By Dr Panayiotis Diamadis, Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
The 2024 Australia Day Honours list recognises and celebrates 1,042 Australians, including awards in the Order of Australia (General and Military Divisions), meritorious awards and recognition for distinguished and conspicuous service.
Awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division – OAM – this year was Vic Alhadeff, alongside at least fourteen recipients of Hellenic background, a testament to the continued Hellenic contribution to Australian society.
Mr Alhadeff was honoured ‘For service to the Jewish community, and to the media’, including terms as the Editor with the Australian Jewish News and as CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. The Citation for the Medal should include Alhadeff’s work with, and on behalf of, Australian Hellenism over many years.
As he rarely fails to mention in public addresses and private conversations, Mr Alhadeff was born in what is today Zimbabwe, son of Salvatore Alhadeff, a migrant from the Greek island of Rhodes.
This jewel of the Aegean Sea was home to the Alhadeff family for almost five centuries, until the destruction of the island’s Jewish community by the Nazis in July 1944. Amongst those who perished on the long journey to, and at, Auschwitz were Mr Alhadeff’s grandpaternal parents and 151 Alhadeff clan members.
What is remarkable is that Alhadeff does not dwell on such devastating loss. His focus is the rescue of Hellenic Jews by Hellene Christians. Whether addressing Jewish, Hellenic or general Australian audiences, Alhadeff includes the stories of Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Zakynthos and Mayor Loukas Karrer of Zakynthos.
Hellas has one of the highest numbers per capita of Righteous Among the Nations – persons officially recognised for rescuing Jews during the Shoah – in the world: 362.
Mr Alhadeff includes these stories of selfless heroism as examples of humanity, of how people should behave in the face of extraordinary evil. At a special tribute event organised by the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (NCJWA) NSW division and the Zakynthian Association of Sydney and NSW, he told the audience: “In a world in which there is so much bigotry and tragedy, it is people like Loukas Karrer and Chrysostomos Demetriou who restore our faith in humanity.”
“It is people like these two extraordinary, courageous and righteous individuals and every inhabitant of the island of Zakynthos — the men, the women, the families, the ordinary people — who make it possible for us to have faith and hope in the future,” he added.
This is not a recent phenomenon, Mr Alhadeff has been citing these Hellene heroes for decades. In 2016, he was the Keynote Speaker at the Centenary Commemoration of the Genocide of the Hellenes of Pontos. The following year, Alhadeff played a key role in the Sydney Jewish Museum presenting a unique exhibition titled The Jews of Greece – Οι Εβραίοι της Ελλάδας. These are but select examples.
Returning to Rhodes, Mr Alhadeff spent a few years researching and writing a theatrical work around his father’s life. Titled Torn Apart by War, it tells the compelling true story of two people – Salvatore Alhadeff and his then fiancée Rebecca – whose lives were turned upside-down by war and misunderstanding. If things had gone according to plan, everything would have been so different.
Partly set on Rhodes in the late-1930s, and while deeply personal to the playwright, Torn Apart by War, is very much the story of many Hellenes – Christian and Jewish – whose lives were shattered by the Nazi invasion and Occupation of 1940-1944.
July 2024 marks 80 years since the destruction of the Jewish communities of Rhodes and the other Dodecanese islands. This dark anniversary is a reminder of the long symbiotic relationship of Hellenes and Jews, and an opportunity to renew those ties.
As much for all his other work, this focus on ties that bind Hellenes and Jews as human beings makes Vic Alhadeff a worthy – axios – recipient of this Order of Australia Medal.