The “Hidden Children in Occupied Greece” exhibit of the Jewish Museum of Greece was inaugurated by Greek Minister of Tourism Development, Ms. Fanny Palli-Petralia, on December 11 at the Embassy of Greece in Washington, DC.
The opening was attended by many distinguished members of the Washington community, including Senator Paul Sarbanes, Richard Ben-Veniste, member of the 9/11 Commission, who served as chief of the Watergate Task Force of the Watergate Special Prosecutor's Office, and whose paternal grandparents came from Thessaloniki, Greece, in 1906, Moissis Konstantinis, President of the Central Board of the Jewish Communities in Greece, whose story appears in the exhibit, Solomon Asser, President of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum in Greece, members of Jewish American institutions, journalists, academics, members of the Administration, State Department officials and members of the Greek community.
The exhibit was brought to Washington at the initiative of Greek Ambassador to the U.S., Alexandros Mallias, and is presented under the auspices of The Hon. Tom Lantos (D-CA), a holocaust survivor himself, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), with the general contribution of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum in Greece.
The exhibit presents the life of 16 Jewish children from Greece, who escaped certain death during Greece’s Nazi occupation, with the help of their Christian compatriots who hid them and supplied them with false identification papers.
In her remarks, Minister Petralia congratulated the Greek Embassy and the Jewish Museum in Greece for their initiative to travel the exhibit to the U.S. and sensitize the public about the horror of war and the Holocaust, while noting that the Jewish community constitutes a dynamic and active section of Greek society and has contributed significantly to social, economic and cultural progress in Greece.
Mr. Solomon Asser, President of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum in Greece, stated that in 2000, the Jewish Museum in Greece began research about the hidden Jewish children of occupied Greece, which culminated in this exhibited preented at the Jewish Museum in Athens in 2003. In 2006, the exhibit travelled for the first time to New York City.
Clearly moved, the President of the Jewish Communities in Greece, Mr. Moissis Konstantinis, one of the 16 children featured in the exhibit, said “being a hidden child, I was also supposed to be invisible”, conveying his experience of the Nazi Occupation, while at the same time he expressed his gratitude to all those who helped save the children.
Jewish families, noted Mr. Konstantinis, were different in only one respect, their religion. They were put to death in concentration camps in the name of a deranged racist ideology. Sixty seven thousand Greek Jews were systematically murdered by the hand of Nazis, about 86% of the Jewish population of Greece.
In his brief remarks, Senator Paul Sarbanes stated that Greece is an open and tolerant society, which put forth a great struggle against Nazist Germany.
In welcoming the guests, Ambassador of Greece, Alexandros Mallias noted that December 11 was decided upon as the opening date of the exhibit because it was the International Day of the Child. He also noted that Greece does not have short historical memory and that this exhibit constitutes palpable evidence that the actions of one individual can make all the difference.
The Ambassador also took the opportunity to congratulate retiring Senator Paul Sarbanes for his contributions to public service in the U.S., and his efforts on behalf of Greece.