As the Hellenic Republic celebrates 200 years of its independence, Europe’s Jewish communities, brought together under the umbrella of the European Jewish Congress, send their warmest congratulations to the Greek people.
On this joyful occasion, we take the opportunity to reflect on Greece’s rich contribution to culture and civilisation throughout the ages, as a beacon of freedom and democratic values to the world, and a country where humanistic values hold a central place.
For more than two millennia, Greece has also been home to an ancestral Jewish community, whose rich and diverse traditions are celebrated and cherished in the Jewish world, such as those of the unique and renowned Romaniote Jewish community.
Greece fought a long and hazardous journey to become the modern, dynamic state at the centre of Europe that it is today, and every step of the way, Greek Romaniotes and Sephardic Jews played an active role.
Modern Greece was built through the outstanding contribution of many Greek Jews across different fields, such as the economy, science, medicine, education, culture, industry, trade, and many more.
Greece has always paid special attention to the safety of its small and ancestral Jewish community, which in turn has endeavoured to fight all kinds of xenophobia and discrimination in order to build an inclusive and pluralistic society.
During the Holocaust, which resulted in the extermination of 87% of Greek Jewry, many Greeks risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbours. 357 Righteous Among the Nations have been recognised by Yad Vashem, one of the highest numbers in Europe.
These include Athens Chief of Police Angelos Evert, Princess Alice of Battenberg, Mayor Loukas Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos of Zakynthos and Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens.
In a remarkable letter sent in 1943 to the Nazi-imposed Prime Minister: Archbishop Damaskinos wrote: “The Greek Jews made sacrifices for the Greek country and were always on the front line in the struggles of the Greek nation to defend its inalienable historical rights. In our national consciousness, all the children of Mother Greece are an inseparable unity: they are equal members of the national body irrespective of religion or dogmatic differences.”
This deep notion of belonging, so poignantly and eloquently expressed in a time of our most dire need, affirms the unbreakable bond between Greece and its Jewish community. Following the darkest chapter in European history, the Jewish community of Greece, under the umbrella and leadership of the Central Board of Jewish Communities (KIS), managed to slowly rebuild itself. This beautiful community constitutes today an integral and dynamic component of Greek society, proud of its rich heritage, contributing every day and standing side by side with their fellow Greeks, inspired at all times by an unshakeable sense of solidarity.
In the same manner, Greece’s commitment to its Jewish community continues to this day.
In 2019, Greece joined the countries that adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, used by governments, law enforcement agencies, and civil society as an invaluable tool to fight hatred against Jews.
Subsequently, it became one of the first ever countries to appoint a Special Secretary for combatting antisemitism and Holocaust denial.
On the 200th anniversary, Greece continues to show the way across many different fields, fostering international cooperation, looking ahead to the future, always conscious of our European values.
For all European Jews, Greece will remain close to our hearts, and as Greeks across the world celebrate two hundred years of freedom and democracy, we join them in celebration of this important and joyous milestone.
EJC Executive Vice-President & CEO