Friday, January 30, 2009
An Introduction to Literature on the Holocaust in Greece. New York: Sephardic Historical Committee, 1994. ISBN 1886857008
Constantopoulou, Photini, and Thanos Veremis.
Documents on the History of the Greek Jews. Athens: Kastaniotis Editions, 1997.
A work compiled by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the University of Athens. Presents representative documents on the modern history of Greek Jewry including many original documents related to the Holocaust.
Greek Jewry and Nazi Germany: The Holocaust and Its Antecedents. Athens: Gavrielides Publishing, 1995. Examines the extent of assimilation of the various Jewish communities in Greece, and speculates on how the assimilation effected their ability to survive the Holocaust.
as cited in: Documents on the History of the Greek Jews: Records from the Historical
Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Athens: Kastaniotis Editions, 1998.
ISBN 960 03 2330 5
Mauthausen. Athens: Kendros Publishers, 1995.
Describes life in one of the harshest Nazi concentration camps, as told by a Greek prisoner. Basis for Mikis Theodorakis' Mauthausen.
Lévy, Dr. Isaac Jack.
And the World Stood Silent: Sephardic Poetry of the Holocaust. University of Illinois Press, 1989.
Includes Holocaust poetry written by Greek Jews, in original Greek and Judeo-Spanish.
Matsas, Dr. Michael.
The Illusion of Safety: The Story of Greek Jews during the Second World War. Pella Publication, 1997. Detailed account of the role of the resistance movement in helping Greek Jews. Explores the moral responsibility of the United States and Great Britain, and how their choices not to disseminate information to the Jews of Greece might have contributed to the great number of Greek Jews lost in the Holocaust.
Inside Hitler's Greece: The Experience of Occupation 1941-1944. Yale University Press, 1993.
Messinas, V. Elias.
The Synagogues of Salonika and Veroia. Athens: Ekdoseis Gavrielides Editions, 1997.
Pictures of and comments on many of the synagogues destroyed in the Holocaust, by noted Israeli architect, Elias Messinas, who is currently working on the restoration of the synagogue in Veroia. Visit Mr. Messinas's website, Kol haKEHILA -- The site for study and preservation of Greek Jewish monuments here.
Plaut, Joshua Eli.
Greek Jewry in the Twentieth Century, 1913-1983: Patterns of Jewish Survival in the Greek Provinces before and after the Holocaust. Associated University Press, 1996.
Descriptions of Greek Jewish communities before the Holocaust and the remnants of Jewish life in Greece afterward, with an emphasis on the Jews’ efforts to survive.
Rosenbaum, Elie M., and William Hoffer.
Betrayal: The Untold Story of the Kurt Waldheim Investigation and Cover-Up. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993. Covers the role that Kurt Waldheim played in the deportation of the Jews in Thessaloniki.
The Jews of Greece: An Essay. Athens: Talos Press, 1990.
History of Greek Jews and their demise in the Holocaust.
Stavroulakis, Nicholas, and Timothy DeVinney.
Jewish Sites and Synagogues of Greece. Athens: Talos Press, 1992.
Includes a history of each community and their fate during the Holocaust.
Selected Articles in Scholarly Journals
Altsech, Moses B.
"Y Afrieronos: Greek Jews and the Holocaust." Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 23.2 (1997): 29-60. General overview and individual stories of surviving Greek Jews.
"Jews in Wartime Greece." Jewish Social Studies 48 (1): 45-62.
Overview of Greek Jews and their destruction during the Holocaust.
Gaon, Solomon, and Mitchell Serels.
"Sephardim and the Holocaust." New York: J. E. Safra Institute of Sephardic Studies, Yeshiva University, 1987.
Pages 38-56 discuss Ioannina; pages 55-80, Salonika; and pages 81-88, Rhodes.
"The Resistance of the Greek Jews." Yivo Annual of the Jewish Social Sciences 8 (1953): 281-88.
"The Jews in Greece, 1941-1944: Eyewitness Accounts." Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 12 (3): 5-32. Documents relating to the Holocaust in Greece.
Kreindler, Rabbi Joshua David.
"Greece and the Jews." Journal of Modern Hellenism 2 (1985): 113-17.
Includes a translation of Archbishop Damaskenos' letter to the Germans.
"The Participation of the Greek Jews in the National Resistance, 1940-1944." Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 17.1 (1991): 55-68.
"Jewish Leadership in Greece during the Holocaust: Patterns of Jewish Leadership in Nazi Europe 1933-1945." Proceedings of the Third Yad Vashem International Historical Conference, Jerusalem (1979): 335-52. Article on the role of Rabbi Koretz.
as cited in: Documents on the History of the Greek Jews: Records from the Historical Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Athens: Kastaniotis Editions, 1998.
ISBN 960 03 2330 5
"New Light on the Charges against the Last Chief Rabbi of Salonika." Yad Vashem Bulletin 17 (December 1965): 9-15 (a third missing); 19 (October 1966): 28-35.
Eck's defense of Rabbi Koretz, stating that he was innocent and naive, and not a German collaborator.
Jewish Community of Thessaloniki.
"The Jewish Community of Thessaloniki," 1992.
Pamphlet distributed by the Jewish community of Thessaloniki, giving the history of the community and information on its destruction during the Holocaust.
as cited in: Documents on the History of the Greek Jews: Records from the Historical Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Athens: Kastaniotis Editions, 1998.
ISBN 960 03 2330 5
"Last Days of Jewish Salonica: What Happened to a 450 Year Old Civilization." Commentary 10 (1): 49-55.
Salonika, Jews and Dervishes. Athens: Talos Press, 1993.
The Jews of Ioannina. Philadelphia: Cadmus Press, 1990.
Comprehensive history of the Jews in Ioannina, including the detailed story of their deportation and annihilation during the Holocaust.
Yannina: A Journey into the Past. London: Valentine Mitchell, in press.
Book based on the personal memories of the author, as she journeyed back to Ioannina, the city of her birth, and recalled her cherished Romaniote past. Includes testimonies from Ioannina Jews, survivors of the Holocaust, and local Greek Orthodox citizens who witnessed the capture of their Jewish friends.
Central Board of Jewish Community of Volos.
"The Jewish Community of Volos: Short Historical Review," 1993
Recently translated publication that gives a brief a historical overview of the community and the roles of Rabbi Pessach and Bishop Ioakim in helping to save most of the Jews of Volos.
Angel, Rabbi Marc.
The Jews of Rhodes: The History of a Sephardic Community. Sepher-Hermon Press and Union of Sephardic Congregations, 1980.
Detailed history of the Jews of Rhodes including their customs and religious practices. Includes a discussion of their unfortunate demise in the Holocaust.
Franco M., Hizkia.
The Jewish Martyrs of Rhodes and Cos. Harper Collins, 1994.
Lists the names of all Jews in Kos and Rhodes and tells the story of their deportation. Also lists those who survived.
Lévy Jack, Isaac.
Jewish Rhodes, A Lost Culture. Berkeley: Judah L. Magnes Museum, 1989.
History of the Jews of Rhodes that emphasizes the culture that was lost with their demise during the Holocaust.
Levy, Rebecca Amato.
I Remember Rhodes. New York: Sepher-Hermon Press for Sephardic House at Congregation Shearith Israel, 1987. A picture of the Jews of Rhodes written by a survivor of the Holocaust. (In English and Ladino)
From Thessaloniki to Auschwitz and Back 1926-1996. London: Valentine Mitchell, in press.
Story of Erika Kounio who was deported in 1943 from Salonika to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she worked for two years as a scribe in the Nazi archives.
Fromer, Rebecca Camhi.
The Holocaust Odyssey of Daniel Bennahmias, Sonderkommando. University of Alabama Press, 1993. Rare account of one of the eleven Greeks from the Sonderkommando who survived.
Fromer, Rebecca Camhi.
The House by the Sea: A Portrait of the Holocaust in Greece. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1998. Story of Elia Aelion, the only member of his family from Salonika to survive the Holocaust. Ladino proverbs open each chapter, highlighting the loss of "La Madre de Israel."
Kounio, Chaints Salvator.
I Lived Death. New York: Seaburn Publishing, 1999.
An account of a survivor of Auchwitz, Mauthausen, and Ebensee. Includes many documents on the Holocaust in Greece that have never before been published in English.
They Say Diamonds Don't Burn: The Holocaust Experiences of René Molho of Salonika, Greece. Berkeley: The Judah L. Magnes Museum, 1994.
The story of Rene Molho and his family, who were deported from Salonika in May of 1943.
Nahon, Dr. Marco.
Birkenau, The Camp of Death. University of Alabama Press, 1989.
Personal account of Dr. Nahon, and the tragic deportation of the Jews of Didimotico by the Bulgarians.
Athens-Auschwitz. Athens: Lycabettus Press, 1983.
Personal account of deportation from Athens in March 1944.
Monday, February 18, 2008
With the outbreak of world war two the Greek Jews, including the few remaining Romaniotes families, faced a daunting task of surviving. On 6th April, 1941, the Nazi army invaded Greece. By the end of 1942 the well-known cemetery in Salonika was destroyed. The first transport of Jewish deportees left Salonika on March 1943 for the gas chambers of Auschwitz, followed by further transports at quick intervals from the port city as well as from Didimoticho, Nea Orestias, Naussa and Katerini. At the end of the war nearly 90 per cent of Greek Jewry had been murdered in many cities where prosperous Jewish communities existed. Out of 77,377 Greek Jews, only 10,000 survived the Holocaust.
In 1945 not a single Jew remained in Chios, Crete, Naussa, Katerini and Soufli. When the survivors returned from the concentration camps or from their mountain hiding places, they faced a very different world: their homes were occupied by neighbours, their businesses taken over by strangers. Twenty years after the Holocaust, such former centres of Jewish life as Ioannina numbered fewer than 90 Jews and Rhodes fewer than 40.
Interior of Kahal Kadsh Yasan synagogue, Ioannina in Manhattan.
Ioannina, the centre of Romaniote Jews for over 2,000 years, has experienced the most tragic decline. Although the assimilation into the Sephardic community over years diminished the uniqueness and vibrancy of Romaniote culture, the second world war sealed its fate almost irreversibly. The community in Ioannina numbered 4,000 at the beginning of the twentieth century, mostly poor, conservative Jews engaged in trade and crafts. Immigration for economic reasons depleted their numbers and at the dawning of world war two there were only 1,950 Jews living in the city. Of them, 1860 were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in April, 1944, most never to return. Before the Holocaust there were two synagogues in the city, one (Kehila Kedosha Yashan) inside the Kastro, the fortified part of the city where the Jews lived for centuries, and one outside the Kastro walls. Only Kehila Kedosha Yashan remains. The present community numbers 50, most elderly, and the synagogue is locked, only open for viewing on request.
Today only around 5,000 Jews live in Greece of which 3,500 live in Athens and perhaps 1,000 live in Thessalonica. In central Greece, only Larissa supports a viable little community of some 400 Jews. Jews are only a memory in Thrace and the Peloponnesus. Some Macedonian towns may still have a family or two.
The already largely unknown and much forgotten community of Romaniote Jews is nowadays on the verge of extinction, a dying breed whose collective memory and unique Hellenistic traditions are soon to be lost to the vicissitudes of history.
In Salonika, during the Byzantine era there were at least several hundred Romaniotes families who, despite continuous persecutions, traded successfully across the Mediterranean. After Mehmed the Conqueror captured Constantinople in 1453, he moved some of the Romaniotes Jewish families to Constantinople so as to repopulate his capital. There they continued practicing not only their religious customs and traditions but also their trade and commercial acumen.
Still, during the Ottoman times, the Jews of Salonika, including the Romaniotes families, lived under the relatively tolerant rule of the Caliphate in Constantinople and benefited from the relative independence and special concessions obtained from Constantinople. The Jews of Salonika were entrusted with the responsibility of manufacturing the uniforms for the janissary infantry corps, and this turned the city into one of the principal producers and exporters of cloth in the Mediterranean.
At the same time, Salonika's Jews were able to gain special tax treatment from the Ottoman Empire. Many of their taxes were abolished and the community itself was in charge of collecting and handing over an agreed sum to the authorities. These concessions allowed the wealthy Romaniote and Sephardic families to become an important player in the regional economy of the Ottoman Balkans. Many of their economic and trade interests extended from Salonika along the Danube River even reaching present-day Vidin and Calafat.
After the 1492 edict of Isabela and Ferdinand that banished Jewish presence from the Iberian Peninsula, thousands of Sephardic Jewish families made their way to Salonika. In less than 30 years, more than half of its inhabitants were Jewish and along the way Salonika became one of the most important trading ports in the Mediterranean Sea.
Around the same time, many Ashkenazim Jews made their way to Salonika from Hungary, France, Italy and Germany, fleeing persecutions. Successive waves of Ashkenazim continued to arrive in the Ottoman Empire throughout the 15th century. The Ashkenazim had not much in common with their Romaniote coreligionists, whom they found already established in Thessalonica. They sought neither to assimilate them nor to mix with them, but formed their own separate community and continued to follow and observe their own traditions, language and style of dress.
This mix became even more complex and diversified as the large numbers of Sephardic Jewish immigrants arrived with their own customs, Spanish language, characteristic lifestyle, and a new sense of Sephardic pride and assertiveness. It was not long before Ladino triumphed over Greek, Provencal, Italian and Yiddish in the marketplaces, workshops, and synagogues. The Romaniotes welcomed the Sephardic and for a time, the two communities co-existed in relative harmony. Over a number of generations, however, the more educated and sophisticated Sephardic dominated the Romaniotes, and for the most part, dictated the religious and liturgical rites along with other customs.
As the communities of the Ashkenazim and Sephardic were constantly expanding by new arrivals and gradually overshadowing that of the Romaniotes, the Greek Jews receded into a minority status as their numbers dropped to a mere 30 families. Interesting to note though is that where other Jews such as Romaniote, Italian, French and Ashkenazim were absorbed into their culture, this did not take place in the Jewish community of Ioannina. In fact, the reverse happened: the Sephardic were absorbed into the Romaniote culture.
In less than 20 years since the arrival of Sephardic Jews to Salonika, the Romaniotes Jews were turned into a subservient minority. This development did not sit well with the Romaniotes families who had been relocated to Istanbul in 1453 where they were more numerous and more aggressive in defending their interests.
As the Salonika Jews had experienced relative non-interference in their local affairs from the Ottoman Empire capital, the Romaniotes Jews from Istanbul proved powerless in their struggle against the larger and more organised Sephardic community of Salonika. While many of their unique customs and traditions remained, the Romaniotes were dramatically and irreversibly influenced by the Sephardic and nowadays many Romaniotes Jews consider themselves or have become fully Sephardic. Moreover, today the only Romaniote synagogues are those in Ioannina and Chalkis in Greece, the Zakynthos Synagogue in Tel Aviv and the Kehila Kedosha Janina on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the only Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.
Who are the Romaniotes Jews? Although some consider them an obscure branch of Judaism, a minority assimilated by another larger one, Romaniotes Jews represent the first and oldest continuous Jewish presence in Europe going back for more than 2,000 years. Their legend involves the Roman Empire, slave ships, threatening storms and the beautiful coast of ancient Greece. After the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem around 70 AD, many Jews were sent to Rome on a slave ship when a storm sank their ship in the Ionian Sea, close to the city of Ioannina in the region of Epirus. Those who survived the wreck were so lured in by the Ioannina's beautiful landscape that they decided to stay. Another legend places Jewish communities in Greece as far as back as 300 BC, after Alexander the Great conquered Judea and seems to be confirmed by a historical reference to a Greek (Romaniote) Jew found in an inscription, dated c300-250 BCE found in Oropos, a small coastal town between Athens and Boeotia, and refers to him as "Moschos, son of Moschion the Jew" who may have been a slave. Regardless of the legends, the Jews of the Roman Empire who stayed in Greece developed over the last 2,000 years unique ethnic, religious and cultural customs that are quite different from the other two major Jewish groups, the Ashkenazim and the Sephardic.
They came into contact with the local Greek civilisation, language and customs and created their own separate and distinct cultural space in which they maintained their religious traditions. Slowly over time, they incorporated many elements of the Greek language into their religious celebrations, thus creating a new Greco-Judaic dialect, a variety of the Greek language called Yevanic combining words and phrases from Hebrew and Turkish. This dialect was evident in the so-called Minhag - Romania, the traditional Jewish prayers that were recited and chanted in Greek, but written with Hebrew letters. This Romaniote language is a purely spoken one as there was no literature written in Romaniote. Today, unfortunately the language is only spoken by the older generation and soon it will be forgotten and known only second-hand.
The term Romaniote used to identify the Greek Jews was coined somewhere between the 4th and 10th centuries. Greek Christians living in the Eastern Roman Empire called themselves Romanoi, and the Jews started calling themselves Romaniote to distinguish themselves from the local Christians but also to identify themselves as citizens of the Roman Empire. The word "Romaniote" is actually a Hellenised Latin term for Greece, or "second Rome".
The influence of the Greek civilisation has also been particularly evident in Jewish art, clothes and synagogue architecture. For example, the Romaniote synagogues had a typical construction, although not all followed tradition. The synagogue proper was laid out east to west with the ark (receptacle containing the Torah) on the east wall and the bimah (the reading platform) on the west wall. Seating was along this east-west axis with the benches in the men's section facing each other. The mehitza (women's section) ran along three sides of the balcony facing the ark, and had its own entrance. This interior is in the Romaniote layout style thus leaving a large interior aisle necessary for the elaborate carrying of the Torah Scrolls inherent in the Romaniote liturgy.
Although the Ioannina community was the largest and most representative of the Romaniote heritage, many Jews were also to be found in other parts of Greece as well. According to the list of cities from the book of I Maccabees (probably dating to the year 142 BC), as well as a similar list transmitted by the Jewish historian Philo, it appears that Jews resided in Sparta, Delos, Sicyon, Samos, Rhodes, Kos, Gortynia, Crete, Cnidus, Aegina, Thessaly, Boeotia, Macedonia, Aetonia, Attica, Argos, Corinth, as well as in Cyprus. When Saint Paul visited Greece, during the first century, he found well-established Jewish communities in Thessalonica, Veroia, Athens, Corinth and other towns. Josephus relates that the emperor Vespasian sent 6,000 youths from Palestine to work for Nero's ambitious project to cut across the Corinth canal.
Benyamin De Tudella, the famous 12th century Jewish traveller, states in his diary that he found Jewish communities in Corfu, Arta, Amfilochia, Patras, Lepanto (Nafpaktos), Corinth, Thebes, Chalkis, Thessaloniki, Drama, Lesbos or Mytilini, Chios, Samos and Rhodes. He found the largest community in Thebes, where there were 2,000 Jews, while in Salonika there were only 500. They ranged between 20 and 400 in other towns. They were engaged mostly in cloth dyeing, weaving and the making of silk garments. These Jewish communities in Greece which have spread to all parts of the country, served as stepping-stones from which the Jews moved on to settle in other parts of the Balkans, including the present-day territories of Bulgaria, Albania, Macedonia, and Romania. This migration of Romaniotes Jews across the Balkans continued over time and it is worth mentioning here that in 1904, around 500 out of a total population of 4,000 Romaniotes Jews from Ioannina emigrated to Bucharest.
The presence of Romaniotes Jews in Romania is also closely linked to the history of Vlachs or Arumanians, although historically hard to attest at this time. Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Thessaly in 1173, describes the Vlachs as living in the mountains and coming down from them to attack the Greeks. In relation with the Byzantine Empire, he added: "No Emperor can conquer them." It is interesting to note that Benjamin of Tudela did not describe them as a separate ethnic group, but as a group of rebels, who may have had Jewish origins. To quote him, " ... the nation called Wallachians live in those mountains. They are as swift as hinds, and they sweep down from the mountains to despoil and ravage the land of Greece. No man can go up and do battle against them, and no king can rule over them. They do not hold fast to the faith of the Nazarenes, but give themselves Jewish names. Some people say that they are Jews, and, in fact, they call the Jews their brethren, and when they meet with them, though they rob them, they refrain from killing them as they kill the Greeks. They are altogether lawless."
It is imaginable that some of the Vlachs from the Greek territories were actually Jewish and given that Tudela's observations took place at the end of the 12th century, these Vlachs must have been Romaniotes Jews. It's also well understood and historically attested that many Greek Vlachs at some point later did emigrate to the south of the present-day territory of Romania. It would be highly likely then that a small community of Romaniotes Jews had lived and practiced their faith in Romania as well. Unfortunately, there are very few, if any, traces left of their presence in Romania.