Greek Jews During the Holocaust essay

Jews have arrived and settled in Greece even prior to the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. Archaeological evidences reveal the existence of synagogues in places such as Sparta, Samos, and Crete. But intense Jewish immigration to Greece can be attributed to the different pogroms that occurred across Europe. Jews evicted from Spain, Portugal, and Italy mostly sought refuge in Greece where they have established communities, Salonica being considered the largest. Of the 77,000 Jews in Greece prior the 1943 deportations to concentration camps, 56,000 lived in Salonica (Mastas, Greek Jews and the Holocaust).

Hitler took Antisemitism to his disposal and considered this his most powerful weapon against the European Jews. This hatred against the Jewish race proved expedient and efficient in fulfilling his “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. This Antisemitism ignited in the European spirit was expressed both in terms of direct collaboration and by indifference. Many Christians were aware of the fate awaiting the Jews but chose inaction and silence which resulted to the mass killings of millions of Jews, including the 87% of the Greek Jews.

It had become impossible for a good Christian to love a Jew as Christian indoctrinations accused the Jews of the murder of Christ. Even the children then were taught that Jews will not be accepted in heaven no matter how much they strive to become good for the reason that they do not believe in Jesus. Even the Vatican has both directly and indirectly contributed to the sealing of the fate of European Jews as Pope Pius XII signed a treaty with Hitler assuring that the Nazis will rise to power without encountering opposition (Matsas, Two Greek-Jewish Holocausts). A total of approximately 67,000 Greek Jews perished during the Holocaust.

Only Jews from the island of Zakinthos were spared from being evacuated or sent to death camps in different parts of Europe. The Germans then has to retreat, but had they been given the chance, they will not allow a single drop of Jewish blood to thrive (Mastas, The Illusion of Safety). Author’s Name 2 The Jews in Greece were oblivious of the mass killings and extermination camps all over Europe. But had they been informed, thousands of lives would have been spared from the hands of Nazi Germany. The Jews were abandoned to face the transit ghettos and crematory ovens, as Antisemitism was widespread in the State Department of America.

People in the department deliberately blocked information and obstructed rescue efforts for the Jews. Both President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill received reports on Jewish extermination yet had minimal efforts to put them to a halt. The Allies kept their silence and the Jews were rounded up. Many would have fled to the mountains and escaped, but this was not so. Reports even reveal that the British Intelligence was able to break through the German coding system and were able to monitor daily transports all the way to the killing grounds.

They have been intercepting messages through radio signals and had access to detailed information on the names of the units assigned to the transports, the officers-in-charge, the number of Jews to be deported, and the location of executions. America and Britain knew since July of 1941 that the Germans taking on new territories in the East establish local commanders to separate the Jews and kill them (Mastas, Two Greek-Jewish Holocausts). Yitzhak Katznelson said in his poem retrieved after the war, “Sure enough, the nations did not interfere, nor did they protest,

Nor shake their heads, nor did they warn the murderers. Never a murmur. It was as if the leaders of the nations Were afraid that the killings might stop” (Mastas, Two Greek-Jewish Holocausts). In 1941 the Germans conquered Greece and they divided it into three zones of occupation: German, Bulgarian, and Italian. The division among Axis powers of Greece are as follows: the Italian Zone was composed of Epirus, the Dodecanese Islands, the Ionian Islands, as well as mainland Greek territory from the Platona line south to the Peloponnese, and the capital Athens as well.

The German Zone consisted of territories in western and Central Macedonia, which is an island located at eastern edge of Greek Thrace along Turkish border, including Didimotikon, Author’s Name 3 Souflion, and Orestias, as well as Crete, the major Aegean Islands and Thessaloniki. The Bulgarian Zone included Thrace and eastern Macedonia (Savich 1). The country assumed a government that collaborated with the Germans and it operated in the whole of Greece. The Italian occupied areas temporarily offered safety to Greek Jews until February of 1943.

Despite the fact that most of Greece was under Italian control, the city of Salonika in the German zone contained a Jewish community with a population of more than 50,000. The Fuhrer himself ordered Himmler to include the Jews in Salonika in the Nazi extermination programs of early October 1941. The Germans hoped to deport all Greek Jews in a single large operation, but failed to do so. This was due to the strong opposition they received from the Italians that resulted to a substantial delay to these organized mass killings (Weinberg 235).

Conditions in Greece were unique and unusually favorable for Jewish survival. Until February 1943, when the majority of the European Jews were already exterminated, Greek Jews still afforded the luxury of freely and legally enter and exit German and Bulgarian zones. They are even allowed to cross to the Italian occupied areas and seek refuge, as the Italians welcomed the Jews in their territory. Some 3000 Salonika Jews did exactly that. Conditions in the country facilitated better chances for survival as anti-Jewish measure started very late.

There was enough time for Greek Jews to organize their escapes and relocate themselves to the mountains or other countries. There were also free partisan-controlled areas that provided sanctuary for Jews and spare them from oppression in the German zones (Mastas, The Greek Jews and the Holocaust). In April 1941, the German forces successfully marched into Greece. After their arrival, the libraries and synagogues of Salonika were raided and their contents transferred to Frankfort. Here, a Jewish Research Library was already being setup for Antisemitic purposes.

Over the next 14 months, the Nazis did not call for any specific anti-Jewish measures. But the winter season of 1941-1942 proved to be extremely harsh and caused the threatening of the Jewish community of Salonika Author’s Name 4 with starvation. Several hundreds of Jews perished from simple illnesses such as common colds. In addition, the Jews of Salonika were not prepared for what was to come next. On July 11, 1942, an estimated 9,000 Jewish males between the ages of 18 and 45 were assembled at Liberty Square (Plateia Eleftheria) with force.

About 2,000 were rounded but by October, 250 of these men have already died. Men that did not belong to the age specified were to be ransomed back home. The money were received by the advisor to the German military administration in Macedonia, Dr. Maximilian Merton. Both Athenian and Salonikan Jewish communities opted to pay the ransom required of them. paid some of the ransom (The Destruction of the Jews of Greece). It was in 1943 that racial laws were implemented among the Jews living in the city. They were required to wear a special distinguishing yellow badge and to mark their stores and offices.

Curfews were imposed on Jews and they were restricted from using the telephone and the tramway. In order to prevent suspicions and disguise their intent, German authorities created a deception that there simply was a reorganization of the community. But their actual objective eventually emerged as Jews were isolated in ghettos and were stripped off their possessions. On the morning of March 14, 1943, Jews were instructed to assemble in the local synagogue. Here, the members of the community were informed by Rabbi Koretz that they will be deported to Poland and were told that there they would build their new homes among their people.

In order to complete the deception, Polish paper money were distributed to the victims. This scenario repeatedly occurred daily as batches of transports to Auschwitz and Birkenau left for extermination (The Jewish Community of Salonika). By the end of 1942, most Jews under the sphere of German control were already exterminated. This left most practitioners of mass murder with relatively minimal number of places to perform their assigned deed. These people had little victims left, which attracted them to the substantial Jewish population of Salonika as an obvious target.

This was due to the prospects of Author’s Name 5 careers, promotions, and decorations in the Third Reich. This also prevented them from assuming hazardous duties in the war front. These selfish intentions provided a strong vested interest in an elevated level of continued Jewish murders. Under these circumstances, the Germans decided in the winter of 1942-43 to abandon their concept of a uniform procedure in Greece and to separately transport the Jewish population of Salonika and other smaller Jewish communities of German-occupied Greece to concentration camps (Weinberg 236).

Through the months of March, April, and May of 1943, an approximate total of 42,000 Jews from Salonika were transported to Auschwitz while the others were sent in subsequent months (Weinberg 236) When deportations to concentration camps began, between 45,000-48,000 Greek Jews were sent to Auschwitz, Birkenau, Treblinka and other camps (Kunnen-Jones, Judaic Studies). The last transport of Greek Jews reached the camp of Birkenau on the 16th of August 1944. This train contained the entire Jewish population, some 2500 people, from the island of Rhodes.

In June 1944, commander of the Rhodes garrison was visited by two SS officers and immediately ordered the Jews to relocate in a particular group of villages where they resided in some military barracks. Then on the 17th of July 1944, the “Ost-Agais Command” came ordering these Jews to vacate the island although this was postponed to the beginning of August. Men numbering 346 and women 254 were selected from the Rhodes transport and were sent to work camps or to the gas chambers (The Destruction of the Jews of Greece).

The Germans took a series of dramatic steps in rounding up the majority of the Jews in Salonika and other Jewish communities in their zone for deportation to the killing centers. Most of the Greek Jews were sent to the notorious death camp in Poland, Auschwitz (Weinberg 236). This process of terror was not without ordeal for the Germans. Some Jews were able to escape and some were able to flee to Italian-occupied Greece. A few joined partisan groups while others hid with the help of non-Jewish Greeks. Furthermore, Salonika had diplomatic Author’s Name 6

representatives from various nations such as Italy, Spain, and Turkey that worked to save Jews with claim on citizenship in other countries. Germans had to deal with complaints of other countries that did not approve of the killing of their citizens (Weinberg 236). Contributing further to the survival of some Jewish individuals was the collaboration of Jewish supporters and of Haganah, the Jewish resistance of Palestine. Haganah sent medicines, uniforms, blanket and other logistic supplies to the impoverished and oppressed Jews in Greece (Mastas, The Greek Jews and the Holocaust).

Italy surrendered in September 1943, leaving their zones of occupation under German control. By this time, the last transport of Jews from Salonika has already left for Auschwitz. This allowed the Germans to seize the remaining Jews in Greece, those who lived in Athens and other portions of formerly Italian-occupied territories of Greece. Jewish deportation has become the principal purpose of the German forces occupying Greece once they had captured and shot or shipped off to slave labor in Germany their colleagues of the Italian army. There Germans however met opposition from Greek political and religious leaders.

They, together with the Greek resistance and population, assisted the victims, which resulted to the aid of more than 8,000 Jews (Weinberg 237). “When you deal with 6 million killed you’re dealing with a number,” she says, “but when you deal with one person you’re dealing with specifics, the trial and the triumphs and that’s different” (Horrowitz). Although it was almost next to impossibility, around 10,000 Greek Jews were able to survive the German atrocities. This estimate is based on the 1931 census figure of 67,200 (The Destruction of the Jews of Greece).

The Nazis successfully eliminated most of the European Jewry in their organized operations called the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. But they have failed to fulfill their primary objective, to free the earth of Jewish blood and gain recognition for it. They have manipulated the writings of Nietzsche and advocated Euphrenics in order to justify their Author’s Name 7 anti-Semitic measures and fascist ideals. They have killed six million Jews and millions of others from different racial groups and found deep conviction in their deeds.

These acts must not be glorified nor forgotten. Those who fell should not die in vain, this is a task implored on our generation that the posterity may know the consequences of the domination of ideologies advocating racial inequality. Every human being must have the right to live and to be the master of his own fate. This must never be curtailed and must never be threatened. It is our obligation to safeguard the our individual liberties and of our neighbors’. History would judge, such actions must forever be condemned and must never be allowed to transpire once more.

Works Cited

Horrowitz, Sarah. “Magnes co-founder writes story of Jews of Salonika”. Jewish News Weekly 14 August 1998. 18 November 2007 < http://www. jewishsf. com/content/2-0-/module/displaystory/story_id/9291/edition_id/177/format/html/displaystory. html> Kunnen-Jones, Marianne. “Judaic Studies Scholar Launches Book on Greek Jews in the Holocaust”. 26 July 2006. 19 November 2007 <http://www. uc. edu/news/bowman. htm> Matsas, Michael. “The Greek Jews and the Holocaust – Why 87% were Killed During the Second World War”. 18 November 2007<http://www.

theopavlidis. com/reprints/matsas/part1. htm> Matsas, Michael. “The Illusion of Safety”. 18 November 2007 <http://www. theopavlidis. com/reprints/matsas_2/IllusionSafetyAddendum. htm> Matsas, Michael. “The Two Greek-Jewish Holocausts 1821 and 1943-44. 18 November 2007 <http://www. theopavlidis. com/reprints/matsas_3/YHLecture. htm> Savich, Carl. “The Holocaust in Greece. ” 29 November 2005. Website of Balkanalysis. com. 5 December 2007 <http://www. balkanalysis. com/2005/11/29/the-holocaust-in-greece-1941- 1944-part-1/>

Weinberg, Gerard L. Germany, Hitler, and World War II. New York: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1995. “Salonika”. Concise Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. 18 November 2007 < http://www1. yadvashem. org/education/entries/english/53. asp> “The Destruction of the Jews of Greece”. Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team. 19 November 2007 < http://www. holocaustresearchproject. org/othercamps/greekjewry. html> “The Jewish Community of Salonika”. The Database of Jewish Communities. 18 November 2007 <http://www. bh. org. il/Communities/Archive/Salonika. asp>