Film director Vassilis Loules offers free online screening of his documentary film Kisses to the children (Greece, 2012, 125′ with English subtitles) encouraging us to stay at home.
The film Kisses to the children (original title Filia eis ta pedia/ Φιλιά εις τα παιδιά) by Vassilis Loules narrates the stories of five Jewish children who survived hidden by Christian families during the German Occupation in Greece. Is it another film about the Holocaust? No, it is a film about childhood in the shadow of the Holocaust, as the director stresses, and about how it affected the lives of children; it is about giving voice to children who lived in absolute silence, it is a film about revealing and about memory. (More information)
European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative is a German-based
non-profit organization with the core objective of protecting and preserving
Jewish cemetery sites across the European continent. With the financial support
of the European Commission, the ESJF started in December 2018 a full mapping process
of 1,500 Jewish burial sites across five European countries. Diána Vonnák, Head
Officer of Communication and Media (and a trained social anthropologist) at
ESJF European Jewish Cemeteries, answered some questions for Against
Antisemitism blog about this unique project.
Until its completion in June 2020, the project will
carry out extensive research and survey work in five European countries:
Greece, Lithuania, Moldova, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Why did you choose those
We wanted to have a range of countries that are all
important for the history of Judaism in Europe, and that encompass the
diversity of European Jewish heritage. It has been a great experience to work
in Sephardic and Ashkenazi cemeteries and research the differences. Another
important angle is the institutional and legal diversity of these countries:
the challenges have been really different: Lithuania had a comprehensive list
of cemeteries, but these weren’t surveyed with the accuracy of our drone
surveys, while for instance Ukraine and Moldova had no comprehensive data. In
these cases it is crucial to verify the existence of cemeteries, visit any site
where there’s a chance to find one: we visited 132 places in Moldova and were
able to survey 70 cemeteries, but there were places nobody documented before.
This work is less spectacular but it is incredibly important if we want to have
a proper overview of European Jewish cemeteries. In some places, like in
Slovakia, the Jewish community owns these sites, but elsewhere, as in Greece,
ownership varies from site to site. By the end of this survey we will have a
solid grasp of the main challenges and a greater understanding of the
situations in our project countries.
In order to map burial sites, your team is using unmanned aerial vehicles
commonly known as drones. How do drones facilitate your work?
Drone technology allows us to take high resolution aerial images which has individual GPS coordinates of every image (geotag). Later we are processing those images to create a point cloud from which we can make a preliminary terrain analysis such as topography of the site. This gives us very precise information about each and every site, which serves a dual purpose: it documents the condition of every cemetery, and it is the basis of any future protective measure like fencing. We are using point cloud to create a 3D model of sites that makes it easy, cost effective and fast to plan fencing. In short, UAV made our work more faster and accurate.
Your team travelled in Greece between 26 March and 14
April 2019, visiting 48 places and mapping 45 sites
altogether. What have been the challenges and particularities of mapping Jewish
cemeteries in Greece?
The geography of Greece was a challenge for our survey team: places can be remote, you have to fly, take a ferry to reach smaller islands. This is something we did not experience in other places. Greece is really divided: most sites are either demolished, or when they survive, they tend to be fenced and cared for. We classify cemeteries according to the urgency of the need for fencing and we found only three sites that would require urgent action: Argostoli and the old and new cemetery in Didymotheicho.
The city of Ioannina once was the center of Romaniote Jewish life. It is not well known that the Zosimaia Lyceum and a school yard are standing today on the site of the old Jewish Cemetery. How did you survey a burial site that doesn’t exist anymore?
We use old maps and historic information to establish the boundary of cemeteries. In case they are built over, as in Ioannina, Heraklion or Corfu, we still gather photographic evidence, but there is not much we can do. In Greece, this has been a sadly common situation: 43% of the sites we surveyed were demolished and overbuilt. In Thessaloniki, for instance, a university campus was built on a really old cemetery that dates back to the late 15th century. We encountered similar cases elsewhere too, e.g. in Ukraine. In these cases, memorialisation is especially important, as this remains our only chance to save these sites from oblivion. Education, awareness raising is crucial in these contexts and it takes the place of using cemeteries themselves as testimonies of a shared history, which is what ESJF would do otherwise.
Your team also surveyed other Jewish cemeteries in the region of Epirus which are less known than the cemetery in Ioannina: Paramythia, Arta and Preveza. Which are the challenges that you faced?
Arta, Paramythia and Preveza are all demolished sites, so our work was chiefly about documentation. Arta has a sign at the former Jewish neighbourhood, and a memorial. Preveza has residential and commercial buildings over it, Paramythia is now covered by a highway and a bus stop. In these cases it is often difficult to establish the boundary accurately, that can be a huge challenge. If we step away from the challenges of survey itself, the biggest difficulty lies in keeping the memory of something invisible alive. A comprehensive database like ours helps to grasp the sheer scale of destruction, and hopefully to work against it, to address this loss.
According to a recent study commissioned by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Greece, the incidents of antisemitic rhetoric and the recorded attacks against Jewish cemeteries, monuments and synagogues in Greece are disproportionately high although the numbers of Greeks of Jewish religion are, according to the Greek Census, very low (5000, i.e. 0.05% of the Greek population). How do you think that the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative can contribute to a better protection of Greek Jewish cemeteries?
ESJF believes in the importance of the engagement of
communities, local authorities and the broader public in general. We always try
to work with mayors, reach out to schools. We do not carry out advocacy work
per se, but we believe in the power of restoring knowledge and awareness about
heritage sites. Jewish heritage is part of our shared, European heritage and
often, especially in the absence of a local Jewish community, gentile
communities are important guardians of these sites. Our surveyors experience
quite some interest from locals: people ask questions, want to know more. Building
an open-access database, carrying out educational projects and engaging local
leaders are the first steps to work against atrocities.
Some weeks ago, Moses Elisaf, the head of the tiny
Jewish community in Ioannina and a distinguished professor of pathology, was
elected the country’s first-ever Jewish mayor. What do you think about Elisaf’s
Of course we welcome a political climate where the Jewishness of a candidate is not an obstacle for their success. However, the sheer emphasis that his Jewish origins receive points to the fact that Greek Jewish life hasn’t been “normalized” post-Holocaust in a way that one may hope. There is still an “us” vs. “them” logic in marking Elisaf as a Jewish mayor. We had an amazing experience with many mayors in various countries, and have seen the dramatic difference their policies can make in the fate of Jewish heritage sites. We welcome any mayor, Jewish or not, who is happy to undertake the responsibility of tending to the local Jewish heritage, engaging their entire community. ESJF’s work, through education and awareness, aims at showing that Jewish heritage is not something separate that concerns only those who identify as Jewish. Instead, it’s a common heritage. Greek Jewish history is also relevant and important for non-Jewish Greeks (and beyond that for Europe in general). We hope that ESJF’s work can be a help in normalizing and integrating Jewish presence, Jewish identity and Jewish heritage in Europe.
Journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, editor of “Documento” newspaper, trivialized Holocaust in a tweet criticizing Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his statement in favour of the ‘7day work week’. Vaxevanis in his tweet of May 12, 2019 used the inscription over the gate of Auschwitz “Arbeit Macht Frei” to comment on K. Mitsotakis.
The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS) stressed in an announcement the inappropriate use of the symbols of the Holocaust:
The use of this inscription within a political controversy and a journalistic comment is unacceptable because it downgrades, minimizes and trivializes a symbol of horror and Nazi barbarism. In Auschwitz every trace of humanity was lost and inhumanity and harrowing death prevailed. Millions of people were killed there because they were either Jews or “different”.
Holocaust trivialization is a recurrent phenomenon in Greek politics. For example, a cartoon published in the leftist newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton in July 2018 depicted the entrance to the Auschwitz death camp with the message “the 12-hour [work day] sets you free,” to protest plans for a 12-hour work day in Austria (more information).
Athens, 19.4.2019- The Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) presented yesterday their annual report, which analyses findings of racist violence and hate crime across Greece in 2018, recorded by the 46 organizations participating in the Network.
From January to December 2018, the RVRN documented, through interviews with victims, 117 incidents of racist violence, with more than 130 victims. In 74 incidents the victims were migrants or refugees on grounds of ethnic origin, religion, colour, associations of third country nationals, human rights defenders due to their connection with refugees and migrants, as well as a memorial to the victims of shipwrecks. In six (6) incidents, Greek citizens were targeted due to their colour, foreign or ethnic origin. In nine (9) incidents, the targets were Jewish sacred or symbolic places and the Jewish community and in one (1) incident the target was a Greek citizen due to educational activity against anti-Semitism or perceived religion. In 27 incidents the targets were LGBTQI+ persons, including five (5) refugees, asylum-seekers and EU citizens. In 59 incidents more than one victim was targeted, whereas in 63 incidents the assault was committed by a group of at least two people.
In 2018, the RVRN recorded 9 anti-Semitic attacks. In particular, there were 6 incidents of desecration of Holocaust memorials in Athens and Thessaloniki, 2 incidents of desecration of the Jewish cemetery in Nikaia and Trikala as well as 1 incident of vandalism of the synagogue in Volos. In these incidents the perpetrators drew Nazi symbols or words and slogans referring to the Holocaust, threatening the Jewish community as a whole. Additionally, there was an incident against a teacher, who is being harassed severely due to his educational activity against anti-Semitism. According to the Fundamental Rights Agency—FRA, the challenge regarding the rise of anti-Semitism worldwide, has the following paradox: According to the most recent Eurobarometer results, while anti-Semitic behaviour is so common that it is considered a normal situation, only 36% of those who answered believe that anti-Semitism has increased. In addition, only 4 out of 10 Europeans believe that children in schools learn enough about the Holocaust*. The RVRN is aware of the many faces of anti-Semitism in Greece, which, as in other countries, is not limited to desecrations and vandalisms by groups, but it also penetrates large parts of the population and is reflected in the everyday talks. For the above, the RVRN participated, with great interest, to a meeting held by the General Secretariat of Transparency and Human Rights.
We publish below photos of the recent desecration of the Trikala Jewish Cemetery, courtesy of Antiratsistiki Enimerosi. Jewish graves and memorials are a recurring target of vandals in Greece. Although the numbers of Greeks of Jewish religion is, according to the Greek Census, very low (5000, i.e. 0.05% of the Greek population) the incidents of antisemitic rhetoric and the recorded attacks against Jewish monuments or synagogues are disproportionately high, recent studies found.
The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece expresses the dismay of the entire Greek Jewry and strongly condemns the vandal attack that once more occurred against the Jewish cemetery of Trikala.
More specifically, followers of racism and antisemitism vandalized and destroyed eight tombs and tombstones -among which the two graves of the parents of the President of the Jewish Community of Trikala.
Following the lawsuit against persons unknown, pressed by the Jewish Community of Trikala, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece calls upon law enforcement authorities to take all necessary measures for the arrest of the perpetrators and the protection of the city’s Jewish cemetery, which -apart from its sacred nature- reflects the historic course of the Jewish presence in Trikala.
We believe that the municipal authorities together with the society of Trikala will not allow the followers of hatred to harm the harmonious coexistence of all the citizens of Trikala, regardless of skin color, race or religion.
With a flower in hand, citizens of Thessaloniki gathered in the afternoon of July 4, 2018, in front of the Holocaust Memorial at Liberty Square to protest recent vandalisms of the monument.
Photo courtesy of Τρύφων Καλαμίτσης (Thessaloniki, July 4, 2018)
The Holocaust Monument in Thessaloniki was defaced with red paint in the night of Wednesday June 27, 2018. According to authorities and press reports, perpetrators may have been participants in a rally held earlier that day outside the Macedonia-Thrace Ministry to protest the name deal signed between Athens and Skopje. (via kis.gr)
Two sketches by Michalis Kountouris, with strong messages of demonisation of Israel and unacceptable parallelism with the Holocaust, were published in the “Efimerida Syntakton” (EFSYN. – “Editors’ Journal”) on 10th and 11th April 2018. The sketches were commented on with the following article entitled “Bloody Handprints” – published in the issue of the EFSYN of 16.4.18 – by the journalist and General Secretary of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, Victor Is. Eliezer.
The sketches also stirred a reaction from Israel’s Ambassador to Greece, Ms. Irit Ben-Abba (letter to the EFSYN 11/4/2018), and journalist Dimitris Psarras (through his article “We do not Forget the Holocaust” EFSYN 16/4/2018).
Victor Is. Eliezer: “Bloody Handprints” EFIMERIDA SYNTAKTON 16/4/2018
Yom Hashoah. Holocaust Day, 11th April 2018. The Jews mourn for their 6,000,000 fellow Jews who were unjustly and brutally killed in the gas chambers of the Nazi camps! On the same day, in Greece, the “EFSYN”, known for its merciless struggle against anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism, hosted a sketch in which an Israeli soldier leaves the prints of his bloodied hands on the Wailing Wall, next to many other bloody handprints of other people who apparently prayed before him. You know, all the Jews have visited the Wailing Wall, many of us pray and touch the Wall that is what is left of the Temple of Solomon. The bloody handprints, according to the cartoonist, could be the bloody handprints of every Jew who has visited the Wailing Wall! One day earlier, another sketch (by the same cartoonist) appeared in the newspaper, where the Gaza Strip was identified with a prisoner of Nazi concentration camps.
Demonstrators protesting “the imperialist attack on Syria” in Athens. Screenshot via inter.kke.gr
The Greek Communist Party (KKE) organized a rally in central Athens to protest the US-led airstrikes against Syria on Saturday. The protesters chanted anti-U.S., anti-Nato and anti-EU slogans and even set an American flag on fire right in front of the American Embassy.
The Greek Communist Party issued a statement in which it blasted the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition government for “implicating” Greece “deeper in this massacre, on the account of the Greek capital, that is claiming its participation in the distribution of the loot and of the market shares.” It also accused the Greek government of cooperating militarily “with states-killers such as Israel.”
Communist Party chief Dimitris Koutsoumbas has accused Israel of engaging in “genocide” against Palestinians.
“Despite the problems facing our people, we must not underestimate the fact that a genocide is taking place in our neighborhood. Innocent children, women, families are being killed,” Koutsoumbas said during a meeting with former Greek President Karolos Papoulias in Athens four years ago.
During the Easter holidays, various customs take place in our country. One of these is the “burning of the effigy of Judas”, which takes place in some areas of the country. This custom perpetuates stereotyped perceptions against the Jews. It is significant that the custom has almost been eliminated in the rest of Europe.
In the past, we, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, have repeatedly proceeded with representations to competent bodies in order to stop the custom in our country. The fact that the Church of Greece, with its Synodic Circulars of 1891, 1910 and 1918, demanded that “these customs are expressly forbidden” is of particular significance.
We believe that this custom not only offends the Greek Jewish community but also affects every effort towards the understanding and respect of common values that characterise Judaism and Christianity. We hope that everyone will eventually contribute to the abolition of this custom that does not serve the spirit of love and reconciliation which is conveyed during the days of Easter.