The Agony of Greek Jews, 1940 – 1945

Steven B. Bowman
  • Review
By – August 25, 2011
Despite the near – total oblit­er­a­tion of Greek Jew­ry in World War II, the Holo­caust in Greece has been vir­tu­al­ly ignored in his­tor­i­cal lit­er­a­ture until now, as Bow­man, pro­fes­sor of Juda­ic Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cincin­nati, traces the his­to­ry and ordeals of the Jews of Greece in ten the­mat­ic chap­ters, begin­ning with The Jews of Greece to World War I,” fol­lowed by chap­ters describ­ing the Ger­man incur­sion into Greece vis-à-vis the Jews, end­ing with Bit­ter Home­com­ing.”

Six mil­lion Jews per­ished in the con­quered areas, includ­ing Greece; but respon­si­bil­i­ty for the fate of Greek Jews lay in their com­pli­ant, pas­sive lead­ers, most egre­gious­ly in the town of Thes­sa­loni­ki. They were syco­phants and trai­tors, includ­ing Chief Rab­bi Zvi Koretz, who seized the oppor­tu­ni­ty for for­tune by point­ing out Jews for roundups as they sought to inher­it the vic­tims’ prop­er­ties. His­to­ry records an 87% loss in the Greek Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion, bare­ly 2,000 return­ing from the death camps. Dur­ing the Occu­pa­tion, there were record­ed instances of coura­geous defi­ance by Chris­tians who reached out to save their Jew­ish com­pa­tri­ots: Arch­bish­op Damask­i­nos, police chief Evan­ge­los Evert, Bish­op Chrysos­to­mos, and May­or Loukas Kar­rer were con­spic­u­ous in offer­ing suc­cor under the direst of cir­cum­stances. They stand out as Right­eous among the Nations” pre­cise­ly because they were so few.

After the war Greek Jew­ish sur­vivors were con­flict­ed regard­ing whether to return and rebuild in the coun­try that wit­nessed their near-uni­ver­sal demise, or seek a new life in Man­date Pales­tine, or the New World. On Novem­ber 29, 1947 in the U.N. Gen­er­al Assem­bly, Greece was one of 13 nations vot­ing against the Par­ti­tion Res­o­lu­tion that would have been today’s two-state solu­tion for Man­date Pales­tine — one Arab, the oth­er a Jew­ish Israel. Then, it took Greece five decades to rec­og­nize Israel with full ambas­sado­r­i­al diplo­mat­ic cre­den­tials. Dr. Bow­man is com­mend­ed for tak­ing anoth­er step to advance under­stand­ing of a crit­i­cal chap­ter in world his­to­ry. Appen­dix, index, notes.
Ash­er J. Melz­er was born on a moun­tain cave out­side Volos, Greece, while hid­ing from the Nazis. He is an adjunct pro­fes­sor of polit­i­cal sci­ence at St. John’s Uni­ver­si­ty of super­viv­sor of stu­dent teach­ers at Queens Col­lege-CUNY. Melz­er is also a colum­nist for the week­ly www​.jew​ishvoice​ny​.com and a fre­quent pub­lic speak­er on cur­rent events, Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment and pol­i­tics, the Shoah, Israel, and Greece.

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