Greek Jewry in the post-Shoah era (panel)

Το πάνελ του Εργαστηρίου στο διεθνές συνέδριο “Jews in the Balkans: History, Religion, Culture” (8-10 Μαΐου 2017, University of Split, Croatia)

Greek Jewry in the post-Shoah era

The panel is informed by the unmistakable interest shown by scholars in Europe and the US on the post-Shoah history of Diaspora Jews. It also draws on the work of a small number of colleagues engaged in the study of Greek Jewry, who in recent years have moved beyond the theme of the deportation and murder of more than 80% of the country’s pre-war Jewish element to examine various aspects of what has been conveniently coined as the “difficult return”: community reconstruction, the moral and material vindication of survivors, the formation of subjectivities, issues of remembrance, etc.

The “travails” of the historical subject, collectively and in some instances at an individual level, run through our four papers. Cognizant that we could not cover every single aspect of the “difficult return” and its aftermath, the decision to choose theme X and not Y or Z was predicated on one’s own research interests; on the constructive challenge of studying hitherto largely unchartered waters; and, crucially, on what the Greek Jews themselves considered of utmost importance in real time as well as subsequently.

Another thread that brings together the four papers is the evidentiary material on which they are based. We have made a conscious effort to eschew from studying Greek Jewry principally through the mediated discourses of international Jewish organisations, such as Joint, or those of Greek officials, be it at a national and local level, or those of non-Greek and non-Jewish agents. Useful and illuminating as such documentary evidence undoubtedly can be, it is obvious that even if one only wants to draw the contours of what it meant to be a Jew in post-Shoah Greece the thorough study of Greek-Jewish sources is a sine qua non. And, of course, we want to bring to the forefront the wide gamut of Greek-Jewish voices on Greek-Jewish matters. To this effect, we have made profitable use of the archives of the Jewish communities of Salonika and Athens; of the archive of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece; of the Greek-Jewish Press; and of oral testimonies.


Philip Carabott: Greek Jewry in dire straits

Like most of their coreligionists in liberated Europe, in the wake of the Shoah Greek Jews found themselves in dire straits. Of the approximately 7,700 survivors in early 1945, 85% were “completely short of any kind of means to live on”, 10% needed partial assistance and only 5% were financially independent. A year on, the battle for the new survival of some 10,000 returnees had been won, though not the war itself. Whether emerging from hiding, from participation in the resistance movement or returning from the concentration and death camps, they had to rebuild their lives in an environment where choices, and responses thereof, were determined by exogenous factors – e.g., the usurpation of property, the rise of antisemitism and the on-going Greek Civil War. In equal measure, they were shaped by the powerful allure of Zionism and immigration to Eretz Yisrael, and the survivors’ different experiences of the war years, which admittedly had dented the communal idea (and ideal) of “material sacrifice for all” and rendered obsolete the motto “all for one and one for all”.

The paper seeks to map out the quantitative and main qualitative features of the historical subject in question, to outline the multiple difficulties it faced, to unravel the dilemmas confronting it, and to trace its varied responses to being Jewish in early post-Shoah Greece.

Alexandra Patrikiou: The tortu(r)ous paths of property restitution in Salonika

Why did Salonikan survivors of the Shoah consider themselves “real strangers in their own city”? Why did many returnees from the death camps initially slept on the floor of the one and only standing synagogue with “one blanket as mattress and another as cover”? Why only 300 Jewish apartments and homes and 50 shops, out of a total of more than 12,000 and 2,500 respectively, had been returned to their rightful owners or their heirs by 1949?

The paper addresses these questions by examining and contextualising the tortu(r)ous paths of property restitution from the end of the Axis occupation of Greece in October 1944 to the establishment of Greek Jewry’s main welfare institution, the Organisation for the Care and Rehabilitation of the Jews of Greece, in March 1949. It looks at the twists and turns of the legal procedure, the rearguard action of property usurpers and local politicians, and the stances of the Greek Press on property restitution. It seeks a) to examine how, on a collective and individual level, the Jews positioned themselves towards this “matter of life and death”; b) to assess the nature and extent of their involvement in its resolution; and c) to demonstrate how it impacted on their lives.

Dimitrios Varvaritis: Greek-Jewish readings of antisemitism in Greece, 1945 – early 1960s

In late October 1944 the Athens daily newspaper Eleftheria wrote in reference to the city of Salonika, the feast of its protector Saint Dimitrios and its Jewish community, that among the many “honours” for which Greece was to be proud was that it was a country in which antisemitism had “never manifested itself”. Just over three years later Asher Moissis, a leading figure of postwar Greek Jewry, made very similar comments. Speaking in late 1947, as the representative of Greek Jewry at the first European conference of Jewish historical commissions, he noted in reply to questions concerning the war-time fate of Salonikan (and by extension Greek) Jewry that antisemitism in Greece was “unknown”.

The documented and actual lived experiences of numerous Greek Jews however contradict this naïve and overly simplistic narrative. Being a Jew in post-Shoah Greece often meant not only dealing with a host of pressing emotional and material issues, such as mourning loved ones or reclaiming confiscated property, but also facing the indifference, if not the outright hostility and antisemitism, of the general population.

The paper focuses on Greek-Jewish responses to the numerous incidences of antisemitism in Greece from 1945 to the early 1960s. Through close readings of the two main Jewish newspapers of the period, the left-wing Ισραηλιτικόν Βήμα (Israelite Tribune, Salonika 1945-47) and the Zionist Εβραϊκή Εστία (Jewish Hearth, Athens 1947-63), and the pertinent records of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece it will contextualise these responses and offer, with reference to past Greek-Jewish responses to antisemitism, a basic typology.

Anna Maria Droumbouki: “We are not beggars nor do we ask for anybody’s charity”: Greek Jewry on German compensation(s)

In December 1971, twelve years after his first letter to the government of the Federal Republic of Germany, Isaak M. Rousso exclaimed thus: “I ask you, what did I do to you and you destroyed my wealth, my shops? You killed my parents, and now you want to pay me a pittance”? Writing in his capacity as president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece three years earlier, Joseph Lovinger had sarcastically reminded an official of the Federal Ministry of Finance that “unfortunately the robbers did not give us receipts when they exiled us to the death camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka. I wonder whether your present actions are morally justified given that all the details on how they burgled our houses and how they stole three thousand safes are to be found in the extant reports of the Rosenberg Commando. I know of many harsh laws. None though like BRÜG, which is cruel. We are not beggars nor do we ask for anybody’s charity”.

The paper focuses on the numerous instances of individual and collective Greek-Jewish voices and stances on the vexed issue of German compensation(s) to Shoah survivors from the mid 1950s to the early 1970s. It seeks to examine how survivors: a) responded to the officialdom’s laws, criteria and regulations in the context of a modus operandi that was particularly taxing and evasive; b) managed the “requirement” to return to a traumatic past and relive their sufferings; c) coped with their guilt as survivors; and d) expressed feelings of anger and despair towards their culprits. Last but not least, it addresses whether individual subjectivities formed in the search for recognition and compensation were at variance from those articulated by collective bodies of Greek Jewry.

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