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Terra Nostra: Athens

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by zorkmidden. This is the featured weekly post from Discarded Lies at Winds of Change.NET. The Terra Nostra series is about the Jewish Holocaust in Greece, righteous gentiles, tales of heroism and simple human will to survive, and the beauty of human souls even in a horrific tableau. It's also about contemporary Greek attitudes to Jews, Judaism, and Israel. Other posts in the Terra Nostra series on Winds of Change include Reina Gilberta, Liliane Fernandes, Loving God and Hating Jews, The Exodus From Spain, The Occupation, The Deportations and 'We were from a different level.'

In 1943 Athens had approximately 4,000 Jewish residents as well as 5,000 Jewish refugees from Salonica, Macedonia and Thrace. During the Italian occupation, Jews were relatively safe, or at least as safe as the rest of the population since the Italians had not imposed any racial measures. But in September 1943 Italy surrendered to the Allies.

The Germans, considering this an act of betrayal, immediately arrested the Italians who were in Greece and at the same time the last stage of the 'action' against the Jews of Greece was set in motion. The largest Jewish communities outside of Salonica and Athens were in Halkis, Patra, Ioannina, Preveza, Volos, Larissa and Trikala in the mainland, and in the islands of Corfu, Zakynthos, Rhodes, Kos, and Crete. Orders were sent to every town and district to identify its Jewish citizens and put their names on a list.

Most of the Jewish quarters in the islands and the mainland were congregated around the synagogue, not as a consequence of a ghetto policy, but because people throughout the centuries tended to build their houses and their lives near a synagogue or a church. But that also meant that Jews in most Greek towns lived in small proximity to the synagogue and were easy to identify.

Athenian Jews were more integrated in the Greek community and more hellenised. They did not speak Ladino, like the Salonica community did, they had no differences in dress or speech that would distinguish them from their Christian neighbours and they did not live in a specific area. The general impression in the Athenian Jewish community was that the Jews of Salonica had been deported and were living somewhere in Poland. No one knew about the death camps yet.

Athenians considered themselves Old Greeks, part of Greece that was liberated from the Turks in the 1821 Greek War of Independence. They perceived their neighbours up north as having entered the the process of hellenisation more recently since Salonica wasn't incorporated into Greece until 1913. The general feeling in Athens was that the German racial laws had been applied to remove the "Judeo-Spanish bloc" in Salonica, which would lead to full hellenisation of the city. So in this view, the Salonica Jews were the last reminder of the hated Ottoman presence in Greece. The Athenian Jews didn't think they were in any danger at all.

2 Comments

My father grew up in Dhidhimotikhon, a town on the border between Greece and Turkey. He said there were about 400 Jews in town when the war started. Escaping to (neutral) Turkey was rather easy - the border was frequently crossed. Yet only 4 of the 400 left; the rest were caught by the Germans and taken somewhere and killed.

His story may have left out some details - people who were prevented from leaving or turned back by the Turks, whether the Christian Greeks aided the Nazis, etc. But even so, the vast majority of the Jews in his town did not try very hard to escape their fate.

my grandmother origin is from Dhidhimotikhon.
her family left Dhidhimotikhon in the early
20` to bulgaria and in the 40` to israel.
she is 90 years old and remmembers the place.
many members of her family stayed in Dhidhimotikhon .
her family name was Tarabulus (trabulus)
her name is Victoria.
we collected a lot of information and sent it to
Yad vashem institute.
i will be glad if you will contact me
yoavemail@walla.co.il

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