When historian and Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer spoke before the Bundestag in 1998, he declared that it was important to add three additional commandments to the original ten. Before the room of German politicians, he said:
- “You, your children and your children’s children shall never become perpetrators.”
- “You, your children and your children’s children shall never never allow yourselves to become victims.”
- and “You, your children and your children’s children shall never, but never, be passive onlookers to mass murder, genocide, or (let us hope it may never be repeated) to a Holocaust-like tragedy.”
That was over 20 years ago, and despite the protestations, it is clear that there remain many atrocities and massacres still being perpetrated around the world.
The questions we have to ask ourselves is how we ensure that these types of events are not repeated and ensure that future generations neither perpetrate nor passively stand by while others are involved in such egregious horrors.
Like every generation, today’s youth look to musicians, actors and athletes as their heroes in an ever-encompassing social media-driven world. These ‘heroes’ do not provide the next generations with the ability to distinguish between good and bad, or the moral fiber to face the ethical global challenges of the day.
Instead, social media influencers could be utilizing their power, impact and the ability to inspire younger generations for good. They could celebrate and disseminate the great stories of heroism of those who, during the greatest mass slaughter in modern history, chose to stand up to evil.
That is why the Combat Antisemitism Movement, on this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, with our partners, B’nai B’rith International, the National Hellenic Society, European March of The Living and the Hellenic American Women’s Council, will be celebrating the remarkable heroism of Loukas Karrer and Dimitrios Chrysostomos.
Before the Second World War, 275 Jews lived on the island of Zakynthos off the coast of mainland Greece. Nazi forces arrived in Zakynthos on September 9th, 1943 and demanded a complete list of the island’s Jews from mayor Loukas Karrer.
Unsure of how to proceed, Karrer turned to the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church on the island, Metropolitan Dimitrios Chrysostomos, for assistance. Chrysostomos assured Karrer that he would negotiate with the Nazis and ensure the protection of the Jewish community of Zakynthos.
After hesitating for months, the Nazis confronted Karrer at gunpoint to give up the names and locations of Zakynthos’s Jews. At this point, Chrysostomos handed the island’s Nazi leadership a list of the island’s Jews with two names on it: Loukas Karrer and Dimitrios Chrysostomos.
The two leaders then mobilized the island’s citizens to hide all of the town’s Jewish people in rural villages, allowing them to escape deportation. While more than 80% of Greek Jews were killed during the Holocaust, the entire Jewish community of Zakynthos was saved. Loukas Karrer and Dimitrios Chrysostomos were honored in 1977 with the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem for saving their island’s Jewish community.
THIS IS AN extraordinary episode which amply highlights the ability of individuals to make a difference and save lives. There are now generations of people who are alive just because of the actions of these two courageous leaders, one political and one religious.
They understood that their leadership positions did not just give them authority, but also responsibility. When confronted with a choice between endangering themselves and saving many people, most of whom it is doubtful they knew intimately, they placed the welfare of others above their own.
This story of heroism, and many others like it, should be widely known and recognized. They should be honored for their actions and their strong moral and ethical stands.
Especially in Greece, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) – which brings together governments and experts to strengthen, advance and promote Holocaust education, research and remembrance – it is important to show how fellow nationals nobly acted during a time when so many did not.
However, the lessons go far beyond space and time and are as applicable today as they were in 1943. The way we ensure ‘Never Again’ is to make sure the lessons of the past are clearly understood.
Of course, we must raise the alarm when we hear hate speech gaining ground, the scapegoating of populations and the call to harm people because of their race, religion or background. But we must also teach about the meaning of heroism so there will be good people who can stand up when the moment necessitates action.
Those like Karrer and Chrysostomos should not just be honored but celebrated, and their rousing stories should be spread much further than the latest YouTube sensation.
On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we should be thinking of how to celebrate heroism, specifically those of the Righteous Among the Nations. They are a vital part of Holocaust and education, but they are an even greater antidote to the possibility of the next mass murder or genocide.
Social media can become a source of positive impact, and those who wield extraordinary influence on its platforms can use their following to ensure the heroes of the Holocaust – those who stood against ultimate and industrial-scale evil – become the standard-bearers for today’s global challenges against hate and intolerance.
Then, we can truly say we are fulfilling Bauer’s three extra commandments.
The writer is CEO of the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), a global coalition of organizations and individuals united to combat antisemitism.