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13-02-2024 13:11

Address by the President of the Republic, Mr Nikos Christodoulides, at an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the closing of the detention camps for Jewish Holocaust survivors in Cyprus

At the outset, I would like to thank the Ministry of Defence and the Embassy of Israel for organising this commemorative event.

A few days ago, we marked 75 years since the closing of the detention camps for the Jewish Holocaust survivors in Cyprus. The gathering of this year carries a profound meaning as it is the first such occasion after the inconceivable terrorist attacks of October 7 which we condemned in the strongest possible terms.

These camps, 12 in total, were situated across Cyprus, operating between 1946 to 1949. Following the end of World War II and prior to the creation of the State of Israel, approximately 53,000 Jews went through Cyprus and the camps of Karaolos, north of Famagusta, Dhekelia and Xylotymvou.

The place that we stand here today, the former British Military Hospital (BMH), was the birthplace of many of the children of the Holocaust survivors who were interned in then-colonised Cyprus en route to their new homeland. 2253 of them were born in Cyprus during the internment period. Even after so many years, this singe fact still stands as a testament that hope can still shine even in the darkest of times.

This is why this place, where we are gathered, is an inseparable part of the histories of both Cyprus and Israel. In 2016, fulfilling a long-standing dream of one of those children, Mrs Zehavit Blumenfeld, we erected a monument dedicated to these children of Holocaust survivors. I am humbled by the fact that Zehavit is with us today. I am also honoured that Professor Snunith Shoham, the Chair of the Organization of Cyprus Ma’apilim: Legacy and Commemoration, is also here today. She too calls Cyprus her birthplace.

I wanted to attend this event personally, because today we honour the resilience of the human spirit, the upholding of human dignity as well as the compassion and the solidarity of fellow human beings.

This place is not just a piece of land of demolished soulless buildings. This place and the detention camps in other areas of Cyprus are monuments of the human spirit, monuments of hope.

This place reminds us of the 53,000 souls who escaped the horrors of the Holocaust only to be interned behind barbed wire in colonised Cyprus. This place reminds us that despite the hardships, they were determined and filled with hope after so much darkness. This place also reminds us of the generosity of Cypriots who worked in the military camps and lived in the surrounding villages. They identified with the Jewish refugees’ suffering and provided support by way of smuggled food, clothing and other items, demonstrating acts of kindness, compassion and solidarity. They even arranged illicit escapes.

“Papa” – Prodromos Papavasileiou – is legendary in Cyprus for his ethos and determination to assist the interned refugees at the risk of his own life. He was acknowledged by the State of Israel with the State Warriors Decoration and the Carmel award of Merit, while the Israeli port city of Haifa has “Papa Square” named in his honour. It is truly touching to see his children, Christakis and Lina, as well as other members of his family being here today, representing his ethos and bravery.

On this 75th anniversary of the closure of the internment camps, we celebrate the brave Cypriots who aptly showed support and solidarity. We also celebrate the foundation of our historic ties. And we celebrate together with Zehavit and Professor Shoham and countless others whose birthplace is Cyprus the hope of new beginnings, particularly during these very challenging times.