hebrew Union College. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios honored the event with his presence as well. A “sister” event took place in Greece at Volos, and in other major Greek cities, where the decimated Greek Jewish community was memorialized.

President of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece, Solomon Asser, spoke of the importance of maintaining the 2300 year legacy of Greek Jewry, including supporting the Jewish Museum in Athens. Despite official Greek government attempts to repair relations with Israel and the United States, contemporary Jewish life in Greece still faces periodic incidents of anti-semitism. Professor Asher J. Matathias, President of Long Island B’nai Brith and an activist in the Greek American Jewish Community, has raised public awareness of this continuing crisis. He has requested that a resolution condemning the series of fires against synagogues in Greece be officially issued by the Federation of Hellenic Societies. Matathias says there is “a grand opportunity for Greece and Greeks everywhere to make amends for past policies,” including the possibility of a formal reversal of its 1947 United Nations vote against Israeli statehood.

In Thessaloniki, Macedonia, the Holocaust Memorial stands at the site from which, Plateia Eleftherias, the German occupation army, assembled Jewish males in July, 1942, to conscript them for “forced labor.” The public humiliation and tortures that they imposed on them (standing in the sun all day long, doing “calisthenics”, beatings etc.) were just the harbingers of what was to follow, according to Demitrios Chatzis, Asher Matathias and Dr. Bill Gatzoulis.

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