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Wednesday, 03 February 2016 08:53

With the unveiling of the Greek Righteous Among the Nations monument, at the courtyard of the Beth Shalom Synagogue of Athens, that took place on Wednesday the 27th of January, 2016, as part of the commemorations for Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Greek Jewry paid due tribute to the heroes of the German Occupation, their Christian compatriots, who selflessly saved many Jews by risking their life and the lives of their families.

"Jews have a greater sense of appreciation for the Memory of these Heroes," underlined during his speech Benjamin Albalas, President of the European Council of Jewish Communities and former president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and the Athens Jewish Community, who envisioned the creation of the monument. After the ordeal of the German Occupation and their persecution, Jewish survivors actually sought out their saviours to honour them. Moreover, Israel bestowed on them the honorific title and the "RIGHTEOUS Among the Nations" medal, the highest honour awarded by the State, officially recognizing and offering eternal gratitude to the people whose actions imparted to the word "Human" the loftiest and noblest value, endowing it with a transcendent meaning.

The unveiling of the Monument was carried out by the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr. Prokopis Pavlopoulos, and attended by few still alive Greek Righteous and by many descendants of the Greek Righteous as well as by survivors of the German Occupation. Speeches on the significance and important role of the Monument were delivered by: the President of the Athens Jewish Community, Mr. Minos Moissis; the President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS), Moses Constantinis; and Mr. B. Albalas.

 The Monument of the Greek Righteous is special, original, interactive and full of symbolism and messages.

The location: The sculpture is mounted on the courtyard railings of the Athens Synagogue, where Athenian Jews were ordered to gather in order to be registered, according to the German mandate of 4.10.1943. It was there that rumours started to spread about the necessity of escaping, leading Jews to an agonizing search for hideaways and shelters. This was also where the 800 Jews were arrested by the Gestapo on that fateful Friday the 24th of March, 1944, before being transported first to Haidari and ultimately to Auschwitz.

The President of the Athens Jewish Community Minos Moissis referred to the significance of the location chosen for the Monument: “Here at Melidoni street, in the very heart of the Jewish neighborhood of Athens, in March 1944, the Jews who were not lucky enough to be protected by such Human beings as the Righteous, were arrested, loaded on trucks to Haidari and from there on the trains headed to the concentration camps”.

The Design: The design of the Monument is also unique. It is not merely a depiction of a book; it is a book. At its cover, a tree: a symbol of life in Judaism. Engraved on its metal pages –which visitors can actually turn, since they revolve around the axis of the spine of the book– are the names of the 328 Greek Righteous. Its base bears the inscription: "He who saves a life, saves the whole world."

The Artists: The Monument was designed by Mmes Matilda Behara, architect, Kelly Kovo, graphic designer, and Anastasia Filippopoulou, architect, who also participated in the special committee tasked with the realization of this initiative, together with Messrs Benjamin Albalas, on behalf of KIS, Mikis Modiano, and Haim Nahmias on behalf of the Athens Jewish Community.

The original idea for its construction was conceived on November 2013, by Mr. Albalas when, acting as the president of KIS at the time, he accompanied the delegates of the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation to the Presidential Mansion, to award the President of Greece with the Wallenberg Medal. Mr. Albalas recalls in his speech:

"On November 18th, 2013, in a solemn ceremony held at the Presidential Mansion, the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation honoured the Greek Righteous and the Greek people as represented by the then President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr. Karolos Papoulias.

I attended as the then President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities of Greece. It was in that instant that this memory awoke within me.

It was then that the honourable debt and the payment of tribute to the Greek Righteous Among the Nations filled my thoughts.

It was then that I –as a child in hiding, who, along with his paternal family, was saved by a Greek Righteous–promised myself and all that were present that the Greek Jewry will pay tribute to the Greek Righteous."

Mr. Albalas also took the opportunity to refer to the “Houses of Life”, a relevant initiative promoted by the Wallenberg Foundation, marking places of significance to saving Jewish lives. The first ‘House of Life’ was unveiled last year in the Greek island of Ereikousa and another is to be unveiled soon in Piraeus.

Excerpts from the speeches

* The President of the Athens Jewish Community, Mr. Minos Moissis: "On this day, Greece and Athens meet not with the life stories of the Eminent but of everyday and ordinary people, whom history more often than not casts aside.

... Here, at this spot, the Athens Jewish Community houses the Monument of the Greek Righteous, as a small token of gratitude offered collectively by the Greek Jewry. A heritage bequeathed on the city of Athens, to always honour them and remember them by. For being truly HUMAN."

 * The President of KIS, Mr. Moses Constantinis: "... Those who managed to escape deportation during the persecution, experienced the full scope of human nature: indifference - treachery - enmity - self-interest and profiteering, but also its opposites self-sacrifice, heroism, solidarity, support... The first were the rule, the second the exception...

Our saviours were our only hope, the light amidst the darkness”.



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