The Washington Oxi Day Foundation announced that David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), will be honored with the 2013 Metropolitan Chrysostomos Award recognising courageous action to stop anti-Semitism and discrimination.
This award, which was received last year by Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, is being received by Harris in recognition of his lifelong contribution to combating anti-Semitism, discrimination and intolerance and for his efforts to forge strong bonds between the Greek and Jewish peoples.
Harris will receive the award at a special ceremony on October 24 in the U.S. Capitol Building before U.S. policymakers and leaders of the Jewish and Greek communities. Former U.S. Ambassador to Greece Thomas Miller will introduce Harris at the event, which is part of the third annual Washington Oxi Day Celebration.
David Harris is one of the Jewish community’s leading global advocates. For the last 23 years, he has served as Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, traveling the globe to meet with world leaders to combat anti-Semitism, monitor the condition of Jewish communities and promote intergroup and interreligious understanding.
Harris has worked tirelessly at the highest levels to fight anti-Semitism, in many cases risking his own safety. In the course of his work on behalf of Soviet Jewry, he was twice detained by Soviet authorities and once expelled from the country. In addition, Harris played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in the protection and covert evacuation of the Ethiopian Jewish community to Israel in the 1980s, and regular meets with European leaders to raise public awareness regarding the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Harris was a leading figure in the worldwide movement to create a memorial at the site of Belzac, a Nazi death camp in Poland, and he played an important behind-the-scenes role in establishing in Greece a memorial to the Jews of Thessaloniki. He regularly meets with leaders and speaks with audiences around the world to assure the Holocaust is not forgotten.
Harris has been honored by the governments of Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Spain, and Ukraine for his many international activities on behalf of the defense of human rights, advancement of the transatlantic partnership, and dedication to the Jewish people. In 2003, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Hebrew Union College.
The Metropolitan Chrysostomos Award is named after Metropolitan Chrysostomos, the Greek Orthodox church leader on the island of Zakinthos during the German occupation of Greece. He is credited with saving hundreds of Jewish lives.
German forces, preparing to deport Jewish citizens of Zakinthos to camps in Poland, ordered Metropolitan Chrysostomos to prepare a list of all of the Jewish people on the island. The Metropolitan told the Mayor of Zakinthos to burn the list of Jewish names and he told the Jewish residents on the island to leave their homes and go into hiding in the mountains, promising them that Greek islanders would provide them with food and shelter. Those that followed his instructions were saved.
Metropolitan Chrysostomos implored the German commander to not deport these citizens, as they were Greek citizens and had done no harm. When the Germans would not listen and ordered him to produce the list, Chrysostomos took a piece of paper, wrote his own name on it and handed it over, saying “here is the list of Jews you required”.
In 1978, Chrysostomos was awarded the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel’s Yad Vashem organization for risking his life to save the lives of Jewish people during the Holocaust. According to Yad Vashem, upon receiving this award, Metropolitan Chrysostomos declared that he was following the example of Archbishop Damaskinos of Greece, who on 23 March 1943, after the first deportation trains left Thessaloniki for Auschwitz, published an outspoken condemnation of the deportation of Greece’s Jews. Damaskinos was known to have said: ‘I have taken up my cross. I spoke to the Lord, and made up my mind to save as many Jewish souls as possible’.
Other recipients of the Metropolitan Chrysostomos Award include Photini Tomai, director of the Greek Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic and Historical Archives, who will be attending this year’s ceremony.