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THE MAN WHO WAS ALWAYS THERE

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THE MAN WHO WAS ALWAYS THERE

Prodromos Papavassiliou was a friend of Israel, who fought against the Nazis and helped Holocaust refugees exiled to internment camps in Cyprus. Haifa honored his memory with a square 

Prodromos Christou Papavassiliou (1919-2006) was born in Famagusta, Cyprus. In 1943, he joined the British Army to fight the Nazi regime, and in the course of his service befriended Jewish soldiers.

The British ruled Palestine in the years when Holocaust refugees, who survived the camps, immigrated to Zion, stricken with hunger and illness. The Brits knew well enough about the situation of the European Jews and yet—despite having fought against the Nazis—driven by a desire to appease the Arab public in Palestine, they amassed the survivors at the Atlit detainee camp, and from there exiled them straight to internment camps in Cyprus.

Papavassiliou could hardly believe this: "The Holocaust was over, and Jews that escaped the Nazis' gas chambers were held behind barbed wire in my country! It drove me insane!" So it happened that Papavassiliou—Papa, for his Israeli friends—a Catholic, did his best to guard and support Jewish refugees in Cyprus in the years 1946-1949, at great personal risk. That was just the beginning of his love story with Israel.

In l946, he founded Famagusta General Agency, a shipping and tourism firm. After the establishment of the State of Israel, Papa's ships brought displaced persons to the shores of the Promised Land. In 1951, he co-founded Shoham (Cyprus) Ltd., which became the first shipping agency abroad to represent Israel's national carrier, Zim-lsrael Navigation Co., and served as its chair. In 1972, he set up Kyprotours Ltd., which represented El Al Israel Airlines. He was a long-time chair of the Cyprus-Israel Association.

The Government of Israel recognized him as a Righteous among the Nations, and recently, the city Of Haifa honored his dedication, friendship and devotion by naming a square after him. On Monday, 30.4.2018, hundreds took part at the inauguration of Papa Square, located at the end of Hubert Humphrey St. in Bat Galim, Haifa. The inauguration took place as part of Israel's 70th anniversary events in Haifa, which was the front gate through which the Olim entered Israel.

Chair of the municipal Street Naming Committee, Professor Yossi Ben-Artzi, opened the ceremony, saying that, "the decision to perpetuate Papavassiliou was one of the easiest we have ever made. The location was also easy to choose, being close to the sea and to the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum and the National Maritime Museum."

During the ceremony, Papavassiliou's son, Christakis, spoke on behalf of the family: "I am deeply thrilled with the beautiful and charming gesture that the city of Haifa made to the memory of my father. My father loved Israel and always wanted to help Jewish Holocaust survivors with illegal immigration to Israel. Before his demise, his dream was to revisit the city of Haifa that he loved for many years, and today all my family members who arrived here, and I, fulfill his dream through you.

"My father loved Israel and felt proud that he had a part in the story of its establishment. Papa was an idealist and humanist who could not grasp how the United Kingdom, who fought the Nazis, established detention camps for those who survived hell, and so he worked in every way possible for the refugees forced into exile from their land. In 1974, the tables turned," Chris concluded, "and Papa became a refugee in his own country, after the Turks conquered Famagusta, his hometown. At that time, his Israeli friends joined forces and helped him build the House in Limassol."

Former Zim Executive Director, and Papa's friend, Yoram Zebba: "Papa was marked already in his youth as a leader, first when fighting the Nazis and later when taking personal risks aiding detainees, since he could not stand idly when confronted with their human suffering."

The same evening, dozens of Papa's friend, associates and relatives arrived for a dinner party at the Villa Carmel boutique hotel. Among the guests were mayor of Limassol Nicos Nicolaides; Cyprus Ambassador to Israel, Ms. Thessalia Salina Shambos; Cyprus parliament member Averof Neofytou; members of Cyprus parliament in Israel; honorary ambassadors; Haifa mayor Yona Yahav and wife.

Cyprus Ambassador in Israel Salina Shambos: "Papa was an extraordinary man who did the right thing, out of love for humanity and his belief that the Jews deserve an independent state, and thus became a moral compass for all of us. Inauguration of the square named after him comes at a time when relations between Cyprus and Israel are better than ever, and continue to deepen."

Limassol Mayor Nicos Nicolaides: "In commemorating Papa we strengthen the alliance between our cities on Israel's 70th anniversary. Papa represents our relations with Israel, based on respect and common values. Papa was the most prominent figure among hundreds of Cypriots who helped Jews in the camps, and along with him we also commemorate them and their actions."

The Torah commands us to honor those who do us good, and so in Haifa we have commemorated three States that helped Jews during the Holocaust—Denmark, Bulgaria and the Philippines—and Papa, who decided to act against the injustice done to Holocaust refugees. The citizens of Haifa salute him."