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Crowd Packs Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony

Center in Glen Cove holds presentation and exhibit on Greek Jewish population's devastation during Nazi occupation.

Under a large tent on the grounds of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County Sunday, Israel's ambassador to Greece told a crowd of more than 500 about the near extinction of Greece's Jewish population at the hands of the Nazis.

"Whenever another story is told, it seems impossible. It sounds like a movie," Arye Mekel said. "Unfortunately, what happened in Greece has become a footnote to history; an afterthought."

He spoke about the deportation and extermination of 87 percent of Greek Jews, a group whose history stretches back 2,300 years, making it the oldest Jewish presence in the European diaspora.

About 100,000 Jews lived in Greece before World War II. There are 5,000 left there now. 

Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos lost dozens of members of her extended family during the 1941-44 occupation. She is museum director at the Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum in Manhattan. She told attendees she stresses the complicity of the Bulgarian government during the occupation because Bulgaria officially denies it.

Denial of the facts of the Holocaust is one effort of the Nazis that has managed to endure in certain corners of the world. Whether it is of a country's own complicity or the entire tragedy, denial seeks to end the memory of the lives that were ended.

Mekel mentioned the rise of the Greek political party Chrysi Avgi, or Golden Dawn, which received 7 percent of the vote in the country's last election, with roughly half the country's police force voting for the party, according to a Times of Israel report.

"This is a neo-Nazi party, there is no other way to say it. It is a problem," he said.

Speakers praised the Center for its educational mission, its purpose being the prevention of such embedding of intolerance in institutions and culture. Former chairman Howard Maier noted the Center's training program for Nassau and Suffolk County Police.

Assemb. Charles Lavine, D-Glen Cove, and Legis. Dave Denenberg, D-Merrick, each spoke, touching on their Jewish heritage.

"The European portion of my family did not survive," Lavine said of the Holocaust.

Denenberg told the story of a Catholic archbishop who sent letters to German leaders opposing their actions as the occupation began. As persecution continued, he ordered the Greek Church to issue false baptism certificates to Jews and called on police to issue them false identification papers.

Some 8,000 Greek Jews survived by hiding, many of them sheltered by Greek Christians.

Denenberg spoke of the importance of a culture so violated remembering for the sake of their victims, and any others who find themselves similarly targeted.

"When something's wrong, we're the first to speak," he said.

Maier, who is credited with making the Center the educational force it has become, looked out over the hundreds of people in attendance and remembered his first Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah, at the Center.

"Twenty-five people were there," he said. "It gives me great pride to see what we have built together."

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