I am writing this article in order to honor the memory of all those souls that will never live again; but I am also writing as a Greek citizen that moved to Poland and came face to face with the brutality of human nature, visiting Auschwitz, together with my close friend, namely Vasiliki Sarafi. Those traces of history in the two camps made us cry but also reflect for a long time. So, we decided to share our thoughts with people who will really receive our message today.
To begin with, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day devoted to the Greek Jewish Witnesses and Holocaust Heroes was established by a unanimous decision of the House of Representatives in January 2004 and is celebrated every January the 27th. This day reminds us every year of those thousands of Greek Jews who suffered and died in the Nazi Concentration Camps, hand in hand, body to body with thousands other people that became Nazis’ target. And if someone may ask who those targets were, we can simply answer: Everyone! That is to say, except for the Jews, Soviet soldiers and citizens captured in occupied areas (Russians and other Slavs), non – Jewish Poles, mentally ill or physically disabled people, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Freemasons, Communists and other political dissidents, trade unionists, artists and some Catholic and Protestant clergymen who were persecuted or killed. Those targets were captured all together in order to be led to their “final” extinction that numbered more than 6 million Jews and millions of the “other” categories. Can someone realize that? Can anyone accept this?
As my friend Mateusz said: “I think that Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi German concentration camp, established in territory of occupied Poland, induced a really hard crisis of moral and humanitarian values. Theodor Adorno, a great German Philosopher, even wondered whether the poetry after Auschwitz is possible.
It’ s impossible not mention another person here – Witold Pilecki, who freely volunteered to this hell to make a map of it and deliver the first rapport of the one big, deep lake of tragedy that was happening there, to English authorities. Guess what? He was ignored. Do you think that he was at least honored? After the end of war, he died after horrible tortures from communists.”
With the aforementioned words we can simply understand something significant. People forget. People ignore what is not in their direct interest. But this has to change. It’s us that have to change and remember not to forget. But also, remember to look around, in places where people are still massively killed. And, to quote my fellow classmate Michał Pasek, “it is necessary to draw universal conclusions from this story. History repeats itself, and we – people of all nations should not make another Auschwitz, ever again. Like the eminent Polish writer -Julia Nałkowska- once said «people dealt this fate to people»”.
Following back to the Greek Jewish history, Jews have been present in Greece since the 4th century BC with the the most characteristic Jewish group being the «Romaniotes». Aside from Romaniotes, Greece had a large population of Sephardi Jews with its historical center in the city of Salonica or Thessaloniki, located in the Greek Macedonia, once called the “Mother of Israel”. Greek Jews played significant role in the early development of Christianity and became a source of education and commerce for the Byzantine Empire during the period of the Ottoman Greece, until their devastation in the Holocaust . In the aftermath of the Holocaust, a large percentage of the surviving community emigrated to Israel or the United States.
There are many sources from which one can draw incidents to refer to our Salonikan Jews. I chose some parts of Levi Primo’s “If this is a Man”. In this book Levi mentions that a major issue of Salonican Jews was that, once some few of them were selected to work (and not to die as “useless”) they had to cope with the diseases, hunger but also with the language barrier as they could not easily communicate; This issue made it more difficult for them to bear the hardships within the camp . Within 3 months of their arrival in Auschwitz, 50% of them were no longer alive!
On the other hand, the Salonikan Jews in Auschwitz were recognizable for their solidarity and mutual help. And to quote Levi: ‘Next to us there is a group of Greeks, those admirable and terrible Jews of Salonika, tenacious, thieving, wise, ferocious and united, so determined to live, such pitiless opponents in the struggle for life; those Greeks who have conquered in the kitchens and in the yards, and whom even the Germans respect and the Poles fear. They are in their third year of camp, and nobody knows better than them what the camp means. They now stand closely in a circle, shoulder to shoulder, and sing one of their interminable chants. (…) And they continue to sing and beat their feet in time and grow drunk on songs’. Greek Jews were often remembered by other inmates for their singing which was both a means of communication and a way to feel their own humanity.
Girls—Greeks—who listen to me,
I say everything by singing, so you will understand.
Here the chimneys you see are the biggest factory of death.
Thousands of Jews, old, young, children Fall into the arms of the flames.
I know they will burn me too.
After a while, I will not be around
To describe what my tired eyes have seen.
Do you hear me? Believe me.
It’s true, horrible, I live it every day. Girls – Greeks – I beg you,
If you get out of here alive,
Tell the entire world the story I sing to you.
Today, let’s sing; for them, for us, for the aftermaths of history, that have to make us wiser, stronger and never tear us apart.
Konstantina Roussidi, Political Scnientist, Polish Citizen
Konstantina Roussidi: Political Scientist, lives in Krakow, Poland and she comes from Athens, Greece
Mateusz Parkasiewicz: BA student in Filologia Ukraińska, at Uniwersytet Jagielloński, he lives in Kraków, Poland and he comes from the Polish region of Olsztyn
Michał Pasek: BA Student in American Studies at Uniwersytet Jagielloński, lives in Kraków, and he comes from Suchedniów, Poland