It doesn’t take much to get the job done: a tin of black paint, a thick magic marker, a hammer. You don’t even need to belong to a group that hides its fascist proclivities behind a bombastic ancient name. You can do the deed all on your own or with two or three of your closest friends, friends as obsessed as you by the certainty that Jews have for centuries been conspiring against the Greek people, scheming to rob them of their primacy and now working through Islam, through the refugees and migrants flowing into the country.
It also take a certain maliciousness of spirit, of course. There has never been a shortage of that and there won’t be the more we continue to imagine ourselves as innocent from the cradle and genetically superior.
It was this kind of maliciousness – the kind harbored and cultivated by parties like the far-right Golden Dawn – that directed the hand of the vandals who, on December 1, attacked the Holocaust Memorial in Kerameikos, a monument donated by the Athens Jewish Community to the city. They marred the marble with idiotic scrawls, the best their small neo-Nazi brains can produce, and removed two of three metal plaques bearing a inscription in Greek and English, a simple yet poignant epigraph of the kind found at the ancient cemetery nearby. It is an appeal to the passer-by penned by writer Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986: “Pause awhile as you pass by, close your eyes and remember. Remember the time when here, or near here, men, women and children – our own fellow creatures – congregated in peace and trust, only to be arrested, humiliated, deported and murdered in Camps that shall forever shame our Civilization. Because they were Jewish, 6 million people were denied the right to be free, happy, to hope, to smile, to pray and finally, the right to live... Just remember. For by remembering we honor their deaths, and we save them from dying again – in oblivion.”
By not remembering the genocides – of the Jews, the Roma and so many others, genocides old and new – we are aiding their repetition and providing the perpetrators with an alibi.
The tragic events of the past few years in the Mediterranean have all the markers of genocide or ethnic cleansing that is not restricted to one ethnic group. The number of deaths at sea grows by the day, yet it doesn’t make a dent in the cynicism of the powers that be. And the contemptible bigots that live among us regard the dead at sea as they do the dead at the camps. It was people like them who threw black paint a few days ago on a memorial on the island of Lesvos honoring the migrants and refugees who have drowned in the Aegean. “We will never forget,” is written beneath the names of the victims of 2012-13. But “never” increasingly sounds like an exaggeration.