Thursday, February 25, 2020, 6:00 p.m.
Καλησπέρα everybody! Let me start, President Saltiel, my friend David, Mayor Elisaf, guests, friends, let me say what a huge honor it is for me to join you for the 15th Annual David Tiano Lecture, which our Consulate has organized over many years to honor the memory of our former colleague.
I really miss doing this event live in Thessaloniki this year, but I want to thank Liz and the Consulate team for bringing us together in this virtual setting. I also want to say a huge thank you to our honored guest speakers: my friend Zanet Battinou, Professor Cohen, and especially Ioannina Mayor Moses Elisaf for doing us the honor of joining us to speak about the Romaniote community of Ioannina.
2021 is an important year for Greek people everywhere as Greece commemorates its bicentennial. For the United States, 2021 is an opportunity to celebrate 200 years of friendship between our countries, as well as the principles of democracy and freedom, and the inalienable human rights that our nations are committed to uphold and defend.
Reinforcing our shared values, 2021 is also the year that Greece assumes the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, or IHRA, which consists of 34 member countries working together to combat Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.
IHRA’s goals are to educate, conduct research, and promote remembrance of those who lost their lives in the Holocaust. Through tonight’s event, we are doing our small part to remember the almost 60,000 Jews in Greece who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
As I learned from my first conversations with David Saltiel in Thessaloniki almost five years ago, Greece, from the end of the 15th century, was home to one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in all of Europe.
Until the Holocaust, Thessaloniki was rightfully called the Jerusalem of the Balkans. Greek Jews are an integral part of Greece’s rich history, and they will be a part of Greece’s future.
The United States believes strongly in the power of education and storytelling as ways to remember those who were murdered in the Holocaust while highlighting the resilience of the Jewish community here in Greece.
By sharing stories about the Greek Romaniotes in Ioannina, for instance, or the famous rebetiko singer Roza Eskenazi, or the boxer Salamo Arouch, we keep their memories alive for future generations.
And of course, as Liz said, the Tiano lecture is how the U.S. Consulate General in Thessaloniki remembers. We use this history to encourage dialogue and further education about the Holocaust and Thessaloniki’s important Jewish community.
Across multiple U.S. administrations, the United States has continued to support Greece’s Jewish community and to promote respect for Jewish beliefs and practices.
During our visit to Thessaloniki last September, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, I know, was moved to commemorate Yom Kippur with President Saltiel and leaders of the Greek Jewish community by lighting candles at the Jewish Museum’s Hall of Names, honoring the tens of thousands of Thessaloniki Jews who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
And last month on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, his very first day in office, my boss, Secretary of State Blinken, recorded a video message in which he shared the deeply personal meaning of this day for him as the stepson of a Holocaust survivor rescued by American troops at the end of the Second World War.
As Secretary Blinken said, “It is so important that we speak the truth about the past to protect the facts when others try to distort or trivialize Holocaust crimes and to seek justice for the survivors and their families.”
The United States strongly supports Greece as it undertakes the IHRA presidency this year. As I recently discussed with Deputy Prime Minister Pikrammenos and with Foreign Minister Dendias, we look forward to working with the Greek government to support all aspects of their presidency and all efforts to combat anti-Semitism and intolerance.
In the same spirit, we are eagerly awaiting Parliament’s approval of the legislation necessary to begin construction on the Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki, an issue I have followed closely from my arrival along with Governor Gigikostas, Mayor Zervas, and former Mayor Boutaris.
The museum will tell the story of the Thessaloniki Jews who perished in the Holocaust and teach tolerance and diversity, values that are more important than ever. In this respect, it can become a center for teaching, but also contribute to tourism and the Thessaloniki economy by highlighting this city’s special history.
The U.S. Embassy and the Consulate strongly support Holocaust education in Greece. We are proud that the Greek Ministry of Defense agreed to share its Holocaust archives with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and that we are collaborating to retrieve and exhibit personal items belonging to Jewish refugees who perished in the 1946 Athina shipwreck.
Important partnerships like these promote the values that our democracies share, showing that the peoples of the United States and Greece stand together against hate and intolerance in all its forms.
So in the spirit of education and remembrance, I’m so proud to welcome my friend Mayor Elisaf, Ms. Battinou, and Professor Cohen to speak to us about the Romaniotes of Ioannina, the oldest Jewish community in Europe, and a city that I’ve been proud to get to know over my time in this country.
I’m deeply honored to be here and to contribute our small part to remembering and bearing witness to those whose lives were cut short by the Holocaust. Our commitment is as strong as ever to preventing atrocities like the Holocaust from ever happening again. Ευχαριστώ πολύ.