3 A short history of Jewry in Salonica
4 Situation before the German Occupation
5.1 "The Final Solution” in Salonica
5.2 Local Creek reaction
5.3 Chief Rabbi Zvi Koretz and the deportation of Salonica Jews
One of the most interesting chapter in the history of modem Greece is the German Occupation during World War Two. Soon after the German invasion of Greece the deportation of Jews in Greece started. Salonica had a Jewish community consisting of roughly 50.000 members. On March 1943 and after a fast marginalizing process by relocating the Jews into Ghettos, about 45.000 of them were deported to Auschwitz- Birkenau, where many of them were immediately gassed, others were kept as slaves and labored till death.
What is interesting about this historical event is the fact that many Jews didn’t decide to flee after the Germans arrived in Salonica. In Athens for instance a large number of Jews managed to escape death. The deportation of Salonica Jews seemed to be very effective and did not triggered much resistance on behalf of the Jewish community or the vast majority of local people. This of course raises one big question that will be the core of this research: Why was the German deportation of the Jews in Salonica so effective (than elsewhere in Greece)?
In answering this Question, different testimonies of Jewish survivors are to be examined. My focus will be on the testimony of Jacques Stroumsa who was deported with his whole family to Auschwitz and fortunately survived the genocide. In order to clarify the authenticity of his testimony I will compare his sayings with others.
Furthermore, I will debate the role of Chhief Rabbi Zvi Koretz, who might willingly or unwillingly helped the Germans in deceiving his own community by promising them a better life in Krakow. Koretz has been branded as traitor and a Nazi collaborator by many survivors. He was accused of betrayal, which caused the death of thousands of Jews. These accusations created a narrative among survivors, that strange to say changed through time to his favor. Why did this narrative ofKoretz changed?
Another important aspect which will be depicted in this research is the attitude of the local people of Salonica. Do we have a lack ofsolidarity of local Greek Christians or not? Was antisemitism widespread among them when the German arrived? To answer all this, I will analyze some non-Jewish texts regarding the German attitude towards the Jews in Salonica. Primary sources will be mainly testimonies but also petitions written by Greek Christens to state officials.
The quotation system that I am using in this research is The American Psychological Association (APA 6th Version).
3 A short history of Jewry in Salonica
Founded 315 BC, Salonica was originally named Thessaloniki. Through its strategic position in the Balkan Peninsula Salonica became a hub for merchants and a center for commerce. The city lied on the ancient road Via Egnatia that stretched from Rome to Constantinople connecting East and West. Through history the city was conquered by many Powers, yet Jews were always part of it. During Ottoman rule Jewry in Salonica reached its peak. From 1492 to 1912 the Jewish community of Salonica was the largest one in the world. It went that far, that it was identified by non-Jews as the Jerusalem of the Balkan. For the Jews themselves the city was named as Madre de Israel. One of the reasons why many Jews immigrated to Salonica was the favorable conditions the city offered for them. It is said that the rapid Christianization of Greeks in 54 AD in the city was caused by their contact with Jews and their monotheistic ideas. After the Ottoman conquest of Macedonia 1430, many European Jews were forced to leave their homelands. Many of them, especially Sephardim from Spain, found in Salonica a new home. Sephardim1 Jews contributed to develop the city. Their contribution covered many fields like finance, trade, medicine and pharmacy. During the 16th century, which will be named as the Salonica’s Golden Age, the Sephardim established many libraries, Talmud Academies, a printing press and 31 independent synagogues. Sephardim Jews were much better educated than most Romaniotes and Ashkenazi Jews who arrived earlier to the city.
Early in the 19th century, the Jews suffered from heavy taxation. During that period a Jewish class of successful merchnats evolved. Soon many factories and workshops were dominated by Jews. Although this success, the majority of Jews in Salonica suffered from poverty. Most Jews were boatmen and fisherman. Among all the Jews living in Diaspora, Salonica Jews holding this profession was something unique. Interestingly when while preparing the foundation of the state Israel, Ben Gurion and Ben Zvi imported many Jewish fishermen and boatmen from Salonica to destroy the Arab monopoly on these professions.
In the beginning of the 20th century Salonica witnessed an economic growth due to the railway that connected the city with Europe and the creation of Banks by Jews and Greeks. Once again commerce flourished in Salonica. Jews were the majority of the city and played an important role in every aspect of everyday life. They practiced all professions and were in every social class. Their dominance determined the political fate of the city. Therefore, it is not surprising to know that the port of the city was not only closed on Saturday but also during Jewish holidays.2 We can say before the Germans came Salonica was truly a Jewish city. Having said that, it was not an exaggeration to say that Salonica was the Jerusalem of the Balkans.
4 Situation before the German Occupation
Before we talk about the deportation of Jews in Salonica, we must first take a close look at the relationship between local Greek- Christians and the Jews. This might give us a good idea in understanding the Christians attitude toward the Jews during the German occupation 1940- 44. Salonica had become a center of Zionism, or to say it in the word of Jacque Stroumsa:
All during my school days, Zionistic sentiment was flourishing. It wasn’t without reason that Jerusalem rabbis spoke of Salonica as the “Little Israel of the Diaspora,” or even as the “Jerusalem of the Balkans”. Jewish life there was extradentary vigorous. After the death of Theodor Herzl (1904), the Jews of Salonica became zealous champions of Zionism, but could only 'work secretly,for in the Ottoman Empire Zionism wasforbidden until 1912.3
Zionistic activities within Salonica made the Jews suspicious not to support the Greek cause, which increased Antisemitism among Christians and eventually led to hostility against them. These Zionist activities were considered as a rejection of the Venizelist4 project and in the broadest sense a resistance to cultural and political assimilation. This hostility toward the Jews culminated in the first anti-Semitic campaign in Salonica. The campaign was launched in November 1926 by the Macedonian National Union (MNU), which distributed pamphlets with anti-Semitic content. For them Jews would support Communism, an act that made them alien to the Greek state, to which they would never be part of it. Furthermore, the pamphlet accused the Jews of only being interested in their own interest which is Zionism. The pamphlet also claims through the support of communism the Jews were behind the plot for an independent Macedonian state. The proclamation of the pamphlet was, the people of Salonica should boycott any financial transaction with them, and by doing so it will be a lesson to them. The boycott was never officially sanctioned by the Greek state. Nevertheless, such extreme views were increasing and through time they became more acceptable by authority and local Greek- Christian people.5 However, we do have some sources that depict solidarity and support on the part of the Greek- Orthodox to the Jews. We will explain this more in a later chapter.
As we have shown in this chapter, anti-Semitic rhetoric in Salonica was present. However, in conclusion it does not mean all Christians welcomed the deportation of Jews in 1943 during the German Occupation. In the following chapter I will lay the focus on the attitude of those Greek Christians of Salonica who showed solidarity.
5 The German Occupation 1941- 1942
On April 1941 Hitler declared war on Greece and in April of the same year the Germans entered Salonica. Shortly after the occupation of Greece the president of the Jewish community Zvi Koretz who was Chief Rabbi of Salonica at that time, was arrested. Koretz was sent to Vienna where he spent several months in jail. Yet the first step of German activities in the city was not against Jews exclusively, given the fact that many Christians were imprisoned as well. In addition, the Germans did not seem to be interested in the fate of the Jews at all.6 Stroumsa remembers the first phase of the occupation as follows:
That seemed remarkable to me, after our heartfeltfear, seeing the German soldiers in our city. I found however, that these soldiers were completely uninterested in the fate of the Jews; this seemed reassuring but did notfit with anything that we had previously heard. It was during this time that I married -proofthat we were not especially worried about thefuture. 7
As Stroumsa already stated in his testimony this attitude in the beginning of the occupation is certainly surprising and unexpected. In fact, Jews from Greece, especially those from Salonica seemed to be naive when it comes to what they thought Nazi intentions were. Even after haven been deported to the concentration Camps, for some it remained invoiceable to what the German plan was. To support my claim, the following quotation is from Moshe Ha- Elion, who was deported from Salonica and survived the Death Camp. He was informed while his stay in one of the camps of the gas chambers and yet he could not believe it:
One day I was walking around the camp and I came around afriend form Greece and he said to me: ’I was brought here today from Birkenau.’ I said, “Oh, Birkenau?” “Did you see my mother? My sister?” He explained that in Birkenau there are gas chambers and crematoria and that everyone was murdered on the veryfirst day. I looked at him and said,” Are you crazy?” “Germans?” “Such civilized nations murderspeople?8
This kind of naivete can be observed through this whole chapter of history, that is to say the holocaust history in Salonica. One can tell based on some testimonies, that people simply could not believe or perhaps did not want to believe.
Anti- Semitic activities started in July 1942 when Max Merten, German officer who was in charge of the city during the occupation, ordered all Jewish male aged from 18 to 45 to assemble in Freedom Square. Through the registers of the Jewish Community of Salonica, which was previously handed over by the Jewish leadership, among them Chief Rabbi Koretz, the Nazis were very well informed about the Jewish population of the city. This knowledge helped the to fasten process of the deportation.
1 Sephardim is he plural form of Sephardi. The Sephardim were decedents of Spanish Jews. See Britannica, 2013.
2 See Molho, 2005, pp. 37-44.
3 Stroumsa, 1996, p. 29.
4 Venizalism was a political movement that aimed to abolish the monarchy and introduce a presidential system in Greece. The charismatic statesman Eleftherios Venizeloswas its pioneer. He is considered as the creator of modem Greece. See Kitromilides, 2006, pp. 1-4.
5 See Kallis, 2006, pp. 43-44.
6 See Molho, 2005, pp. 50-52.
7 Stroumsa, 1996, p. 35.
8 See Yad Vashem, 2017.
- Quote paper
- Ali Samaha (Author), 2019, The deportation process of Salonikan Jews 1943, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/496733