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Thread: The Holocaust in Greece

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    Stavroforos's Avatar Legatus Legionis
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    Default The Holocaust in Greece

    Holocaust in Greece
    The Holocaust in Greece


    So, in an attempt to both shed light on a somewhat forgotten aspect of the Holocaust as well as in an effort to actually contribute something to TWC, I've decided to upload a little something I wrote on the subject of the Holocaust in Greece through the comparison of three scholarly books on the subject. While the comparison is somewhat of a review in its nature, I think it also sheds some light on the actual event.

    And hey, who knows, if this is successful, I might decide to upload some more little pieces of mah werk.

    Oh and just for being safe, I have this stuff uploaded on turnitin.com.


    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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

    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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

    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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]

    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.[14] 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[15]. 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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18]

    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.[19] 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.

    [1] Mark Mazower, Inside Hitler’s Greece: The experience of occupation, 1941-44 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), p. 245.
    [2] Michael Matsas, The Illusion of Safety: the story of the Greek Jews During the Second World Waar (New York: Pella Club, 1997), p. 48.
    [3] Ibid., p. 25.
    [4] Mazower, p. 251.
    [5] Matsas, p. 94.
    [6] Mazower, p. 260.
    [7] Ibid., p. 254.
    [8] Ibid., p. 257-260.
    [9] 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.
    [10] Ibid., pp. 26, 28-29.
    [11] Ibid., p. 35.
    [12] Mazower, pp.246-248.
    [13] Ibid., pp. 251-252.
    [14] Matsas, pp. 29, 75, 83.
    [15] Ibid., p. 75.
    [16] Ibid., p. 75-76.
    [17] Mazower, p. 258.
    [18] Ibid., p. 248.
    [19] Ibid., p. 244.
    Also, excuse the lack of works cited, but they're in the footnotes, and I'm a lazy man.

    Criticism and discussion are of course welcome, though the actual piece has already been submitted graded and returned by my professor,


    Documents Some period pictures:


    Jewish woman during the deportation of the Jews from Ioannina


    German soldiers rounding up and guarding Jews from Ioannina


    The list of estimated Jewish populations in Europe from the Wannsee Conference. The list shows the Jewish population in Greece to be 69,600.

    60,000 of those were murdered by the Germans during the Holocaust



    The extermination of 500 years of major Jewish presence in Thessalonika by the occupying Germans
    Last edited by Stavroforos; November 02, 2010 at 02:59 PM.
    "By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe."

  2. #2
    Pili Posterior
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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    Great read! While I had a hard time following a lot of the author stuff, the information and facts about the Holocaust in Greece was great. Those percentages are nothing short of appalling.

    PS- Who is that in your sig?
    Last edited by Tiberius Tosi; July 20, 2009 at 01:56 AM.
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    Stavroforos's Avatar Legatus Legionis
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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    Yeah, Greece had a pretty strong Jewish population going for it until Hitler came along. A very devastating loss for both Jews and Greeks.

    Gemma Atkinson ;-)
    "By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe."

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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    That was a great read, I would love to read your other work

    P.S. indeed, nice sig stavro
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    Keravnos's Avatar Artifex
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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    That is a great read. Thank you. Even more so for the remembering.
    +rep.





    (sig's nice too.)
    Last edited by Keravnos; July 20, 2009 at 06:04 AM.
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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    Thanks guys!
    "By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe."

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    Stavroforos's Avatar Legatus Legionis
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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    bumpiddy bump.
    "By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe."

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    Burnum's Avatar Sagittarius
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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    Didn't a lot of Greek Jews flee too Turkey?

    Your articles reeks of Greek apologetic. I noticed that the article tends too shift the blame away from the Greeks, despite the admirable resistance by alot of Greeks, the fact of the matter is that Greek Collaborationists did help the Nazis round up the Jews. Like other occupied nations, Greece bears some responsibility for the Holocaust.

    Edit: The Greek resistance did nothing that other occupied territories didn't do in far greater numbers.
    Last edited by Burnum; July 21, 2009 at 11:08 PM.

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    Stavroforos's Avatar Legatus Legionis
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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    Quote Originally Posted by Burnum View Post
    Didn't a lot of Greek Jews flee too Turkey?

    Your articles reeks of Greek apologetic. I noticed that the article tends too shift the blame away from the Greeks, despite the admirable resistance by alot of Greeks, the fact of the matter is that Greek Collaborationists did help the Nazis round up the Jews. Like other occupied nations, Greece bears some responsibility for the Holocaust.

    Edit: The Greek resistance did nothing that other occupied territories didn't do in far greater numbers.
    Indeed, there were people who collaborated, and I acknowledged that in the article. However, considering scholarly consensus seems to be on the side of the Greeks greatly helping the Jews as opposed to say the Poles, I'd say my piece is not apologetic at all.
    "By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe."

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    Burnum's Avatar Sagittarius
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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    Quote Originally Posted by Stavroforos View Post
    Indeed, there were people who collaborated, and I acknowledged that in the article.
    You're under the assumption that somehow Greeks collaborated less then the other Axis occupied regimes, which is false.

    However, considering scholarly consensus seems to be on the side of the Greeks greatly helping the Jews as opposed to say the Poles
    That statement is not only incorrect, it's insulting. A greater number of Poles helped Jews helped then anywhere else in Axis occupied territories.
    Last edited by Burnum; July 22, 2009 at 02:51 AM.

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    ♔Goodguy1066♔'s Avatar Ninja
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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    Just saw this in your sig. I'm sorry for the bump, but this was a great/appaling read (depends on the way you look at it, but you know what I mean). I mean, you think you've heard enough about the holocaust to understand it's atrocities, and then something like this brings it all rushing back. Of course we'll never be able to grasp our minds around this holocaust (there's no other word for it), but articles like these scratch the surface to give us a small glimpse and enlightens us a bit more.
    +Rep
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    Both male and female walruses have tusks and have been observed using these overgrown teeth to help pull themselves out of the water.

    The mustached and long-tusked walrus is most often found near the Arctic Circle, lying on the ice with hundreds of companions. These marine mammals are extremely sociable, prone to loudly bellowing and snorting at one another, but are aggressive during mating season. With wrinkled brown and pink hides, walruses are distinguished by their long white tusks, grizzly whiskers, flat flipper, and bodies full of blubber.
    Walruses use their iconic long tusks for a variety of reasons, each of which makes their lives in the Arctic a bit easier. They use them to haul their enormous bodies out of frigid waters, thus their "tooth-walking" label, and to break breathing holes into ice from below. Their tusks, which are found on both males and females, can extend to about three feet (one meter), and are, in fact, large canine teeth, which grow throughout their lives. Male walruses, or bulls, also employ their tusks aggressively to maintain territory and, during mating season, to protect their harems of females, or cows.
    The walrus' other characteristic features are equally useful. As their favorite meals, particularly shellfish, are found near the dark ocean floor, walruses use their extremely sensitive whiskers, called mustacial vibrissae, as detection devices. Their blubbery bodies allow them to live comfortably in the Arctic region—walruses are capable of slowing their heartbeats in order to withstand the polar temperatures of the surrounding waters.
    The two subspecies of walrus are divided geographically. Atlantic walruses inhabit coastal areas from northeastern Canada to Greenland, while Pacific walruses inhabit the northern seas off Russia and Alaska, migrating seasonally from their southern range in the Bering Sea—where they are found on the pack ice in winter—to the Chukchi Sea. Female Pacific walruses give birth to calves during the spring migration north.
    Only Native Americans are currently allowed to hunt walruses, as the species' survival was threatened by past overhunting. Their tusks, oil, skin, and meat were so sought after in the 18th and 19th centuries that the walrus was hunted to extinction in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and around Sable Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia.

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    Stavroforos's Avatar Legatus Legionis
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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    Thanks for the kind words, Goodguy. The Holocaust in my opinion is definitely the most depressing and appalling part of human history, and learning about how it took place even here in Greece just helps show how evil the German Nazi regime truly was.
    "By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe."

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    Giorgos's Avatar Deus Ex Machina
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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    Quote Originally Posted by Burnum View Post
    You're under the assumption that somehow Greeks collaborated less then the other Axis occupied regimes, which is false.

    That statement is not only incorrect, it's insulting. A greater number of Poles helped Jews helped then anywhere else in Axis occupied territories.
    Just read a piece of history, and leave your suspicions out of the house for a minute or two. It'll do you some good.


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    René Artois's Avatar Praefectus Castrorum
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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    A very informative document from the Wannsee conference. I recently visited the place on a school trip and it takes you at least a few hours to go through all of the exhibition!
    It is interesting to see how they not only estimated France, Belgium etc, but they also did it for England, Ireland and Spain and Switzerland. It sends shivers down your spine imagining if they had achieved their goals.
    A good article overall, as I am currently studying the Nazi's rise to power and the Holocaust as one of my history subjects.
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    Stavroforos's Avatar Legatus Legionis
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    Default Re: The Holocaust in Greece

    That has been exactly the impression I've gotten from Nazi sources from the time period; very disturbing not only because of how many horrors the Germans caused but how many more they would have wanted to carry out.

    I am glad you enjoyed the read!
    "By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe."

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