Friday, September 5, 2008

Special Report: Anti-Semitism in Greece

The following article was written to me by a member of the Jewish community in Greece.

Anti-Semitism in Greece
By Anonymous
The history of the Greek Jews is quite interesting if not fascinating. They are the so-called Romaniotes and they’re mostly of Sephardic ancestry. Thessaloniki was the city which had the biggest Jewish population. Samuel Usque described it as “Mother of Israel”. By the year 1902 62,000 Jews were living in the city, 50% of the total population. On July 11, 1942 the Jews of Thessaloniki were rounded up in preparation for deportation to the German camps. Only 1,950 returned. Today, Thessaloniki is a city of only a bit less than 1,000 Jews, 0.2% of the total population. Only one synagogue, out of 60, is left. It is a pity for this community, to lose one of its significant minority. Jews never had a problem among other groups in Greece. Every day was a smooth experience.

Greek Jews never encountered anything remotely as sinister as Northern European anti- Semitism. However, the 20th century had witnessed the rise of anti-Semitism among Greeks. I should point out that this was an insignificant minority.

During the WWII the orthodox church and population tried to hide and save the Jews. Zakynthos saved all of its Jewish residents. Carrer, the mayor and Bishop Chrysostomos handed a list to the German Nazis which only contained two names, their own. In year 2008 some things have changed. There have been some incidents worth telling here.

The synagogue in Thessaloniki has attracted fascists and Neo-Nazis who draw swastikas on the streets. The Jewish cemetery in Yanena was attacked and Jewish graves were destroyed.
There are no reports of physical or verbal assaults on Jews.

Personally, I have never been judged for my religion. The problem I usually face is that I have to stand up for my religion when I hear anti-semitic jokes from people who obviously don’t know my religion. And they are usually shocked when I tell them.
Mose Altsech, a Greek Jew who teaches in Wisconsin at Edgewood College, says “To be Greek means to be white, ethnic Greek, and orthodox. They have difficulty understand how someone who’s not Christian is a truly Greek. My family has been in Greece since the 15th century but they still don’t consider us Greeks."

Negative attitudes towards Israel are cleared and shared by the majority.
  • In mainstream media as well. They claim that Israel is engaged in a genocide against the Palestinians.
  • Former Greek President Christos Sartzetakis once made the famous statement: "Greeks are a nation without brethren." Yet there are frequent references to "our Palestinian brothers."
  • Mikis Theodorakis, a very famous Greek musician, composer and former minister, stated “Jews are the root of all evil”.
  • There’s a ritual of “burning the Juda” during the Greek Easter, but many locals call it “burning of the Jew”.
I mentioned these because they are the most significant incidents and comments made by widely accepted and respected individuals.

We have to try and keep the anti-Semitic population a minority. The Jews of Greece are keeping a low profile and try to avoid any conflict. I’m not, in any case, saying that Greek population is anti-Semitic in a whole. Antisemitism is found here as its found in most countries. And that is something which needs to change.

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