With a strong sense of responsibility, Greece took over the Presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) for 2021 on the 1st of April, succeeding the overall successful and resilient, given the unprecedented pandemic circumstances, German Presidency. In the virtual handover ceremony that took place, the Greek government was represented at the highest level: Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Deputy Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias, Minister of Education and Religious Affairs Niki Kerameus and Ambassador Chris J. Lazaris, the incoming Chair of the IHRA, delivered messages underlining the universal lesson of the Holocaust remembrance and education.
For more than twenty years, the IHRA has completed a crucial work in keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. Indeed, without remembering the past we cannot build a future.
The epicenter of the Greek Presidency being “Teaching and learning about the Holocaust: Education for a world with no more genocide”, a number of events will be organized during the year-long mandate, focused on keeping the memory, educating younger generations as well as the society as a whole on what the Holocaust was all about and on how cruelty can sometimes blind the hearts and minds of people.
The Greek Presidency of the IHRA coincides with the commemoration of the bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence and this is deemed as an opportunity to remind and show on the one hand that modern Greece was built on humanitarian values and fundamental freedoms and on the other that the Greek society is committed to stay most vigilant against racism, anti-Semitism and the oblivion of the victims of the Holocaust.
“But today”, as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis underlined in his inaugurating speech, “we remember the survivors, women like Esther Cohen, who at the time of her death in northwestern Ioannina in December last year, was Greece’s oldest Holocaust survivor”. “As the years pass, it is our duty to tell this story. To preserve the memory, to learn the lessons, to never, never forget”, he further stressed.
Emphasizing this commitment, Deputy Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos indicated that “It is our duty to do our best, having as beacons the promises ‘Never Again’ and that ‘We will never forget’. To the extent that we succeed, we will have contributed, all the partners of the Alliance together, to an act of great historical significance”.
Furthermore, the Presidency is an opportunity to remember and honor the bravery and defiance of those who saved Jews during the Holocaust, in the face of overwhelming adversity. “IHRA’s values and calls have been ours even before we have joined the IHRA. This was clearly demonstrated through the acts of Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrisostomos in Zakynthos back in 1944”, highlighted Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias in his speech.
The Greek Presidency is assisted by the experts on Holocaust issues of the Greek Delegation to the IHRA and actively supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Also, taking into account that its main priority is education, cooperation with the Ministry of Education is essential for achieving “our common goal, that is to eliminate hatred and intolerance and embrace diversity and equality for all”, as Minister of Education and Religious Affairs Niki Kerameus indicated. Programmes for strengthening awareness about the Holocaust, like the one presented during the handover ceremony and which features a school video competition on the Holocaust organized by the Ministry of Education and the Jewish Museum of Greece, are part of the in-depth work being done for raising awareness within the educational community.
“The thread running through this Presidency will be teaching the Holocaust, including combating denial and distortion in the new fields now opened by the net”, summed up in his speech the incoming Chair of the IHRA Ambassador Chris J. Lazaris. The Greek Presidency will last until March 2022 and its highlights will be the two plenary meetings, in June and November this year, which will bring together more than 300 experts and government officials from at least 34 countries to once more together discuss and act against racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.