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Holocaust: Remembering the Past for the Common Future

Today, on the 27th of January, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the whole world is commemorating the tragedy of the Holocaust. Greek people remember these historical events as the Jewish community in Greece also suffered from the genocide resulting in more than 58.000 Greek Jews murdered. 

The largest community of Greek Jews lived in Sephardic Jewry with one of its major centers in Thessaloniki – the total population amounted to 56.000. In 1943 45.000 Jews from Thessaloniki were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After the war, only 1,950 Jews were counted in the city. The losses were also significant in Ioannina, Corfu or Rhodes. The total destruction rate of Jews in the whole country exceeds 85%, one of the highest percentages in Europe. 

After the war, Athens became the main center of resettlement for Jews returning to Greece, and the Jewish population increased to 4,940. Today Athens remains the center of Jewish life in Greece. There are numerous organizations supporting the Jewish community in Athens, such as the Central Board of Jewish Communities, the Jewish Community of Athens, the Jewish Museum of Greece, the Cultural Centre of the Jewish Community of Athens etc.

With the rise of anti-semitism in Greece, especially during and after the debt crisis, it is vital to raise awareness on remembrance of the Holocaust, as well as promote tolerance towards diversity. In 2005 Greece became a member of an intergovernmental organization International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) that unites governments and experts to promote, advance and shape Holocaust education, research and remembrance.

Nowadays, when the protection of human rights and freedom is of the highest priority for the European community it is difficult to imagine the horrific events of those times. However, one of the biggest flaws of mankind is its inclination to forget. Art enables us to remember the important parts of history and at the same time increase our awareness and possibly help us gain empathy and understanding.

Below you can find some of a seminal literature about horrors of holocaust.

Night by Elie Wiesel

This book is now recognized as the best known memoir that has been written about the experience of the death camps.The writer Ellie Wiesel was born in what is now Romania, and survived several concentration camps. In Night he comes back to all sufferings he had to survive – physical, mental and emotional. The author won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for this genuine work.
According to some critics, it is the emotional power and depiction of personal scenes that make this piece outstanding. 

“One more stab to the heart, one more reason to hate. One less reason to live.”

Elie Wiesel, Night

Maus by Art Spiegelman

A graphic novel that addresses the horrors of Holocaust through cartoons , it explores  author’s and his family’s experience – and in particular, his father’s – personal experience during World War II. The nationalities are drawn here as different animals – Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, and Jews as the mice that give a name to the piece. The stories also depict the influence it has on the children of survivors.
True artwork on every level, Maus was the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize, in 1992.

“I know this is insane, but I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they lived through! I guess it’s some kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did.”

Art Spiegelman, The Complete Maus

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Anne Frank’ diary has become a world classic that was discovered in the attic where she spent the last years of her life.  The diary portrays everyday life cut off from the outside world where family faced hunger, boredom and ever-present fear of discovery and death. Impressions, feelings and thoughts about human courage and frailty of a young spirit might be reasons why this piece so relatable.
Her father, Otto Frank, the only member of her family to survive the war, published her diary in the immediate aftermath of the war, and it has since become a major symbol of Nazi atrocities.

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

If This Is A Man by Primo Levi

The book tells another personal story of prisoners’ life in Auschwitz. Primo Levi, an Italian-Jewish member of the anti-fascist resistance in Italy, was kept in the camp for almost a year at the end of the war. The author poses a question of whether – and if so, how – people were able to retain their humanity in the face of such evil.

“I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man.”
Primo Levi, If This Is a Man • The Truce

Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning

The book of a psychiatrist  Viktor Frankl is considered as one of the most influential books that deals with the pursuit of meaning in our lives.Depictions of life in Nazi camps are based on personal experience and stories of his parents. A psychotherapeutic approach, logotherapy, is presented here indicating that the meaning of life is the biggest question on our minds and the biggest stressor on our psyches.The book gives us the lesson that we can not avoid suffering in our lives, on the contrary it teaches us how to cope with it and move forward with renewed purpose.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

European Solidarity Corps volunteers with the Institute of Research & Training on European Affairs – IRTEA

Project: Volunteers United in Diversity

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