The Holocaust in Greece has been a topic which has until this day received much less scholarly or public attention than other more well-known tragedies during the time period. Greek Jewry during the time of the Axis Occupation was mainly focused around the urban centers of Thessaloniki and Athens, though there were Jewish communities scattered across Greece. By the end of the war, 80% of Greek Jewry, about 60,000 people in all, had been lost to the Nazis and Bulgarians, with the largest proportion coming from Thessaloniki. Three different accounts of the experience of the Holocaust in Greece will be presented: Inside Hitler’s Greece: The Experience of Occupation, 1941-44 by Mark Mazower, The illusion of safety : the story of the Greek Jews during World War II by Michael Matsas, and Greek Jewry in the twentieth century, 1913-1983 : patterns of Jewish survival in the Greek Provinces before and after the Holocaust by Joshua Eli Plaut. Each work focuses on certain aspects of the Holocaust in Greece, while unfortunately neglecting other aspects of it such as any extensive study into the Bulgarian zone of occupation or the reactions of the Orthodox Church, especially as a body which represented the religious sentiments of almost all Greeks. What does emerge from all the works is a picture which was both similar and different to the experience of the Holocaust in the rest of Europe, especially in the East. Survival in Greece for Jews depended much on how well they were integrated with their local society, much like in other parts of Europe. Greeks themselves however were in many cases very willing to shelter and aid distressed Jews, and instances of anti-Semitic violence during the Occupation by Greeks is very limited, especially in comparison to countries like Poland. Though there may be limitations in each study, literature on Axis Occupied Greece and the Holocaust in the occupied areas will hopefully help to advance study in this somewhat neglected field.
There are various sources which are used by each author, but Mazower’s work utilizes sources from various national archives, survivor’s accounts, and from the limited scholarship that was available when the book was published in 1993 In Matsas, we see the use of primary sources in the form of survivor’s accounts, but also the various accounts of the Holocaust in Greece by interviewed survivors in the post-war period. While this use of sources is extensive, Matsas doesn’t get involved with placing the accounts within in a Greek context or a broader Balkan context. Plaut uses a decent amount of secondary material for his work, but his lack of any Greek-language sources and inadequate use of primary accounts ultimately limits his study and credibility, and possibly explains how his work seems to deviate significantly from that of Mazower and Matsas.
The most important characteristic of the Holocaust in Greece seems to be the various methods of survival which were employed by Greek Jews. These methods ultimately fall into two groups; the relationship between Greek Jews and Orthodox Greeks and the varying levels of assimilation of the various Jewish communities. A third method of survival which should also be considered is flight, whether this was flight to the tolerant Italian zone of occupation or to other countries such as Turkey. Both Mazower and Matsas help identify the role of the Orthodox Greek community during the Holocaust as being one of assistance, while Plaut seems to have mixed conclusions about the Greek population, believing that they were both compliant and anti-Semitic while also acknowledging that various Greeks had helped to hide members of the Jewish population. When examining the persecutions in Thessaloniki, Mazower notes that the Greek Jews and Orthodox Greeks would not have been aware of the fate of the Jews, as much of what was going on in Eastern Europe would have been unknown. Matsas’ account of the events in Thessaloniki also gives a similar picture of ignorance, but the author places blame for this ignorance on the German misinformation machine, which had as its mouthpiece for the Jewish community Rabbi Koretz, who told his flock not to resist the Germans. Matsas also blames the Allies for the ignorance of the Jews of Thessaloniki, saying that news agencies such as the BBC which broadcast in Greece did not warn the Jewish community of what could happen to it, though it knew full well what had happened to other areas of Nazi Occupied Europe.
When referring to events outside of Thessaloniki, it is acknowledged by all three authors that news of what was occurring to the Jews had spread. This was seen in the fact that many Jews moved into the Italian zones of occupation, where they were kept safe from persecution by the Germans. This was only a temporary safety however, and those Jews who had not fled the country found themselves again under German rule when the Italians left Greece in 1943. All three authors give accounts of Jews being helped across Greece by their fellow Greek citizens, with even some attempts from the Greek quisling government to help its Jewish citizens, though these were ultimately futile. Various facets of Greek society attempted to aid the persecuted Jews, from ordinary citizens to members of the Greek Orthodox Church, most notably the leader of the Church himself, Metropolitan Damaskinos, who urged his priests to spread a message of assistance to be heard throughout Greek churches while also creating fake certificates of baptism. The biggest support for the Jewish population came from the Greek resistance organization EAM/ELAS, which hid Jews in the mountains or attempted to take them out of the country to places like Turkey, Italy, or Palestine. There is also one notable case in Mazower’s work of a German officer recommending against the purging of the Jewish community of Kerkyra, both because he feared the local reaction and because he realized that it would have a negative effect on the perception of German’s, acknowledging the atrocious nature of the genocide.
There were also naturally those who collaborated with the Nazis, but as Mazower states, the Greeks were basically unwilling to go along with the German persecutions and lacked the sort of racial anti-Semitism which was found in Germany and in Eastern Europe. This point is further reinforced by Matsas’ work, and while Plaut gives various examples about Greek assistance to the Jews, he still believes that Greeks shouldered some of the blame for what happened to the Jewish community. This conclusion seems to be ill-drawn based both upon the evidence presented in Mazower and Matsas and from Plaut’s on descriptions of Greek aid. It is also at this point that Plaut’s lack of Greek sources also proves most detrimental, since this lack of a Greek perspective can ultimately lead him down the erroneous path he seems to take. In fact, Plaut’s conclusions about an anti-Semitic Greece seem to come from his poor study of pre-war Greece and from the post-war lives of the few remaining Jews who returned to Greece. Plaut comments on various pogroms which had occurred since the Greek War of Independence which began in 1821 and compares it with the tolerance which the Jews had under the Ottoman Empire. He talks about the various anti-Semitic organizations in pre-war Greece to a large extent, but only briefly mentions how they were made illegal. Without knowing of what unfolded in Greece during the Axis Occupation for the Jews, a reader of Plaut’s work would expect there to be pogroms and wide-scale anti-Jewish activity, but the reality of the situation reveals otherwise.
The other important element on Jewish survival which is evident in Mazower, Matsas, and Plaut is assimilation. The Jewish community of Thessaloniki was an easy target for the Germans since it did not speak Greek, or did not speak it with a native accent, and since they lived in their own ghetto. The Romaniote community spoke Ladino, a medieval Spanish dialect, and as such posed no problem in being identified by the Germans. It was also this distinct separation from the rest of the Greek community which made the Romaniote community an easier target, although it was suggested that these actions used German anti-Semitic practices as an excuse to eliminate old trade rivals, as that was the primary occupation of the Jews of Thessaloniki. In the rest of Greece however the Jews had become assimilated and spoke the language well enough to blend in. This alone however was not enough to save them, as they still were members of the Jewish community and so were officially identifiable as Jews, so it was necessary that the local Greeks cooperate in providing assistance to the Jews.
Excepting Plaut’s odd conclusions, there seems to be a clear idea of how the Jewish community in Greece survived, although 80% of it was ultimately destroyed, a large part of this number came from the Jewish community of Thessaloniki. There are unfortunately elements missing in each separate work, which can sometimes be found in one of the other works, but which can also be ignored by all three authors. While Mazower’s work is authoritative in its study of the Axis Occupation, and his single chapter on the Holocaust in Greece is very enlightening, he does not spend any time talking about the Holocaust in the Bulgarian zone of occupation. According to Matsas, the death-rate of the Jews in the Bulgarian zone of occupation actually exceeded that of the German zone of occupation, which would seem a significant enough statistic so as to be addressed by Mazower, but it unfortunately is not. The strength and weakness of Matsas’ work is that it is made up entirely, save for the introduction, of primary sources. These are predominantly the accounts of survivors, which helps to give a clear picture into the Jewish perspective of unfolding events. There is a lack of Christian Greek primary sources however, which deprives us of a deeper look into their motives for assisting Greek Jews, and would have provided an interesting perspective on what on the whole appears to be Greek sympathy for the plight of the Greek Jews. While Matsas does indeed address the atrocities of the Bulgars, he does not spend much time on them, which seems to point to the fact that the Bulgarian occupation is a poorly studied period, at least as far as it relates to the Holocaust. Reinforcing this is Plaut’s even shorter addressing of the Bulgarian occupation, which while giving the appropriate numbers, lacks much more depth than this. He does not address the fact that the Bulgars were intent on destroying Greek culture in their zone of occupation, and the fact that the atrocities they committed against the Jews were motivated by the fact that these Greek Jews did not cooperate with the Bulgars in the destruction of Greek culture. It is also not addressed in Plaut’s work that Jews in Bulgaria were not generally prosecuted, as Matsas states. The other shortcomings in Plaut’s work have already been stated, and so do not need to be repeated again.
The plight of the Jews in Greece was just one element of the Axis Occupation, and this is most clear in Mazower’s work, while in the other two works the general condition of Greece is either ignored or treated solely in its relation to the Jews. This context is significant because obviously conditions in Greece affected Jews just as much as Greeks, from the huge economic crisis to the famine which did not discriminate between victims, but it is also important to show how the Greek population, even when threatened with starvation and execution by the Nazi authorities still did not, for the most part, turn against their Jewish compatriots in fits of anti-Semitic rage such as those seen in the pogroms of Eastern Europe. While similar conditions existed, such as poverty, hunger, and the chance for financial gain, along with the threat of punishment, Greeks did not turn against the Jews because they viewed them as Greeks first. That is of course not to say that there were no collaborators, because there certainly were, along with others who took advantage of the plight of the Jews, but these people did not represent either the majority or the sentiments of the majority.
Through trying to find material on the subject of the Holocaust in Greece, it became apparent that this was a somewhat neglected field, alongside the more general field of the Axis Occupation of Greece. What has emerged, if Mazower’s, Matsas’, and Plaut’s work are to be viewed as somehow representative of the field, is a picture of a populace which sought to help its Jewish compatriots rather than give into prejudices and lash out against them. The theme of assimilation is again shown to be a key element in the pattern of Jewish survival in the Holocaust, with those who were the most assimilated being those who could most likely be able to escape. Though survival is a key element of the Jewish existence in Greece during the Holocaust, what the three works all accomplish in bringing forward is the sheer magnitude of the suffering which the Jews had to undergo, and how while Greeks may on the whole have wanted to help their fellow citizens, 80% of the Jewish population of Greece did not survive the war. Of this number, the majority came from Thessaloniki, which lost 96% of its Jewish population of 56,000, with 49,000 Jews from Northern Greece (mainly Thessaloniki) having arrived in Auschwitz, and 37,000 of these being gassed upon their arrival. Along with the tragedy of the loss of such a large number of human lives, there was also the tragic loss of an element of Greek society and of both Greek and Jewish history, with Thessaloniki having formed one of the biggest hub of European Jewry before the war, having had a large Jewish population since their expulsion from Spain in 1492, while Greece itself could have boasted of having Jewish communities since the days of the Old Testament. The works of these three author’s should only be the beginning in providing justice to both those lost, and to the history and culture which perished with them.
 Mark Mazower, Inside Hitler’s Greece: The experience of occupation, 1941-44 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), p. 245.
 Michael Matsas, The Illusion of Safety: the story of the Greek Jews During the Second World Waar (New York: Pella Club, 1997), p. 48.
 Ibid., p. 25.
 Mazower, p. 251.
 Matsas, p. 94.
 Mazower, p. 260.
 Ibid., p. 254.
 Ibid., p. 257-260.
 Joshua Eli Plaut, Greek Jewry in the twentieth century, 1913-1983 : patterns of Jewish survival in the Greek Provinces before and after the Holocaust (Madison : Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996), pp. 58-59.
 Ibid., pp. 26, 28-29.
 Ibid., p. 35.
 Mazower, pp.246-248.
 Ibid., pp. 251-252.
 Matsas, pp. 29, 75, 83.
 Ibid., p. 75.
 Ibid., p. 75-76.
 Mazower, p. 258.
 Ibid., p. 248.
 Ibid., p. 244.