It is an honor and a privilege to welcome you all to the inauguration of the Greek Presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the largest global organization uniting governments, academics and experts in the critical mission of promoting and furthering Holocaust education, remembrance and research.
To remember is to be human. To educate on events past, the responsibility of the present. More than twenty years after its formulation, the work of the IHRA is becoming more important, not less. Because as time passes, the risk that memories fade increases, and events closer to the present appear more dominant than the horrors of the past.
The IHRA matters precisely because it’s work helps to combat that risk. By shining a light on the past, we are sending the clearest possible signal about our future. Never forget. Never again.
The Greek Presidency is preparing a significant number of events destined to keep that memory alive; to teach our children about the Holocaust such that they understand the depth to which mankind’s cruelty can plunge.
Education is the critical spoke in the wheel of memory. Education not just as part of the schools’ curriculum, but brought to life in museums, through research and the work of foundations, and through extensive coverage across both the mass media and social media.
Education is the thinking person’s weapon of choice. Building on experience and using logic to extract conclusions is the best defense against dogma and hysteria. Both Plato and Baruch Spinoza would have recognized this process as our shield and our guiding light.
Greece’s Presidency of the IHRA runs in parallel with the commemoration of the bicentennial of the Greek war of independence. This is a historic moment for my country, and for its people. Modern Greece was built on humanitarian values and universal freedoms. Our commitment to the fight against racism and antisemitism sits at the heart of those values and freedoms.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in the year of Greece’s Presidency of the IHRA, we remember all those who perished in the Holocaust. But today we also 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.
In 1944, Esther, known as Stella, was one of hundreds of Romaniote Jews from Ioannina sent to Auschwitz. Of the seventeen hundred men, women and children rounded up and deported to the Nazi death camp less than one hundred survived. Esther was separated from her parents and siblings at the gates of Auschwitz. She never saw them again.
In an interview with Kathimerini Stella movingly told the reporter: “I have no one to see me off when I die. They left no one; everyone was burned”.
Today, we remember Stella, her family, the community of Ioannina, and all those who died in the Holocaust. We remember to, and hold closely, those who survived and who remain with us today, including 20 survivors here in Greece.
In the name of Esther Cohen, it is my great personal honor to welcome you to the Greek Presidency. As the years pass it is our duty to tell this story. To preserve the memories. To learn the lessons. To never forget.