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29 January 2014 / 21:01:24  GRReporter
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If the date of the liberation of this camp is recognized by the United Nations as "International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Prevention of Crimes against Humanity," it is because the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau killed 960,000 Jews. This is the highest number corresponding to only one camp and it comprises approximately one-fifth of the total number of Jews (5.66 million) exterminated in the genocide organized by the Third Reich. 21,000 Gypsies, 75,000 Polish Catholics involved in the Resistance, 15,000 Soviet captives and 15,000 captives from other European countries were killed in the same camp, for "purity of race". Of the 960,000 Jews, 60,000 were Greek Jews, a figure that increases the percentage of extermination to 82% of the pre-war number of the community. Thessaloniki’s share was the largest, 50,000 victims, as its numerous community with its long-lasting history and brilliance was exterminated almost to a man. Over 90% of some other communities, such as all those in northern Greece, but also in Rhodes and Kerkyra, were exterminated too. In other words, Greece has every reason to honour this anniversary.

- What is the symbolic meaning of this commemoration?

- On the one hand, it is institutionalized and it is another issue whether it is known and put to a useful purpose. It is no coincidence that the anniversary was established by the European Ministers of Education in 2002 and adopted by the UN in 2005 and, with regard to Auschwitz, it is a World Heritage Monument recognized by UNESCO. The International Holocaust Remembrance Day has a quite clear pedagogical nature that is open to the public. The trauma is not only Jewish, it is not only the Germans’ fault, the tragedy happened in the heart of Europe, its episodes took place in every major European city, i.e. this is a page of European history and it concerns every European citizen of the present day and above all of tomorrow.

Reflecting on "the Holocaust" (in the way in which the public was aware of it and accepted it as a cultural trauma, i.e. from the beginning of the 1980s and later) should occupy a central place in our minds of European citizens, not only as an extermination of millions of people and civilisational catastrophe but also as an extreme attempt of renouncing human nature, which did not only kill millions of people but literally deprived them of their human identity simply because of their origin. 27 January commemorates not only the victims of the Jewish "Holocaust", this day is emblematic of all victims of racism and singling out. In this sense, it is more relevant than ever, as new forms of racism and anti-Semitism are rising in Europe in the twenty-first century.

- How long has Greece marked this anniversary?

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day was relatively quickly introduced in Greece. The first ceremony took place in January 2004 on the initiative of then-Foreign Minister George Papandreou. Since then, different events co-organized by the regional government of Athens and the official Jewish organizations have taken place each year. These include the laying of a wreath at the new monument of the genocide in Athens, which happened in 2012 for the first time. I think this is certainly a big step, which demonstrates the adoption of this memory and its inclusion in the national collective memory on the part of the state. The question is if that day, which, by no coincidence, was enacted by the European Ministers of Education, is valued in the educational system, how is the Holocaust taught in the schools, and if it is leading to a wider opening to the public. This is not a day of Jewish mourning (such as 11 April, the anniversary of the uprising in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw), but a day of reflection and awareness on the part of the general public.


Tags: Odette Varon-VassardHolocaustGenocide of JewsThessalonikiAuschwitzNazi occupation of Greece
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