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TRIBUTE TO GREEK "RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS" Print E-mail
Tuesday, 19 March 2013 14:32
In a ceremony held at the Cultural Centre of the Jewish Community of Athens on 12th March 2013, the Israeli Embassy and the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KISE) paid tribute to three people, Righteous Among The Nations; three exceptional examples of courage, self-sacrifice and humanity. His Excellency Arye Mekel Israeli Ambassador to Greece, and David Saltiel President of the Board of KISE, awarded the medals and conferred the title of Righteous Among The Nations on three more Christian Greek people who saved the lives of persecuted Jewish fellow countrymen during the German occupation. Those pronounced Righteous Among The Nations were: Lella Karagiannis for saving the Solomon Cohen family from Thessaloniki; and Giorgos and Polymnia Theodorakis for saving Beatrice Matalon, also from Thessaloniki.
Deputy Minister of Justice Costas Karagounis attended the ceremony and spoke to those present, drawing attention not only to the courage these people had displayed, but also to their genuine tolerance of religious difference that rose above all prejudice and prompted these three Righteous Among The Nations to help their persecuted fellow countrymen. Mr Karagounis pointed out that in times of hardship, deprivation, war and occupation the people being honoured had spontaneously helped others without a second thought, unlike today when some people exploit others’ trials and tribulations to spread hatred. He strongly condemned the present rise of extreme ideologies. ‘All those who seek to profit politically or ideologically from the toxic fallout of Nazism must finally realise that it is thanks to people such as the three we pay tribute to today, and to our past experiences, that no denial of the Holocaust, no matter how cunning, can bring darkness. Let them know that this is 2013 not 1930, that we stand united and will not allow it to happen again, ever,’ Mr Karagounis said pointedly.

David Saltiel President of KISE mentioned in his address how important it was to recognise the saviours and express gratitude to them. He also mentioned how important it is to educate people by telling them about such exemplary acts of courage. Inveighing against the rise of neo-Nazism, the President of KISE stressed, ‘I am concerned about the rise of neo-Nazism in Greece. The nightmarish link between the bigotry of racism and the popularisation of anti-Semitism, joined in an extreme form of political fascism, results in a volatile situation for the people and the country.’
His Excellency Arye Mekel Israeli Ambassador spoke about the significance of the title Righteous Among The Nations, and the role and work of Yad VashemFoundation in perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust.
The proceedings were presented by actorAlbertos Fais and included the showing of a documentary about Lella Karagiannis, which was edited by director and film producer Vassilis Loules. 
 
In the moving awards ceremony that followed, Lella Karagianis’ medal was received by her grandchildren Alexandros and Ioanna Papagiannis. Mr Papagiannis read a message from his aunt Eleni Karagiannis, Lella’s last surviving daughter. And it was a special moment when Shelley Cohen-Kounio embraced the grandchildren of her rescuer, Lella.
Lydia Theodorakis received the medal on behalf of her parents Giorgos and Polymnia Theodorakis who were being honoured for saving Beatrice Matalon. 
The ceremony ended with a musical tribute produced by Rachel Matsa. Early Jewish and Sephardic melodies and hymns were played by Maria Francisca Rocca on the violin and Eva Panagou on the piano. Also performing were Rachel Matsa on the piano and Chloe Lambrou on the flute, with Effie Minakouli and Giannis Karalis singing.
 
  
A few words about the Righteous:
 
   
* Lella Karagiannis, the legendary woman of the Resistance, was pronounced Righteous Among The Nations for saving the Solomon Cohen family. It was April 1944 when Solomon Cohen, his wife Regina and their young daughter Shelley knocked at Lella Karagiannis’ door. She gave them her help even though the Germans were already suspicious of her having taken part in acts of resistance. Lella also made sure the family was taken to a safe hideout when the situation became deteriorated further. Shortly after this the Germans arrested her and executed her two months later. It was just a short time before the liberation of Athens.
 
* Giorgos and Polymnia Theodorakis were pronounced Righteous Among the Nations for saving Beatrice Matalon. In September 1943 when the occupation of Athens passed from Italy to Germany, Mr and Mrs Theodorakis were living in the centre of the city with their daughter Lydia, just two years old, and Polymnia was also expecting their second child. Despite Polymnia’s vulnerable state, the couple did not hesitate to offer shelter to Beatrice. Neither did they show any sign of fear when a German came knocking at their door. 
 

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