Holocaust Memorial Day – and Personal Memories of a Jewish Cemetery on the Island of Kos

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 On this cold 27th January day while many mark the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945, my memories are of a hot day a couple of years ago on the Greek island of Kos. That lovely summer afternoon we found ourselves in a village called Platάni where we decided to have lunch. It soon became evident (from the names of the restaurants) that Platάni was home to Muslims as well as those of the Greek Orthodox persuasion. We sat for a while in one of those Muslim restaurants watching the villagers go by in the heat of the day and later we took a stroll down a narrow road a little way out of the village where we were intrigued to find two well hidden cemeteries, in very close proximity to each other.

The first cemetery was clearly a Muslim one – again we could tell by the names, the Arabic inscriptions used and those shallow graves that are typical of how Muslims are buried. Walking around this cemetery, I thought of the souls of those buried there…. Sadly some of them were comparatively young; I wondered what type of life they had led and why they had died this young. I later learned that this cemetery is still in use by the local Muslim community which is small on the island; they have their own mosque, although the children of Turkish speaking Muslims on Kos attend regular Greek schools.

I felt, in a strange sense, the type of atmosphere in that village which is still prevalent in parts of my native Northern Ireland. At a first glance it would appear that the members of that local community knit well together but I felt an undercurrent… I instinctively knew that behind that peaceful village scene lay deep cultural, historical and religious differences – and perhaps even hostilities.

With these thoughts in mind, we wandered out of the Muslim cemetery and there, just a very short distance away, we saw two lovely stars of David adorning an old gate. Sadly that gate was locked and these days I’m not so good at climbing high walls but I did manage to get a few photographs of the tombs of this Jewish community which, in 1922, still amounted to 66. In 1943 those remaining members of the Jewish community were rounded up by German forces and taken away to concentration camps where many were murdered. Today the only remaining synagogue on the island is used as a cultural centre.

I remember my feelings of disappointment on discovering that the gate was locked to the old cemetery. For a long time I just stood staring through the bars of the gate at the grey tombs set amongst the fir trees where little birds were flitting around the branches. There was an eerie silence about the scene and an atmosphere of deep sadness which words cannot adequately describe… How terrible, how unthinkable I thought, that the forces of hatred pursued the Lord’s ancient chosen people and captured them even from a lovely Greek island to bring them to a horrific place of torture and misery…

Israel is a scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away; first the King of Assyria hath devoured him; and last this Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones…” (Jeremiah 50v17)

And yet the Lord said: “Behold I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, as I have punished the king of Assyria, And I will bring Israel again to his habitation…” (Verses 18&19)

Memories of talking to a young Jewish couple on the deck of a ship which was sailing between Cyprus and Israel return to me on this Holocaust Memorial Day. The year was 1981, I was young (and young in the faith) – but trying to be a witness to this couple who were coming from different parts of the globe, to return to Israel and live there. How amazing and what a miracle that Israel became once more a nation on May 14th 1948!

Surely “the coming of the Lord draweth nigh…” (James 5v8) This time He is returning to judge the “quick and the dead” (2Timothy 4v1) “for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” (Romans 13v11)

Hidden graves and ancient tombstones will open and the sea will give up its dead; billions will rise again – either to be with the Lord or to face the horrific consequences of a lost eternity.

 “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16v15)

Love and pray for the people of this world, wherever possible witnessing to them of God’s love for them, in sending His only begotten Son to be their Redeemer.

To those who know and follow Him… “there is neither Jew, nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3v28)

The divisive traditions of mankind melt away, when souls have been truly touched by the Lord Jesus Christ.

“He came unto His own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (John 1v11&12)

Yet many have come to see that he was the Messiah – My prayer is that many many more would do so, seeing the wonderful prophetic truth in scriptures such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53…

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53v4&5)

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