In Memoriam

on Wednesday, 30 January 2013.

…by George A. Papadantonakis, Ph.D
Being Jewish…was their only crime. Never forget! Never Again!

Six million Jews perished in the concentration camps and the crematoria created by the German forces and their collaborators during World War II. Ten years ago, the Greek Parliament unanimously approved the declaration of January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day, sixty eight years ago, the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by the Soviet Army. In 1940-41, when Italian and German forces attacked Greece, the number of Greek citizens of Jewish faith was about 80,000. Of them, 12,898 fought in the ranks of the Greek army, the so-called “Cohen brigades,” and of those, 343 had the rank of an officer or petty officer. Among the heroic fighters in the front lines of Northern Epirus were Col. Mardochai Frizis, from Chalkis, killed in the battle of Kalamas; officer Jean Allalouf from Thessaloniki; Major Salvador Sarfatis from Athens; and, among many others, officers Josef  Varouch from Corfu, and Leon Dostis from Ioannina. Before the Second World War, Jewish Communities were thrived in 27 Greek cities including Didymoticho, Nea Orestiada, Alexandroupolis, Komotini, Xanthi, Kavala, Drama, Serres, Thessaloniki, Veroia, Kastoria, Florina, Trikala, Larissa, Volos, Chalkis, Athens, Patras, Agrinio, Ioannina, Preveza, Arta, Corfu, Zakynthos (Zante), Chania, Rhodes and Kos. The total number of Jews living in these Communities was 77,377. During the Second World War, when Greece was under the occupation of Nazi Germany, 96 per cent of Greek Jews lost their lives as a result of actions by Nazis and their collaborators. They were transported by train to concentration camps by train where exterminations constituted daily life. After the Holocaust, only a few individuals survived in the many cities where Jewish Communities had previously blossomed. History preserves the proud refusal of the late Archbishop of Athens Damaskinos to cooperate with the Nazis. The monumental text of his response to collaborator quisling Prime Minister Konstantinos Logothetopoulos and to Nazi General Stroop, protesting the Nazi atrocities against Jews was unique in occupied Europe. On account of the intensity of the Archbishop’s written protestation against the persecution of the Jews of Greece, General Stroop  threatened to have Archbishop Damaskinos shot. The Archbishop asked the General to respect tradition by reminding him that “…Greek priests are hung and never executed…”

The language of the protestation was sharp. It referred to the strong bonds between Orthodox Greeks and Greek Jews, not only in terms of civil rights which they had as Greek citizens, but mainly in spiritual terms. The protestation was a monument to bravery, national pride and respect for human ideals. The protestation was signed by 29 distinguished bodies and organizations which represented cultural and professional Greece. In addition, the Archbishop urged Greek Christians and monasteries to offer asylum to Jewish families. During the Nazi occupation, many Jews participated in the National Resistance. This has been officially recognized by the Greek State and by resistan

The Jews of Greece had participated and continue to participate actively in the country’s public life. In the past, a number of Jews have been elected to serve in the Parliament and in the Senate when it existed. Others held high-ranking positions in public administration and in universities. Moreover, a significant number of Jews have had a distinguished careers in the arts and letters. Today, the Greek Jewry is mainly active in the private sector (commerce, industry, etc.), in science, and in public administration. It numbers only about 5,500 persons organized in eight Jewish Communities. These operate in Athens, Thessaloniki, Larissa, Volos, Chalkis, Ioannina, Trikala and Corfu. Only a few Jews now live in Kavala and Rhodes, currently inactive as organized communities, and two individuals are permanent residents of Chania. The word “martyr” in the Greek language has two meanings: It refers to the person who reveals the truth and him or her who die for the truth. The number of Greek Jews who perished in Auschwitz suffering martyrdom for the truth is countless. Shoah, the genocide of Jews, is unique. And it is unique for one only: For the first time in history man denied his fellow man, not his identity  to be a Jew but in his identity as a human being. The Holocaust is a part of history that does not concern exclusively the Jews. The annihilation of Jews brought about the end of European civilization and   European intellect as it lived throughout the centuries. The horror is immense, the pain cannot be measured, exceeded only by humanity’s shame. And we should not attempt to find excuses or comforting reasoning. The least we can do is to remember the martyrs of the concentration camps because they offer us a perennial lesson about moral degradation and about the debasement and the crimes where we are led when hatred, blind fanaticism, lack of democratic freedom and totalitarian regimes prevail. The civilized world should isolate the very few people who deny the existence of Holocaust and those who intentionally mix Holocaust with politics to generate contemporary anti-Semitism, the worst form of racism and human degradation.

About the Author

George A. Papadantonakis, Ph.D.

George A. Papadantonakis, Ph.D. is a Board member of the CHI-Circle for Hellas and Israel, and Professor of Chemistry