Presentation of the official delegation of Greece at the Vilnius Forum
Photini Tomai-Constantopoulou, Director of the Service of Historical and Diplomatic Archives of the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs
3-5 October 2000
Greece sent an official delegation led by Photini Tomai-Constantopoulou to the Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Assets who gave the presentation set out below.
All countries present at the Forum agreed the Final Declaration.
From this podium, and with the capacity of head of the Greek delegation, I would like to thank the chairman of the conference for the impeccable organization of this forum, as well as his Excellency, the Prime Minister of Lithuania Mr. Anrius Kubilius for his initiative to invite to his home country representatives of the international community in an effort to asses the cultural losses of the bloodiest war in humankind.
The issues of the conference today, even though it focuses on the specific issue of looted cultural artifacts of the Yiddish communities of Europe, specified by Resolution No. 1205 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, constitutes part of the significant cultural losses of the European continent. Most importantly, however, this conference acts as an instigator towards the realization of all the present delegates and their respective member states, of the long-term consequences of absolute war on human kind.
In the conference in London and Washington we discussed several of the variables of the Holocaust, more particularly the loss of life, restitution of property and reparation of victims. In Stockholm we reviewed issues of education and remembrance, while we looked into ways to preserve and promote the memory of the Holocaust victims, who were not only Jews but Romans, homosexuals and individuals with mental or physical deficiencies. I am especially proud that my country at the Stockholm Conference was the only participant among the 43 nations that presented information on the educational programs that the Hellenic Ministry of Education has been implementing for a number of years regarding the education of the Romans that reside in Greece.
Today, in the context of the Vilnius Forum we are called upon to examine the case of the looted and destroyed artifacts representative of the Jewish cultural heritage. Greece, and other European nations, has clearly presented the devastating images that resulted from the war in this conference and the preceding gatherings, and anticipates the convention that will place special emphasis on looted artifacts from Museums and historical sights from which, unfortunately, the Parthenon is not exempt.
Yesterday, I followed with great attention the panel discussions about the reparations of identified antiquities and art. I will agree to what Dr. Reinhold Baumstark defined as very tricky for the Museum curators, especially when I think of the thousands of finds which have never been identified due to the war, and which came to light as a result of illegal excavations in Greek territory by archeologists, officers of the occupation forces.
However, with regards to the looted artifacts of Jewish cultural heritage I would like here to publicly thank the Russian delegation for the sincere willingness of Russia to return to Greece the archives of the Jewish communities of Greece that had been seized by the Nazis during occupation. These archives cover the period 1870 - 1942 and represent the history of the thriving Sephardic and Romaniot communities of Greece. The return of this rich depository is already underway, and we hope will be completed in the near future. These records will add to our knowledge and contribute significantly to the rich puzzle of the history of the Greek Jews. The information derived from these records will fill the gap in the evolution of their life and activities as it has is partially reflected in the more than 2,000 documents that the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs transferred in accordance to an agreement signed with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In closing, and as a delegate to all the conferences leading up to this forum in the hospitable city of Vilnius, I would like to direct your attention to a matter of importance and necessity. The quest for truth and the restitution of history cannot be supplemented only with reparations. It would be a tragic mistake if the international community which has confronted natural and humanitarian disasters and the threat of a nuclear 'holocaust' to leave from these proceedings that have required so much work on the behalf of the organizers and the delegates, and which have weighed on the budgets of the respective nations, without reinforcing the principals which will serve as guidelines for future generations. More specifically, the principles I am talking about are democracy, equality, justice, and respect for freedom of speech and dialogue. As Aristotle noted "man above all" and following in his words we are bequeathed with the challenging responsibility of the historical restitution of the most violent and abhorrent war in our history. While we must not neglect the debt of the guilty, we must also remember that the material restitution must always be secondary to the ethical and deeply human responsibility that we have towards the victims of the past and generations of the future.
Thank you for you attention.
Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Cultural Assets Website, accessed 27 November 2002. The website no longer exists (20 July 2007).