Speech by the Mayor of Limassol, Mr. Andreas Christou, at the unveiling ceremony of the monument dedicated to the people of Cyprus for assisting Jewish refugees detained in detention camps between 1946 and 1949
Thursday, 28th of May 2015, at 7:30 p.m (opposite the court house on Vyronos Str.)
Mr. President of the Republic
Mr. Ambassador of Israel
Dear ladies, gentlemen and friends,
We would like to thank all of you for your presence here on this special day, to honour the people of Cyprus for assisting the Jewish refugees who were detained in the camps run by the British in Cyprus, between 1946 and 1949 and their total number was around 50.000 people.
After the end of the Second World War and the victory of humanity over fascism – we have recently celebrated its 70th anniversary – survivors of the Holocaust fled Europe and embarked on a long journey to a new home.
Although the international community had unofficially decided to support the creation of the state of Israel, all ships sailing off the Cyprus coast were intercepted by the British Royal Navy before reaching Palestine, and refugees were led to the detention camps in Karaolos, north of Famagusta, in Dekhelia and Xylotymbou outside Larnaca, of a total capacity of 19 thousand people.
Despite the immense difficulties, the detainees turned the camps into active communities, where people mingled with each other, children were born and, most importantly, strong friendships were formed with Cypriots of the neighbouring cities and communities.
Apart from that, many of our fellow citizens, members of municipal councils, advocates of syndicalism and other anti-fascists, veterans of the war, seeing the difficult situation of tens of thousands of people, who went through the horror of the Second World War, sought to cooperate with the Jewish organisations to supply them with all the necessary goods but most importantly to set up a network for their escape and transfer to Israel.
Jewish organisations (Haganah, Mapai, Hashomer, the Achduth, Aroda, Aguda, Betaz) organised the arrival of small vessels to remote beaches in Klapsides, Paralimni, Ayia Napa, Ormidia, Meneou, Kiti, Pervolia and Cypriots undertook the safe transportation of refugees.
Upon their escape from the detention camps, Jewish people were provided by the Cypriots with shelter and care for two to three nights, until their vessels arrived.
All these great efforts and unprecedented humanitarian operation lasted for two and a half years, from August 1946 to April 1949.
We recall in our memory with profound appreciation and respect all our compatriots who had undertaken these operations. Almost none of these rescuers are alive today, therefore let us consider this ceremony as a memorial in their honour.
Dr Markos Markoulis, municipal councillor of Limassol, and later the father-in-law of our Mayor, Dr. D. Kontides,
Prodromos Papavasiliou from Famagusta, municipal councillor,
George Theofanous, a syndicalist from Larnaca,
Nikos Savvides, a dentist from Famagusta,
Kosmas Christofides, shopkeeper from Limassol (father of the later undersecretary Dr. Titos Christofides),
Pais Fotiou, a syndicalist from Famagusta,
Georgios Leventis, cooperative activist from Larnaca,
and many other compatriots – farmers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, boatmen, fishermen – whose names we were unable to trace.
Relationships of solidarity and respect were developed at such an extent that when two of our compatriots, accused of alleged sedition and chased by the British authorities had to escape, they were smuggled to safety in Israel, where one of them stayed, made a family and returned in 1960 when Cyprus was declared an independent state.
These great efforts made by Cypriot people were recognised in several ways from both the Jewish organisations and the later State of Israel.
Perhaps one of the most significant, yet unknown gestures of gratitude and appreciation to Cyprus was the large financial contribution given to the Municipality of Famagusta of the time for the erection of a Municipal Stadium – a contribution which today amounts to 1 million euros. The then Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Famagusta, Adam Adamandos and Christos Savvides, travelled to Israel for this purpose, where they were warmly welcomed with full honours.
During these difficult and dark times, a strong friendship and close bond were developed between the peoples of Cyprus and Israel, a relationship which we wholeheartedly embrace to this day.
It is, therefore, a great honour that the work of Nikos Kourousis, created under the initiative of the Ambassador Mr. Michael Harari will decorate this central square of our city and always serve as a reminder of the will of our peoples for peace, solidarity, friendship and respect.