Thursday, 12 April 2018

Remembering so that it
should never happen again

Remembering the past … old books on a bookshelf in the Monasterioton Synagogue, the only surviving, pre-war working synagogue in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Yom HaShoah / יום השואה, or Holocaust Memorial Day, comes to end at sunset this evening.

This annual day of remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust, which is observed by Jewish communities worldwide, and began at sunset last night [Wednesday 11 April].

The full name of the day is ‘Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah’– literally the ‘Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism.’ It is marked on the 27th day in the Jewish month of Nisan — a week after the seventh day of Passover.

The date was selected by the Israeli Knesset on 12 April 1951, but it has become a day commemorated by Jewish communities and individuals worldwide. Since the early 1960s, the sound of a siren on Yom Hashoah stops traffic and pedestrians throughout Israel for two minutes of silence.

Some Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox rabbis have never endorsed this memorial day. Although there is no change in the daily religious services in Orthodox synagogues on Yom Hashoah, many synagogues are creating a variety of rituals associated with Yom Hashoah. The overwhelming theme that runs through all observances is the importance of remembering — recalling the victims of this catastrophe, and praying that such a tragedy never happen again.

Today, after my visit to Thessaloniki this past week, I took some time to think about the Jews of Thessaloniki and from throughout Greece who died in the Holocaust.

The Jewish Holocaust Memorial at the south-east corner of Plateia Eleftherias (Liberty Square), where Nikis Avenue meets Eleftherios Venizelou Street, recalls the 50,000 Greek Jews exterminated in the Holocaust. The memorial is a bronze sculpture by Nandor Glid of a seven-branch menorah whose flames are wrapped around human bodies in death.

On the eve of World War II, about 80,000 Jews lived in Greece. In 1945, the Jews of Greece numbered only 10,000 – 87% of Greek Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. The Jewish community of Thessaloniki was one of the most ancient in Europe. Between World War I and World War II, the Jewish population of the city had fallen from 93,000 people to 53,000 on the eve of the war. By the end of the Holocaust, only 1,950 Jews from the city remained.

Today, the Monasterioton Synagogue at the top of Syngrou Street, which I visited last Thursday, is the only surviving, pre-war working synagogue in Thessaloniki.

In my own two minutes of silence today, I not only recalled the Jews of Thessaloniki who died in the Holocaust, but also prayed that for peace in the world today, and the present tensions in the world and the threats of another conflagration in Syria would not lead to more catastrophes.

I thought of the sufferings of people throughout Syria, in Yemen, in Gaza, of the refugees and migrants who continue to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean, the migrants I saw in the streets of Thessaloniki this week, and of the dreadful conditions of many in what we call ‘direct provision’ in Ireland.

As Richard Pine pointed out in The Irish Times yesterday, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn is now running third in opinion polls in Greece, and as spring and summer approach the refugee problem in Greece will become a season problem once again as the crossing from Turkey to Greece becomes slightly less dangerous.

The Holocaust Memorial in Plateia Eleftherias (Liberty Square), Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

New life after 200 years
for the Harbour Master’s
Lodge in Dun Laoghaire

The restored Harbour Master’s Lodge in Dún Laoghaire … restored to new life after 200 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

A recent RTÉ Sunday night television drama series, Striking Out, used the Harbour Commissioner’s House in Dun Laoghaire as a setting or location for a court house in some episodes.

On a recent visit to Dún Laoghaire, I decided to have another look at this 200-year-old building across from the Dart and train station but often overlooked by visitors because it is tucked away behind the town hall and modern office and shopping developments.

This building, also known as the Harbour Master’s Lodge, was built in 1820 in the neo-classical style with Dalkey granite. It is immediately recognisable on television because of its unusual staircase and its clock tower with signalling turret.

The Harbour Master’s Lodge was built by George Smith in 1820 for the then princely sum of £330.

The appearance of the lodge, with the robust and sturdy presentation of its granite façade, is a contrast to the exuberant appearance of its more recent neighbour, the Town Hall, which is faced with a softer warmer stone.

Originally the lodge had a dining room, drawing room, hall, maid’s room, kitchen and scullery. The Clock Tower, a two-storey sculpture, is made up of brown brick work with granite dressing.

Captain William Hutchison (1793-1881), from Co Kildare, was the first harbour master of Kingstown. He also acted as coxswain of the Dublin port lifeboat based at Sandycove.

Hutchinson was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy before he was appointed Inspector of Bulloch Quarries, Pilot Master of the Port of Dublin and the First Harbourmaster of Kingstown (1817-1874). He was also a Justice of the Peace.

Captain Hutchison survived the wreck of the Sandycove lifeboat at Sandycove on 28 December 1821. Four of the crew were drowned when it was upset. They were going to the assistance of the Ellen of Liverpool, which eventually drove ashore and its crew was saved.

The brig Iron Duke was driven ashore in an easterly gale at Sandycove on 14 August 1829. The Sandycove lifeboat, with Hutchison, three coastguards and nine others, saved all eleven men, women and children from the wreck. The Iron Duke was smashed to pieces immediately after they had completed the rescue.

Captain Hutchinson’s son, Lieutenant W Hutchison junior, received an RNLI silver medal and a Tayleur medal for his part in the rescue work on 9 February 1861 when two coal boats were wrecked at Kingstown pier. During this rescue, Captain Boyd and five of his crew were drowned. An obelisk commemorates them on the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire, near the spot where they drowned.

There is a plaque in memory of Captain Hutchison in the Mariners’ Church, Dun Laoghaire, now the Maritime Museum.

The Boyd Obelisk on the East Pier in Dún Laoghaire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A proposed rebuilding of the Harbour Lodge by ET Owen of the Board of Works in 1881 was never carried out.

In recent years, the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company has used the lodge as its head office. When the Harbour Company began developing the Harbour Yard, it decided to restore and extend the Harbour Master’s Lodge as the centrepiece of this modern office and residential complex.

The harbour company vacated the building during the Harbour Yard development, offering an opportunity to renovate and restore the interior of the lodge and to build a modern two-storey extension to the rear, occupying the entire area of the original garden.

The lodge is a protected structure, and it was a condition of the planning permission that the original garden walls should be retained. To provide light into the ground floor of the new extension, window slits had to be carefully formed through the 600 mm thick rubble walls by installing new steel heads. Considerable underpinning was also required to enable the construction of new foundations for the extension, which was to be structurally independent of the original building.

The new extension was formed by a steel frame and wide slab floors to allow hasty quick construction – there was only a small window of opportunity to complete the development work before the site becoming virtually land-locked by the completion of the Harbour Yard development and a new concourse in front of the lodge.

After 190 years, the fabric of the lodge was in remarkably good condition. During the restoration work, the clock on the tower was also restored, and it now provides an accurate timepiece for all walkers on the East Pier in Dún Laoghaire.

The Harbour Master’s Lode with its recognisable clock tower and flight of steps (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)