Greece and the Holocaust
Before the war, approximately 70,000 - 80,000 Jews lived in Greece; by the war's end, fewer than 10,000 survived. In 1919, the Jewish population in the city of Ioannina was 3,000. On the eve of the Holocaust, it was 1,950. In 1948, there were 170 living in the city; by 1967, their number had dwindled to 92. Today, less than 35 Jews remain in Ioannina.
The years during World War II were harsh for the Greek Jews. The Germans swept through Yugoslavia in just ten days...and within another month, Greece was taken as well. Greece was diveded into three sectors...Germany took Macedonia, Salonica, part of Thrace and shared Athens with the Italians. The balnace of Thrace and a small part of Macedonia was ceded to Bulgaria. The rest of Greece was under Italian control. In the Italian sector, most Jews were relatively safe. The Bulgarian and German sectors were a different matter. The Bulgarians forced Jews to either renounce their faith or face expulsion. Many chose the latter. It's interesting to note that many Jews in Bulgaria were saved because the Bulgarian government did not want to surrender them to the Germans. On the night of March 3, 1943, 4,200 Jews in the Bulgarian sector were rounded-up and sent to Kavala....then through Bulgaria and Austria, with their final destination, Treblinka.
Between March 15, 1943 and the end of August, 1943, the Germans decimated the Jewish population in their sector, including about 56,000 living in Salonica. From the Baron Hirsch Concentration Camp in Salonica, the railway journey led to Vienna and beyond. The final phase of complete extermination bagan in September of 1943 with the surrender of the Italians. On March 25, 1944 (Greek Independence Day),
the Jews of Athens and the provinces were sent to the Haidari Concentration Camp in Athens...and then by rail car north to Auschwitz. This, of course, included the deportation of the Ioannina Jews. They were sent through Trikkala to Larissa and then north by rail to the same destination. 1,850 Yanniote Jews were seized by the Nazis and deported to Auschwitz...by April 11, most had been sent to the gas chambers.
"The entire story of the almost total destruction of Greek Jewry has not been told", states noted Judeo - Greco historian, Nikos Stavroulakis, "...In the face of doubts, revisionism, and perhaps the cynicism that we have developed in the course of our industrialized century, it can only be said that in 1939 there were over seventy thousand Jews in Greece living in communities that had histories stretching back over two thousand years or whose family memories took them back into the rich brocade of medieval Isalmic Spain. In 1945, just after the end of repatriations, the total Jewish presence in Greece was given as ten thousand. Those who had not returned had died in Poland. In some towns a few Jews either survived the deportations, emerged from hiding or survived even the camps, but they returned to find emptiness".
Despite the fact that more than 85% of Greek Jews were lost during the Holocaust, more than any other Jewish population in Europe, there were many examples of bravery, compassion and moral courage on the part of the Greek Christians...many saved their Greek brothers and sisters. One such remarkable example occurred on the island of Zakynthos where, at great personal risk, the archbishop and mayor refused to identify their Jewish countrymen and saved the entire Jewish population from certain death at the hands of the Nazis.
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