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29 January 2014 / 21:01:24  GRReporter
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Zdravkа Mihaylovа
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Odette Varon-Vassar is among the first Greek scholars who pointed out the significance of International Holocaust Remembrance (27 January).  Тhis year the historian delivered an introductory lecture in Paris at an event on this occasion, co-organized by UNESCO and the Greek representative to the international educational cultural and scinetific organization. During the event, Ambassador of Greece to UNESCO Catherine Daskalaki delivered a welcoming address and the speech of Odette Varon-Vassard preceded the screening of the documentary Kisses to the Children (2011–2012), attended by its director Vassilis Loules. The film brings together the testimonies of survivors of the dramatic events during the Nazi occupation of Greece, who, being mere children at that time, were hiding with Greek Christian families. Many young people, who were taken out from the Nazi cordon and hidden in the countryside, survived during this period.

Professor of Modern History at Athens University Hagen Fleischer writes about the film, "The director did not seek to make another dramatic film about the Holocaust but wanted to focus on muted fear and isolation experienced by the children in conditions of extreme abnormality. The emotions of the viewer are not being extorted, the storytellers speak calmly, with immediacy and without any verbal excess. The courage of the people, of the Christians (not only of those who formally called themselves so) who risked their lives by hiding and helping these children is apparent. At the same time, the continuing decline of the Jewish communities in the country after the end of the Nazi occupation is implied too. Normality of life was gone, nothing was the same any longer. One of the female characters in the film, Rosina Pardo, explains, 'I am free of hatred already. I hate only the ones who try to imitate THOSE.' Rosina builds bridges. 'But not for those watching for an opportunity to destroy them. All of us must be on the alert.'"


The event in Paris, commemorating the victims, was under the general slogan borrowed from the title of a book by Odette Varon-Vassard, The Emergence of a Difficult Memory (published by Estia, Athens 2012). As noted in the UNESCO press release for the event, "The Nazi occupation of Greece was particularly brutal in the country and disastrous for its economy, not counting the 250,000 victims (of executions, deportations, death, hunger). The members of the numerous and thriving Jewish communities in northern Greece and in other areas of the country, namely from Central Greece to Crete (about 67,000) were deported and killed."

Odette Varon-Vassard (Athens, 1957) is a historian of contemporary history. She studied at the University of Athens and at the Institute of Modern Greek Studies at the University of Sorbonne (Paris IV). She has been teaching Greek history at the Hellenic Open University since 2001. In 2005 she was honored with the distinction of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture (Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres). 

Her research focuses on the '40s, starting with the illegal press ran by young people during the Occupation. Her first book was published by the Secretariat General for Youth (Greek Young Press 1941-1945. Recording, pub. IAEN, 2 vols, Athens 1987). Her second book, based on her doctoral thesis, is a study of how young people joined the Resistance in Greece (A Generation Matures - Young Men and Women in the Occupation and the Resistance, Hestia Publishers, Athens 2009). Her most recent research focuses on the genocide of European Jewry and its representations, on the cultural identity in the Jewish Diaspora and on concentration camp literature (The Emergence of a Difficult Memory. Essays for the Genocide of Jews,  Hestia Publishers, Athens 2012, 230 p. (second ed. completed 2013, 260 p.) 

She is a member of The Society for the Study of Modern Hellenism Mnimon (since 1979) and was one of the founding members of the Society for the Study of Greek Jewry (Salonica 1990), playing an active role in the ‘90s. She has collaborated with the ‘Fondation Mémoire d' Auschwitz’ in Brussels and with the Faculty of Modern Greek Studies of the Strasbourg University. Recently, she has organized a seminar on concentration camp literature at the Jewish Museum of Greece (2011, 2012) and on the History and Memory of the Holocaust (2013, 2014). She participates also at the annual seminar of the Jewish Museum on “Teaching about the Holocaust in Greece” (since 2007).

As a translator of French literature in Greek, she has translated works of A. Duby, F. Braudel, G. Flaubert, J. Semprun, F. Lyotard, T. Todorov, D. Analis, Albert Cohen, with whose work she dealt in particular. She was editor and director of the Translation Journal Metafrassi (11 volumes, 1995-2007) and she is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal Contemporary Issues (Synchrona Themata).

Tags: Odette Varon-VassardHolocaustGenocide of JewsThessalonikiAuschwitzNazi occupation of Greece
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