Yad Vashem’s Synagogue was filled last week with Holocaust survivors from Greece and their families who gathered together for an annual remembrance day commemorating the Jews of Kos and Rhodes who were murdered in the Holocaust. They sang traditional songs in Ladino, remembering their lost communities and rich culture, listened to testimony of survivors and a lecture by Na’ama Galil about the day the Jews of Rhodes arrived at Auschwitz, and took part in a moving ceremony that including lighting the Yad Vashem candelabra. Foundation for the Preservation of the Jewish Heritage of Rhodes Chairman Mario Suriano remarked, "We have met at this holy place, Yad Vashem, in order to remember the event that shouldn't have occurred - the Holocaust. Our purpose is to remember, not to forget. To forget is to murder them once again.”
In September 1942, the Nazis conquered Rhodes immediately following their invasion of Italy. As a result of the allied bombardment of Rhodes, bombs also exploded in the Jewish quarter of the Island. A great number of Jews - among them young children, died. In July 1944, some 1,650 Jews that remained on the island were ordered to gather at assembly centers. They were then sent to Athens on two coal barges, without any food or water. The barges initially made their way to the nearby island of Kos where another 120 Jews were piled onto the barges to be deported along with the Jews of Rhodes. The boats then stopped at the island of Leros to deport the single Jewish man who lived on the island. Upon arriving in Athens the Jews were detained at the infamous Haidari and from their deported to Auschwitz. Only 180 of them survived.