A talk given by Lorenzo Ovadiah Garcia, on the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Good morning, my name is Lorenzo Garcia. My Hebrew name is Ovadiah which means, “Servant or Worshipper of G-d”. I am Jewish. I was asked to speak to you for the NSA Souda Bay Base Holocaust remembrance. I would like to thank you all for the opportunity of allowing me to speak with you all today. This is always a hard subject to talk about. I am sure you have learned something of the Holocaust and when it happened and its consequences. I thought long and hard today about what I should talk about. My intent with this discussion is not to reiterate what you may possibly know but to leave you with something more that will make you look within yourselves where you can learn more than I can teach you.
What does the word Holocaust mean? The word “Holocaust” (from the Greek ὁλόκαυστος holókaustos: hólos, “whole” and kaustós, “burnt”), in Hebrew also known as the Shoah (Hebrew: השואה, HaShoah, “catastrophe”; Yiddish: חורבן, Churben or Hurban, from the Hebrew for “destruction”),
Do we ever think in our day and age, the heavy burden of pain and scars that can last a lifetime from a racial epithet or insult? No matter who it is against? Even in joking? Remember the Holocaust was not only verbal but physical. First and foremost, yes, the Holocaust did happen and yes not just to Jewish people. Many others suffered persecution and murder at the hands of the nazis but Jews were primarily targeted. The extent of the nazi terror is usually broken down as such:
The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust that the term is commonly defined as the mass murder, and attempt to wipe out Jewry, which was around 78 percent of the 7.3 million Jews in occupied Europe at the time.
The Holocaust has commonly been conceived of as a revolt against reason, the ultimate example of the “irrational,” designed and executed by the pathologically insane. But if reason was the object of the revolt, it was also the chief ally, a dialectic so monstrously rational that it could override all the traditional bounds of morality.
The Holocaust was not so much the overthrow of reason as its triumph over morality. It allowed a scientific ultrarationality—what Hitler called “ice cold logic”—to provide murder with rational justification.
—William Tucker, The Science and Politics of Racial Research
What does this word Holocaust make you feel now? Again how often have we used a word without thinking of its effect no matter how racist or anti Semitic is. How important it is to understand the words we use in our everyday vocabulary and if taken for granted can be valuable, life changing or the opposite extreme and destructive. There is power in what we say and as it is said can cut deeper than a knife.
What really happened during the holocaust came down to one thing then what I wanted to talk to you about today is genocide. Does anyone know what that means? Genocide is defined as “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group”, The Holocaust sounds like genocide does it not? Not just to Jews but the other groups of people I mentioned. The term genocide was coined, in 1944,the word comes from the Greek root γένος génos (birth, race, stock, kind); secondly from Latin -cidium(cutting, killing) via French –cide.
I want to talk to you all about genocide how does a word get overused lose its meaning or how can it change your perception? Yes there was genocide before the Second World War and after but it was not clearly defined until the Holocaust
What does that mean to us sitting here? Most importantly and this is what I am most concerned about is how our modern world has desensitized its true meaning. You hear this word and it does not scare you like it should. In this world, this is thru the technology and modernization of our modern world.
Do we feel anything now about what happened then? Ask yourself that. We cannot really know or feel because it was a distant memory to us. That is how fast our world has moved forward. Our grandparents though lived thru this era and knew first hand. In this day and age our tempers are said to be short but our memory is even shorter. Desensitization due to many factors most evident is our modern media and the internet. Anyone remember what they had to eat last night? See what I mean? And in researching this 20th and 21st century saw the most atrocious treatment of man against man ever. Any coincidence you think? We forget too quickly….
Again how can we feel or know it was too long ago. What does it mean here and now? Let me give you a personal example? In the country you are residing in now you know there was at one time a large and prosperous population of Jews? Communities that had existed since antiquity? Even before the Christian era?
There is a synagogue in Xania the one I attend and every time I sit in there on Sabbaths or for prayers it feels like there is always an emptiness. And there is, but at one time this empty building was once bustling with families and people there was a life here at one time. The Jewish quarter in Xania is in the area of El Mondos, you all know where that is. You know in the country again where you now reside lost 85% of its Jewish population murdered in the Second World War?
What do I think when I sit there and contemplate what we lost? We lost many generations, old people, adults and young people. In old people we lost their wisdom, history and traditions. In adults we lost their contributions to continuing life and in children lost their hope of a future and new generations. The 276 Jews of Xania were rounded up and arrested on the morning of the 29th May 1944. They were taken to Irakleo on trucks and put on a boat along with Italian and British prisoners bound for the mainland of Greece and from there were to be taken to the camps. Being a time of war while their boat was in route it was sunk and all the Jews aboard drowned.
The persecution of the Jews of Greece by the Nazis began in 1943. This included deportations to the death camps. The Archbishop of Athens and Greece at the time Archbishop Damaskinos submitted a letter signed by prominent Greek citizens in defense of Jews who were being persecuted.
According to The Raoul Wallenberg Foundation the appeal of Damaskinos and his fellow Greeks is unique as no document similar to the protest against the Nazis during World War II has come to light in any other European country.
Part of the letter reads:
|“||The Greek Orthodox Church and the Academic World of Greek People Protest against the Persecution… The Greek people were… deeply grieved to learn that the German Occupation Authorities have already started to put into effect a program of gradual deportation of the Greek Jewish community… and that the first groups of deportees are already on their way to Poland…
According to the terms of the armistice, all Greek citizens, without distinction of race or religion, were to be treated equally by the Occupation Authorities. The Greek Jews have proven themselves… valuable contributors to the economic growth of the country [and] law-abiding citizens who fully understand their duties as Greeks. They have made sacrifices for the Greek country, and were always on the front lines of the struggle 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… Our holy religion does not recognize superior or inferior qualities based on race or religion, as it is stated: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek’ and thus condemns any attempt to discriminate or create racial or religious differences. Our common fate both in days of glory and in periods of national misfortune forged inseparable bonds between all Greek citizens, without exemption, irrespective of race…
Today we are… deeply concerned with the fate of our fellow citizens who are Jews… we have lived together in both slavery and freedom, and we have come to appreciate their feelings, their brotherly attitude, their economic activity, and most important, their indefectible patriotism…
Damaskinos went on to publish this letter, even though the local SS commander, Jürgen Stroop, responsible for putting down the Warsaw Uprising threatened to execute him by firing squad. Does anyone know his reply?
Damaskinos’s famous response to him was:
|According to the traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church, priests are hung, not shot. Please respect our traditions|
Above all we lost what could have been possibly a better world but we will never know.
How was genocide defined before then? Maybe it is something deeper. I think maybe with prehistoric man this is written in our DNA. Think about it, our fear and distrust of anything foreign or different. A long time ago different tribes, with different war paint or scars on their faces could be subject to the this type of treatment. This is something uniquely human, a natural feeling like love. For sure animals do not do this seeks out another animal with a different color or fur or horns of a different shape and attempt to destroy them. One community destroying another, that is human or humanity or lack thereof slipping from reason.
You can still ask yourself then, how did this happen? To give you an idea As I said before several factors contributed to this, the 19th and early 20th century gave rise to the Industrial revolution, which contributed machines to enrich and elongate life but also machines of war and destruction. Mass communication brought things like telephones, movies to spread propaganda, railways which the nazis used for transport of people. Efficient ways to live and efficient ways to take lives. It brought efficiency this was the end result of all this. Anyone ever hear of Treblinka? It was a concentration camp in the east of Poland. It was only opened for one year July of 1942 to October of 1943. Anyone know how many people were murdered there? 850K people, in one year, that is efficiency and technology coming together. Systematic and final.
We can also say in hand with industrialization Nationalism can also be a contributing factor this was big in Europe and the United States at this time, one people one religion one language one country. Now that we look at our world it can be said to be against reason even then. But it sounds familiar in many places if you listen today. And ask yourself again, would I have said something?
So in the end, what have we learnt? And how have we become desensitized? Genocide can be tipped off by many factors that can justify it but in our deepest being we know this is unbearable. Have we learned anything? We can say no, because it happened even in our own history and continues to happen even now. Yes we have monuments to some that attest to this. But for some is there any remembrance of their genocide? If it happened to us would we want someone to remember? So as to say as us Jewish people say, “Never Again”?
Now I wanted to bring to your attention a few, very few examples of genocide. Some known and some not. My apologies to those not named but I ask after today to remember these and all other people who have ever been affected by genocide, and they were acts of genocide:
The Partition of India
The Holocaust and all it’s victims
The Soviet famine of 1932-1933 that affected Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and some densely populated regions of Russia
The Dominican Republic, during the Parsley Massacre
The Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire
The Filipino Moros during the Philippine-American War
The Herero and Namaqua Genocide in German South-West Africa
The Irish during the Great Famine
The Aborigines of Australia and Tasmania
The American Indians
So one more time I will ask, what else have we learnt?
At the day’s end and as long as it has happened, we have learned that Genocide is just another word in our vocabulary.
I want to leave you with a poem and a prayer a poem of sorrow but also of hope
If ever my grief were measured
Or my sorrow put on a scale,
It would outweigh the sands of the ocean.
For G-D has hidden my way
And put hedges across my path.
I sit and gnaw on my grief;
My groans pour out like water.
My worst fears have happened;
My nightmares have come to life.
Silence and peace have abandoned me,
And anguish camps in my heart.
I hoped we all learned to think and will learn to choose our words more carefully.
Thank you for listening.