The Holocaust in Greece
The Holocaust in Greece was the mass murder of
Before the war, approximately 72,000 to 77,000 Jews lived in 27 communities in Greece. The majority, about 50,000, lived in
In March 1943, just over 4,000 Jews
Following World War II, surviving Jews faced obstacles regaining their property from non-Jews who had taken it over during the war. About half emigrated to Israel and other countries in the first decade after the war. The Holocaust was long overshadowed by other events during the wartime occupation, but gained additional prominence in the twenty-first century.
- Because of suspicion that they opposed the Greek insurgents, many Jews of the Ashkenazim (Jews from Central Europe) as well as Sephardim from the Ottoman Empire settled in Athens, many in the service of the new king, Otto of Bavaria. They became well integrated into social and political life, considering themselves Greeks of the Jewish faith.
- Western Greece, especially Epirus, was home to a community of Romaniotes who settled along the area's trading routes, especially the Via Egnatia, during the early centuries CE. Emigration in the nineteenth and early twentieth century of the Jewish community of Ioannina left it with a few thousand Jews. Western Greece remained under Ottoman rule until the Balkan Wars in 1912–1913, when it was captured by Greece.
- Forced resettlement in
Before the Balkan Wars, no more than 10,000 Jews lived in Greece; this number would increase eightfold as a result of territorial acquisitions.
Early in the morning of 28 October 1940, Italy
In mid-1941, Greece was partitioned into three occupation zones. The Germans occupied strategically important areas: Macedonia including Salonica, the harbor of
Immediately after the occupation, German police units made arrests based on lists of individuals deemed subversive, including Greek Jewish intellectuals and the entire Salonica Jewish community council. The Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce surveyed Jewish assets a week after the occupation. To curry favor with the Germans, collaborationist Prime Minister Georgios Tsolakoglou announced that there was a "Jewish problem" in Greece—the term was not a part of prewar discourse—adding, "this question will be definitively solved within the framework of the whole New Order in Europe".
Confiscation of all kinds of property from both Jews and non-Jews was undertaken on a massive scale; wealthy Jews were arrested and their businesses expropriated. During the first year of occupation, Jews shared in the same hardships as other Greeks, including the 1941 Greek famine and hyperinflation. Black market activity was widespread despite being punishable by immediate execution. The famine disproportionately affected Greek Jews as many were members of the urban proletariat and lacked connections to the countryside. In Salonica, German occupation forces tried to exacerbate the divisions between Greek Jews and the Christian population, encouraging newspapers to print antisemitic material and reviving the EEE, which Metaxas had banned. In the Bulgarian occupation zone, hundreds of Thracian Jews were forced into Bulgarian labor battalions, thus escaping famine and the deportation of Thracian Jews in 1943. In Macedonia, all recently arrived Jews, mostly a few hundred refugees from Yugoslavia, were required to register with the police in November 1941. A handful were immediately placed in German custody, deported, and executed.
Greek collaborators provided the names of alleged Communists to the German authorities who held them as hostages and shot them in
On 11 July 1942,
More than 2,000 Greek Jews were deported in late 1942 to Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust in France. Historian Christopher Browning argues that German dictator Adolf Hitler ordered the deportation of Salonica's Jews on 2 November 1941, citing a passage in Gerhard Engel's diary stating that Hitler "demands that the Jewish elements be removed from Salonika". Salonica's chief rabbi, Zvi Koretz, was interned in Vienna from May 1941 to January 1942—a year before the deportation process began in Salonica.
Building defenses for a possible Allied attack in the northern Aegean coincided with preparations for the deportation of Salonica's Jews and the deployment of German advisor Theodor Dannecker to Bulgaria, to ensure that Western Thrace was also cleared. Hitler believed that Jewish populations would hamper the Axis defenses in the event of invasion. According to historian Andrew Apostolou, the collaborationist Greek leadership continued to cooperate with the Germans to ward off Bulgarian aspirations for the permanent annexation of Western Thrace and Macedonia, while creating exonerating evidence in case the Allies won. Both the collaborationist administration and postwar governments used the war as an opportunity to Hellenize northern Greece, for example by the expulsion of Cham Albanians and the displacement of many ethnic Macedonians. This same area, from Corfu to the Turkish border, was most deadly for Jews during the Holocaust.
Overall, 60,000 Jews were deported from Greece to Auschwitz; around 12,750 were spared from immediate gassing and no more than 2,000 returned home after the war. Jews were not necessarily aware of the fate awaiting them, and some expected to be put to forced labor in Poland. The trains were packed so tightly that there was no space to sit down, and the journey took three weeks. As many as 50 percent died en route, some went mad, and most were unable to stand upon arriving at Auschwitz. Following the deportation, almost all Jewish-owned property was sold by the authorities, privately looted by Greeks, or nationalized by the Greek government. Almost everywhere, Christians went into Jewish districts immediately after they were vacated to loot.
Thrace (March 1943)
|Silent film of the deportation of Jews from Kavala, Serres, and Drama in Bulgarian-occupied northern Greece, March 1943|
Before dawn on 4 March 1943, 4,058 of the 4,273 Jews in Bulgarian-occupied Macedonia and Western Thrace (
Salonica (March–August 1943)
Preparation for the deportation of Salonica's Jews began in January 1943. A German official, Günther Altenburg, notified the prime minister of the collaborationist government, Konstantinos Logothetopoulos, on 26 January, but there is no record of him taking action to prevent the deportations, except two letters of protest written after they had already begun. Despite the letters, the collaborationist government continued to cooperate with the deportation. The Italian occupation authorities and Consul Guelfo Zamboni vigorously protested, issued Italian citizenship to Greek Jews, and arranged travel to Athens for hundreds of Jews with Italian or foreign citizenship. Spanish officials in the region also attempted to stop the deportations.
On 6 February, the
Some Jews escaped to the mountains and joined resistance groups or fled to Athens, but most could not.
Following the cessation of all Jewish businesses on 6 March, it was discovered that 500 of 1,700 Jewish merchant agencies were involved in foreign commerce and their shutdown would cause commercial loss to German firms, leading to a decision to continue to operate the businesses under new ownership. At the end of May, a Greek government agency called Service for the Custody of Jewish Property was set up to oversee the property of deported Jews. Greeks expelled from Bulgarian-occupied areas were allowed to live in some of the formerly Jewish housing (11,000 apartments were confiscated from Jews) while many Germans and Greeks became wealthy from the proceeds of expropriated assets. The total value of Jewish-owned property, according to declarations, was about 11 billion drachma (approximately £11 million, £550 million in 2021), a significant part of which was transferred to the Greek state. Despite anti-looting orders from the German occupiers, many Jewish-owned houses were torn up by Greek Christians looking for hidden gold coins. Gold confiscated from Jews was used to ward off inflation and had a significant impact on the Greek economy. Historian Kostis Kornetis states, "the elimination of Jews from [Salonica]'s economic life was eventually welcomed by both elites and the general public".
Passover roundup (March 1944)
In September 1943, Germany occupied the Italian occupation zone following the
On 4 October, Stroop instituted a curfew for Jews and ordered them to register at the synagogue. Despite the threat of the death penalty for Jews failing to register and any Christian helpers, only 200 registered, while many others followed Barzilai's example and fled. Without sufficient troops, and faced with the opposition of the collaborationist Greek government headed by Ioannis Rallis, the Nazis had to put off deportation operations until the following year. Under pressure, Rallis passed laws for the confiscation of property owned by Jews. While wealthy and middle-class Jews were able to go into hiding, those who registered with the authorities came from the lower classes in society who lacked the financial resources to escape. Over the next six months, additional Jews were lured out of hiding as their resources were exhausted. The delay in implementing deportation led to complacency among some Jews. In some places, Jews did not take the opportunity to escape because of a lack of awareness of the threat, failure of Jewish leadership, negative attitudes to the resistance, and reluctance to leave family members behind.
In January 1944, Adolf Eichmann replaced Wisliceny with Anton Burger, tasked with deporting Greece's Jews as quickly as possible. In March 1944, the Jewish holiday Passover was used as a cover for coordinated roundups around Greece carried out by the Geheime Feldpolizei (German military police) and Greek gendarmerie. On 23 March, unleavened bread was distributed at a synagogue in Athens—the 300 Jews who had tried to collect the bread were arrested, and others hunted down later that day based on registration lists. The Greek police generally refused to arrest any Jews not on the list, sparing the lives of a number of young children. At the end of the day, the 2,000 Jews caught were imprisoned at Haidari concentration camp outside the city. On 24 March, Jews from all the remaining communities in mainland Greece were arrested, including Patras, Chalcis, Ioannina, Arta, Preveza, Larissa, Volos, and Kastoria. Most of the Jews in Ioannina and Kastoria were arrested, with higher percentages escaping elsewhere. On 2 April, a train departed from Athens, adding additional Jews during its journey north. Nearly five thousand Jews were deported from Greece, arriving in Auschwitz nine days later.
Deportation from Greek islands (June–August 1944)
After the Passover roundup, the Nazis focused on the Jewish communities of the Greek islands. The entire Cretan Jewish community, 314 people in Chania and 26 in Heraklion, were rounded up on 20 May and departed the harbor on Souda Bay on 7 June. All were killed in the sinking of the SS Tanais by a British submarine. After the 1943 armistice, the Italian garrison of Corfu refused to surrender, and Germany forcibly occupied the island following battles that left the Jewish quarter in ruins. Despite warnings from the Italian soldiers, the Jews did not go into hiding in the mountains. On 8 June, the Jews of Corfu were rounded up and deported by ship and rail to Haidari. The Mayor of Corfu stated, "Our good friends the Germans have cleansed the island from the Jewish riffraff"—the only case where a Greek official publicly approved of the deportation of Jews. The Corfu Jews were deported from Haidari to Poland on 21 June.
Evasion and resistance
Regional survival rates varied greatly because of a variety of factors, such as timing of deportations, the attitude of the local authorities, and the degree of integration of Jewish communities.
The Greek resistance readily accepted Jewish volunteers into its ranks; at least 650 Jewish resistance fighters are known by name, and there may have been as many as 2,000. Jews mostly fought in ELAS but there were also some in the rival resistance organizations EDES (National Republican Greek League) and National and Social Liberation (EKKA). Unlike the other resistance organizations, EAM publicly appealed to Greeks to help their Jewish fellow citizens, and actively recruited young Jews to join ELAS. Thousands of Jews, perhaps as many as 8,000, received assistance from EAM/ELAS. In some cases, EAM refused to help Jews if it did not receive payment. Greek smugglers charged Jews 300 Palestine pounds per boat, carrying around two dozen Jews, to take them to Çeşme in Turkey via Euboea, but later ELAS and the Haganah negotiated a price of one gold piece per Jew. By June 1944, 850 Jews had escaped to Çeşme.
Axis occupation forces withdrew from all of mainland Greece by November 1944. About 10,000 Greek Jews survived the Holocaust, representing a death rate of 83 to 87 percent. This was the highest Holocaust death rate in the Balkans and among the highest in Europe. The survivors were sharply divided between the camp survivors and the larger number who survived in Greece or returned from abroad. About half those who returned from the concentration camps only stayed briefly in Greece before emigrating while others remained abroad. The Greek foreign ministry attempted to delay or prevent their return to Greece. In Salonica, Jewish camp survivors were often called "unused cakes of soap" by other Greeks. Almost everyone had lost family members. The disintegration of families as well as unavailability of religious professionals made it almost impossible to maintain traditional Jewish religious observance.
In November 1944, the returning Greek government-in-exile annulled the law confiscating Jewish property and passed the first measure in Europe for the return of this property to its Jewish owners or their heirs, and of heirless property to Jewish organizations. However, this law was not applied in practice. Lacking any property or place to live and not helped by local authorities, Jews found themselves sleeping in improvised shelters in conditions that were compared to the Nazi concentration camps. Most Jews found it difficult or impossible to regain properties taken over by non-Jews during the war. In Salonica, 15 percent or less of Jewish property was returned and only 30 Jews were successful in recovering all their real estate. Postwar return of property, however, was somewhat easier in the former Italian-occupied zone. Greek courts usually ruled against survivors, and failure to regain property led many Jews to emigrate; emigrants lost their Greek citizenship and any claim to property in Greece. Conflict over property also fueled antisemitic incidents. Jewish cemeteries faced expropriation and destruction even after the war. West Germany paid reparations to Greece but no money was set aside to compensate Greek Jews.
As in other European countries, American Jewish charities, especially the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), coordinated relief efforts to aid survivors. Skeptical that Jews had a future in southeastern Europe, the JDC prioritized aid for those seeking to emigrate to Palestine. Sephardic Jews in the United States raised money to pay dowries so that Greek Jews could marry, as well as sending items such as clothing, shoes, and food. Zionists organized hakhshara programs intended to prepare Jews for emigration to Mandatory Palestine.
Many Jews supported left-wing parties prior to World War II, and the help they received from EAM strengthened their leftist sympathies. These connections made them politically suspect, to the point that some Greeks repeated Nazi propaganda equating Jews with Communism. Some Jews suspected of left-wing sympathies were arrested, tortured, or assassinated during the anti-leftist repression in 1945 and 1946. In contrast, the political climate allowed Nazi collaborators to rebrand themselves as loyal, anti-communist citizens. The Greek government avoided prosecuting collaborators and in 1959 passed a law (repealed in 2010) that prevented any prosecution of Holocaust perpetrators for crimes committed in Greece. For decades, the Greek government refused repeated requests from the Jewish community to extradite and try Brunner, who was living in Syria. Across the political spectrum, a high-profile trial that would draw attention to the Holocaust in northern Greece was seen as undesirable.
From 1946 to 1949, the
The Holocaust in Greece, long overshadowed by other events like the Greek famine, Greek resistance, and the Greek Civil War, was clouded in Greek memory by exaggerated beliefs about the degree of solidarity shown by average Greek Christians. Another reason for lack of attention to the Holocaust was the relatively high level of antisemitism in Greece, which was considered higher than in any other country in the pre-2004 European Union. Pro-Palestinian sympathies in Greece led to an environment where Jews were not distinguished from Israel and antisemitism could be passed off as a principled anti-Zionism. Holocaust denial is promoted by some Greeks, especially the extremist Golden Dawn party.
Historian Katherine Elizabeth Fleming writes that often, "the story of the destruction of Greece's Jews has served as a vehicle for the celebration of Greek Orthodox kindness and valor". Fleming states that while some acted heroically in rescuing Jews, "at times, Greek Christians were complicit in the destruction of Jewish lives; many more were unmoved by it; and no small number welcomed it". Academic research into the Holocaust did not begin until decades afterwards and is still sparse. Questions of Greek collaborationism were taboo for scholars and only began to be examined in the twenty-first century.
In 2005, Greece joined the
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