The city of Kavala finally got its Holocaust Memorial over the weekend, more than a decade after it was originally planned and weeks after it was originally supposed to be unveiled.
Kavala and the ridiculous actions of its mayor, Dimitra Tsanaka, made international headlines a few weeks ago when she unilaterally cancelled the dedication of the unveiling of the city’s Holocaust Memorial— because it had a Star of David on it.
Tsanaka wanted the Star of David— the very symbol of these victims’ existence and the cause of their death— removed from the memorial.
The international outcry made a mockery of the mayor and sadly, her city, until she was forced to reschedule the ceremony, which took place on Sunday, June 7th.
But the damage had already been done.
“How can it be that the eternal symbol of the Jewish people — the very symbol that the Nazis required Jews to wear in the death camps and ghettos of Europe during the Second World War — is deemed unfit for public display in Kavala?” The American Jewish Committes’s executive director, David Harris, said in a statement.
“The mayor and the City Council have insulted the memory of victims, the Greek Jewish community, and Jews around the world, and we join with the Greek Jewish community in voicing our outrage,” Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said in a statement.
The story about the Greek city that didn’t want a memorial for its own Holocaust victims went viral and dozens— perhaps hundreds of newspapers and blogs around the world picked it up.
Why wouldn’t they? The ridiculousness of a mayor not wanting a Star of David on a Holocaust Memorial would be akin to someone telling a Christian to leave off the cross from their tombstone, or telling a US veteran who died for his country to be buried without a US flag on his or her memorial.
The memorial commemorates the 1484 Greek residents (who happened to be Jews) who were deported and transported to their deaths in 1943 to the Treblinka extermination camp— because they were Jews.
One of the benefactors of the memorial, Mr. Viktor Venouziou, said it the best:
«Οι Εβραίοι πήγαιναν στα κρεματόρια με το άστρο του Δαβίδ, όχι με γούνες κι αυτό οφείλει να το γνωρίζει η δήμαρχος…».
“Jews were transported to the crematoria wearing the Star of David— not wearing furs— and the mayor should know this.”
The mayor blamed her vice mayor Michalis Lychounas for the “misunderstanding” and in typical political fashion, passed the buck on him. But Lychounas fought back, writing a stinging opinion piece in Greece’s Kathimerini and highlighting more than a decade of foot-dragging by local authorities and intentional delays.
“The bitter truth,” Lychounas wrote, “Is that there remains a segment of the Greek population which has powerful anti-Semitic feelings based on ignorance and prejudice and the education system does not do enough to eliminate the phenomenon.”
Giorgos Kalatzis, the Greek Education Ministry general secretary also decried the mayor’s decision, noting that Kavala risked being the first Greek city to turn down a monument raised for its own citizens.
“As an Orthodox Christian, I feel deeply insulted by this issue, because it would be as if someone asked us to erase or modify for ‘aesthetic reasons’ the symbol of the cross on the tombs of our grandfathers executed by the Germans,” he was quoted as saying.
Many in Kavala also objected to the decision which was damaging to the reputation of the city and sadly, the same media organizations that covered the mayor’s disgraceful actions against her city— did not run the news of the memorial being inaugurated this past weekend.