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.jewishvoiceny.com and a frequent public speaker on current events, American government and politics, the Shoah, Israel, and Greece.