11 December, 2006
Honorable Ambassador Mr Mallias,
Honorable Senator Sarbanes,
Honarable Richard Ben - Veniste
President Mr Konstantinis,
President Mr Asser,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am personally very moved by our gathering for this exhibition, this evening. It was first presented a couple of years ago at the Jewish Museum of Athens. The exhibition titled “Hidden Children in Occupied Greece” presents the stories of Jewish children hidden by Christian Greeks during the occupation. The stories have been chosen to be representative of various situations and they shed light on a very dark part of history.
They are all moving stories. They show that it was not only Schindler that had the courage and determination to save innocent Jewish lives but also many anonymous citizens across Europe. Anonymous people that endangered their own lives, that showed the courage and the dignity to offer shelter to Jewish souls.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Greece is a host country of the longest continuous Jewish presence in Europe. The Jewish community has been an active and dynamic part of Greek society and it has contributed to the social, economic and cultural progress of our country.
In fact, Jews have lived in Greece for about 2,400 years, and are one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe. They inhabited what is now the Greek mainland and islands, as well as places as far-flung as Alexander the Great’s empire. Whether their city was Alexandria or Antioch, their language, customs, food and identity were influenced by Greek culture. In his book, The Jews of Greece, Nikos Stavroulakis, an Oxford-trained scholar who taught Byzantine history in Israel, writes: “It was within this Greek-speaking, and hence Greek-thinking, world that Jews were forced to re-examine their identity as a people among the nations.”
In Nazi-occupied Greece, 87 per cent of the country’s 78,000 Jews were sent to death. The largest mass murder took place in Salonika where 50,000 Jews lived. The Sephardi Jews of Salonika had fled persecution from Spain and Portugal and settled in the Ottoman-ruled territory in the l5th century. They constituted the most important Jewish community in the Mediterranean.
Many Greek Jews were saved not only by anonymous people but also by a number of well known figures of the Greek society of the era. During the war Greek Archbishop Damaskinos issued a statement ordering priests to hide Jews and tell their congregations to help them. He was the only head of a European church to officially demand that German authorities stop persecuting Greek citizens who were Jews. Also, the police chief of Athens, Angelos Evert helped and saved many Jews from persecution.
When the war ended two-thirds of the Athens Jewish community were alive. The tragedy is that only 10,000 Jews remained, in the whole of Greece.
Source: Press Office of the Embassy of Greece