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Greater New Haven’s 15th Annual Kristallnacht Commemoration Honors Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens

All are invited to a community-wide Kristallnacht Commemoration to be held 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. on Sunday, November 14th via “ZOOM.”  This year’s Commemoration, presented by Congregation Or Shalom in Orange in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, and with support by the American Society for Yad Vashem, will honor the heroism of Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens.  The program is free of charge.  Kindly register for the ZOOM link at www.jewishnewhaven.org/kristallnacht.

What was Kristallnacht?  The horrific event known as Kristallnacht, which took place on November 9th and 10th, 1938, is regarded by historians as the prelude to the Holocaust.  In the course of 48 hours, mobs rampaged across Nazi Germany, Austria, and German-occupied Czechoslovakia, murdering and maiming Jews.  During those two days, hundreds of synagogues were destroyed and thousands of Jewish-owned businesses were plundered.  The violence of those days would be infamously called “The Nights of Broken Glass” – “Kristallnacht”- referring to the shattered windowpanes that littered the streets in the aftermath of the nightmare.  Tragically, in the face of all this, the world was largely silent; almost no countries reached out to the Jews living under Nazism.  “That widespread inaction in the face of evil,” according to Rabbi Wainhaus of Congregation Or Shalom, “is all the more reason to highlight the moral courage shown by a few.  At our community’s Kristallnacht Commemoration, we focus on the unsung heroes whose life-saving acts were beacons that defied the darkness of the Holocaust.”

Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens:  Our annual gathering takes place during the 80th anniversary year of Nazi Germany’s occupation of Greece.  After Greece fell to the Nazis, Archbishop Damaskinos, spiritual leader of Athens and all of Greece, worked hard to protect Greek citizens from the German authorities, and comforted those awaiting execution for resisting Nazism.  When the Nazi regime began deporting and killing Greek Jews in 1943, Damaskinos openly protested.  He published public letters denouncing the Nazis’ actions, writing, “the Greek people must be willing to vouch for their Jewish brothers and sisters without hesitation.”  When the Nazi authorities threatened him with execution by firing squad, Archbishop Damaskinos responded defiantly, “According to the traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church, our leaders are hanged, not shot; respect our traditions!

Notably, the churches under Archbishop Damaskinos’ authority were ordered to issue Christian baptismal certificates to Jews, and he advised priests to do their best to hide those to whom they could not issue certificates.  In addition, the Archbishop convinced Athens’ Chief of Police to issue a false identification card to any Jew who asked for one.

The Special Commemoration on Sunday, November 14th at 9 a.m. on Zoom:  The event will begin with the lighting of a yellow Holocaust Memorial candle and brief remarks on the significance of Kristallnacht by Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus.  His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America will offer a prayer, followed by comments from Father Peter Orfanakos of St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in Orange, CT.  A United States Senate Citation will be presented by Sen. Richard Blumenthal to the family of Archbishop Damaskinos.  Comments by Dr. Marlene W. Yahalom, Director of Education of the American Society for Yad Vashem and by Lea Micha of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, will follow.  Holocaust survivors who were rescued, directly or indirectly, by Archbishop Damaskinos will share their unique perspectives as well.  Finally, a Q&A session led by Judy Alperin, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven will take place.  The program is free of charge.  Kindly register at www.jewishnewhaven.org/kristallnacht.

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