Cyprus and Israeli Defence Ministers unveil plaque honoring Holocaust survivors’ children

Cyprus and Israeli Defence Ministers unveil plaque honoring Holocaust survivors’ children

Cypriot Defence Minister Christoforos Fokaides and the Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya`alon, on an official visit to Cyprus, unveiled together on Wednesday afternoon a memorial plaque, honoring the 2,200 children born in Cyprus between 1946 and 1949 to Jewish Holocaust survivors.

The plaque is erected at an army camp, in Nicosia, which was the site of the British Military Hospital (BMH) during colonial rule, and the birthplace of many Jewish children.

The year 2016 marks 70 years since the opening of the British camps in Cyprus. Thousands of Jewish refugees, who had survived the Holocaust and were on their way to Israel, were detained by the British in such camps, located in Xylotymbou, Dekhelia and Karaolos, to the east of Cyprus. They were brought to Nicosia to be hospitalized at BMH, and many of their babies were born there.

Addressing the event, Zehavit Blumenfeld, one of the children born in BMH to Jewish parents, could not contain her emotions. She said that on her way to the ceremony, her mother, who has since perished, “whispered” to her not to cry when she hears the Israeli anthem. “I couldn`t. It was a few drops. I am very emotional today” she told an audience, comprising the two Defence Ministers of Cyprus and Israel, the Israeli Ambassador to Cyprus Yael Ravia-Zadok, politicians, military personnel and others.

Blumenfeld, who is a member of the Cyprus-Israeli Friendship Association, spoke of her dream to place a plaque at the site and added “sometimes dreams come true”.

“I stand here humbly before you in the name of 52,000 illegal immigrants and 2,200 babies born in the camp with a message: Thank you…for all you did to make easier the life in the camps of the illegal immigrants and their children” who were detained by the British, she said.

Moreover, she referred to Cypriots who risked their lives to help the Jews in the camps, such as the late Prodromos Papavassiliou, noting that they were “a solid bridge of friendship between the two countries and the two people”.

She expressed hope that a second plaque could be dedicated in the near future in Famagusta, where the Karaolos camp once stood.

From his part, Fokaides said that today`s ceremony was the realization of a promise given to Zehavit last October. According to the Minister, Blumenfeld was “a living proof of the respective bonds of friendship” that were forged when escaping Jews saw Cyprus as a corner of hope, marking the start of a new beginning.

“The monument which we inaugurate today symbolizes the natural affinity between our peoples who have shared a quest for survival, and a common vision for a stable and secure future” he went on, adding that this is a long – deserved token to the Cyprus-Israeli friendship.

Speaking on Minister Ya’alon`s “historic” visit to Cyprus, Fokaides said it testified “how far our relationship has come” turning recently “into a relationship of strategic choice”.

“As our ties develop, our political determination to cultivate further our bilateral relations grows stronger” he said and noted that the solid backbone of Cyprus-Israeli cooperation lies on “the growing pillars that our security and defense cooperation provide”.

The Defence Minister of Cyprus also noted that the two countries share a common vision to tackle asymmetric challenges in the region. He also noted that Cyprus` geopolitical value lies in its bridging role as a credible stakeholder which shares sound relations with the countries of the region.

“Our partnership, by definition, targets against no one, and is open to all who share our constructive geostrategic vision” the Minister added and noted that “Cyprus and Israel are partners in strategic reliability”.

He expressed hope that Cyprus’ reunification will serve as an exemplary precedent for regional peace.

Defence Minister of Israel Moshe Ya`alon said from his part that “Cyprus is a great friend of the State of Israel and our ties are very close and strategic”

He added that BMH is part of the history of both the Jewish people and of Cyprus. “The story of the hospital that stood on this ground is an inseparable part of the history of the Jewish people. Being here today reminds us of the long and difficult journey we made on the way to establishing the State of Israel” he noted.

He referred moreover to the determination and strong will of the Holocaust survivors, who, seventy years ago, arrived in Cyprus on their long and hard journey to the Land of Israel.

Ya`alon added that the people of Israel see Cyprus as a good neighbor and true friend and said that “the further we strengthen the ties between our countries and between our defense establishments, the greater the benefit to both our peoples”.

He referred to the “battle against those who seek to overturn our values and way of life” and noted that only by working together can the western world, including Cyprus and Israel, defeat these forces of evil.

The two Ministers inspected a guard of honour as they arrived at BMH. After unveiling the plaque, the national anthems of Cyprus and Israel were played and the two Ministers proceeded to a nearby place, where photographs depicting life in the British camps were on display.