UPDATED: 04/22/2015, 4:58 p.m.
Today in Jerusalem, B’nai B’rith International and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) are memorializing Rabbi Moshe Shimon Pessach (1869-1955), and the “Jewish Rescuers Citation” will be posthumously conferred.
Pessach was an outstanding rabbinic and communal figure who served for 63 years as rabbi, including later in life as chief rabbi of Greece. During the Nazi occupation of Greece, he shepherded the Volos Jewish community of approximately 1,000 people through tumultuous times.
The organizers behind the Jewish Rescuers Citation award ceremony view believe it is especially important to expose Jewish youth to the phenomena of Jewish rescue during the Holocaust as a model for Jewish solidarity and courage.
“We believe that the topic of Jewish rescue during the Holocaust for the past 70 years hasn’t received the attention it rightly deserves,” said B’nai B’rith World Director Alan Schneider to Tazpit. “There were thousands of Jewish rescuers who saved countless Jewish lives, who many people don’t know about.”
At the ceremony on Thursday, members of the underground Zionist youth movement in Hungary during WWII will also be recognized for their rescue efforts as will Yaacov (Jacko) Razon, a Greek-Jewish boxer who helped other Jews survive at Nazi concentration camps.
Since the creation of the Jewish Rescuers Citation in 2011, around 100 awards have been presented to Jewish rescuers who operated in Germany, France, Hungary, and Holland.
Holocaust Remembrance Day – known as Yom HaShoah in Hebrew – began Wednesday evening, at the start of the Hebrew calendar day, with a powerful ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem.
Among the dozens of commemorative events taking place today was a unique ceremony at the Martyr’s Forest on the outskirts of the capital, held jointly by the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF).
The event – held now for the 13th consecutive year – is the only one dedicated exclusively to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the years of torment in Europe. Some 200 Border Patrol Cadets – who will provide an honor guard – and 200 high school students are participating in the ceremony together with Jewish rescuers and survivors.
During the war, Rabbi Pessach also established a unit of partisans that rescued allied soldiers and fought the Germans. The Greek King Paul and the commander of the Allied forces in the Mediterranean decorated Rabbi Pessach for his actions.
“My grandfather was respected by Jews and Greeks alike and he always gave help and advice to all before and after the war,” said Eskanazi. “He was one of them, my grandfather, and the Jews were accepted by the Greek community.”
Rabbi Pessach’s good friend bishop Alexopoulos was recognized posthumously by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Gentiles in 1977 following the request of the Jewish community of Volos.
But the most significant outcome of Roet’s activism is an annual Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony awarding the “Jewish Rescuers Citation,” held by B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel (KKL-JNF) at a plaza among the six million trees planted in the Martyrs’ Forest near Jerusalem.
While the ceremony is in its thirteenth year, the citation has been awarded only since 2011. Making up for lost time perhaps, over 100 Jewish rescuers who operated in France, Germany, Holland and Hungary have since received the honor.
“When we leave out the Jews, we’re leaving out an important part of the picture,” director of B’nai B’rith World Center Alan Schneider told The Times of Israel just after Wednesday’s Yad Vashem state ceremony.
Schneider applauded Yad Vashem’s increased efforts in the area of Jewish rescue, including a recent Hebrew-language book and several symposiums and seminars.
The memory of an elderly rabbi who led partisans against the Nazis in occupied Greece during the Second World War will be honored during a ceremony at Jerusalem’s Martyr’s Forest on Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday.
The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund will co-sponsor the event, which for the past 12 years has been dedicated to honoring the memory of Jews who rescued their coreligionists during the Holocaust.
In the Jerusalem Hills, there stands the single largest memorial to the Holocaust in the world, known as Martyrs’ Forest. The forest is comprised of six million trees planted in memory of the six million Jews who perished.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day in the capital, a unique ceremony takes place to commemorate the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust.
Fiercely loyal to his country and to his community, Rabbi Pessach initiated and orchestrated the rescue of his community during the German occupation with the assistance of the Bishop of Volos Joachim Alexopoulos and other non-Jews – efforts that led to the survival of 74% of the Volos Jews.
This was an extraordinary achievement in a country where 85% of the Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
On the Jewish New Year in 1943, Rabbi Moshe Pessah, the chief rabbi of the central Greek city of Volos, was summoned to the German military governor of the city, Kurt Rikert.
Rikert ordered the rabbi to provide a list of all the city’s Jews and their property within 24 hours, claiming that the list was needed in order to arrange food supplies to the residents during the occupation.