Like many other European countries, Greece is being branded as anti-Semitic by supporters of Israel. To be sure there is widespread anti-Israeli sentiment within Greek society, both on the Left and Right of the political spectrum. The line between opposition to Israeli policies and attitudes toward Jews in general is often blurred. I think most Greeks would even concede that anti-Semitism is alive and well in Greece, though the problem seems quite muted when compared to other countries like Britain, Turkey or the United States. Today Greek Jewry numbers about five thousand, down from a high of approximately 70,000 before the war. Painting all Greeks (or Turks, Britons and Americans for that matter) as anti-Semitic if they fail to support Israel is ultimately a self-defeating tactic. Let me say up front that I am a supporter of Israel and its right not only to exist but to defend itself. I also support justice for the Palestinians, although their choice of leaders and tactics has been a disaster for their cause. Furthermore, I am appalled by the way that Palestinian Orthodox Christians have been victimized not only by their Muslim brethren but also by the Israeli government. No one speaks for them and their numbers continue to dwindle in the Holy Land.
We live in an era of historical revisionism in which the Holocaust itself is increasingly being questioned, the Greek people's effort to save the country's Jews is forgotten and efforts are made by some to downplay the genocide of Armenians and Greeks, for self serving political purposes. In fact, there is a long history of the State of Israel's complicity in denial of the Armenian Genocide for purposes of Israel's political connections with the State of Turkey. More here on this issue.
For the record, Archbishop Damaskinos, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church during World War II, risked his life by ordering his priests to provide false baptismal papers for Jews and Greek Churches and monasteries to harbor Jews fleeing from persecution. Three hundred Greek Orthodox priests paid with their lives carrying out his orders. Damaskinos also organized a petition of 27 prominent leaders of cultural, academic and professional organizations. The document, written in very sharp language, refers to unbreakable bonds between Christian Orthodox and Jews, identifying them jointly as Greeks, without differentiation. It is noteworthy that such a document is unique in the whole of occupied Europe, in character, content and purpose". The Athens Police Chief, Angelos Evert issued false identification cards to Jews who could not find refuge. The head of the Metropolitan See of Thessaloniki, Gennadios, repeatedly protested, at great personal risk, the deportation of his city's Jewish population. In Attica and the Euboea, Greek Orthodox monasteries provided refuge for Jews waiting for boat connections to Turkey. Unlike the churches in Northern Europe, there were no instances where those in hiding in religious orders were converted to Christianity, and after the war, children were returned to their parents or the Jewish community. I could go on and on. Despite the brutal occupation of Greece which cost the lives of 300,000 Greeks civilians there were 271 Greeks (among them the head of the Greek church and the Athens chief of police) who were declared Righteous Among the Nations because they helped save Jews at the risk of their own lives. The identity of countless others will never be known. Estimates of Righteous Gentiles in Greece number as high as 40,000. Many Jews fleeing the Nazis were saved by the concerted efforts of several people, often having to switch hiding places multiple times. More Jews were rescued in Greece than in Denmark and many less Greeks were betrayed in hiding by collaboraters than in Holland.
She writes the following:
"In the multi-cultural setting of the camps Greek Jews affirmed themselves vis-a-vis other Jews as Greek, rather than as Jewish. For most of them, who had lived for centuries in the company of Christians, and had been defined against them as emphatically Jewish and somehow not really Greek, this was largely a new identity. But in Auschwitz their Greekness was assumed, not something they had to fight to assert or deny, as it had been in Greece itself. They had lived in Greece, and they were deported from Greece--they were Greek. This Greekness became a badge of honor and mark of prestige in the camps. Greeks--in many instances, the first non-Askenazic Jews that most Askenazic inmates had ever seen--were virile and strong. They were silent, mysterious ingenious and tricky. They were fiercely patriotic, and came together with a sense of national unity that was alien to the others."
"At the beginning of World War II, there were over seventy thousand Greek Jews. At the end, there were about ten thousand. In terms of percentages, this reflects one of the highest destruction rates in all of Europe. As was the case with all aspects of Greek Jewish history, its course was determined in large parts by local circumstances. For the first time, though, Greek Jews--in a perverse irony--became within the framework of the Final Solution one unified national entity. No longer were they Sephardim, Azkenazim or Romanaiotes, no longer were there Jews of Old or New Greece. They were simply Jews, targeted for death. For years the outward gaze of Christian Greece had reinforced their status as Jews. But in the camps, the outside gaze of others--Nazi guards and Jews, but mostly Jews, reinforced their status as Greeks. In Auschwitz, which destroyed so many Greek Jews, Jews from Greece felt their Greekness more acutely and poignantly than ever before. There they felt like Greeks and died as Greeks."
"Everyone in the camp was fascinated by the Greeks--German officers and scientists, and Azkenzic Jewish inmates alike. While the Germans measured their heads for signs of their genetic superiority, and recruited them for the most gruesome work details, their fellow inmates marveled at their mysterious silence, handsome physiques, and overwhelming sense of solidarity even as they looked down on them as inferior Sephardim. The argot of the camps was heavily infected by the Greeks, and the sounds of the camp--the singing the speech patterns, and the cheers of the crowds who gathered to watch the Greek boxers--were strongly shaped by their presence. Under the gaze of these outsiders, Jews from Jannina, Salonika, Thrace, Athens and Corfu--from all the far flung corners of the country--became one national conglomerate. They became Greeks."
May their memories be eternal.
The first chapter in Dr. Fleming's book is here.