Saturday, 22 October 2005

Thessaloniki's Jews, collaboration and anti-semitism

Thessaloniki did have a thriving Jewish community - before the Second World War, the majority of the city's population were Jewish - but first, 30,000 Muslims were expelled and 100,000 Orthodox Christians settled in the Greek-Turkish population exchange, then 45,000 Jews were transported to Auschwitz in the Second World War. 96% of the Jews in Thessaloniki were murdered; there are only a thousand or so in the city today.

It was during the Second World War, when the Nazis occupied Greece, that the Jewish community was killed. The Hellenic Macedonia site simply says that "they" - the Nazis - did it. Maya Jaggi notes that 6,000 Jewish children were adopted and saved by Christians or joined the Partisans.

Mark Mazower and Andrew Apostolou both acknowledge those heroic acts. Although I haven't been able to access Mazower's work myself, I know that he goes on to concede that some of his earlier work was inaccurate; he accepts that some Greek Christians, not Nazis, destroyed Thessaloniki's Jewish graveyard and that a minority of Greek Christians collaborated with the Nazis.

Apostolou goes further still; he states that Thessaloniki's Greek Christians were "shockingly indifferent or even sympathetic to the ghettoization of the city's Jews and even to their deportation" and agrees with Rabbi Michael Molho that the heroic acts emphasised by others "can be counted on one's fingers".

Andrew Apostolou points out that even if this were not, as it is, necessarily, historically significant, it is significant in contemporary society, as some accounts of the Holocaust have been "'edited' to remove or tone down passages dealing with collaboration" and "a vicious anti-Zionism with strong anti-Semitic undertones" has become popular, citing the poll that found that 42% of Greeks believe that American Jews were warned beforehand about the 9/11 attacks.

Apostolou rightly distinguishes between the Israeli state and the Nazi state, a distinction that he accuses Mazower of collapsing; however, he reduces the "violence of dispossession" that Mazower sees in Israel and Palestine in 1948 to "wartime dislocation" and, in light of Mazower's apparently over-zealous criticism of the Israeli state's current policy and practice, he goes so far as to say that "the ghost haunting" Mazower's work is "a very old hatred" - "one that sealed the fate of Salonica's Jews".

It is possible, then, that, in seeking to correct the sycophantic reviews of Greek history, Andrew Apostolou goes too far in constructing an ideal Other in Israel and in criticising those who might be expected to be his allies; hypocritically, he moves from damning Mazower's identification of the Israeli state with the Nazi state to identifying Mazower with collaborators.

This brief missive was inspired when I saw that someone found this site searching for "Thessaloniki Jews" on MSN. The words appeared relatively independently in my human rights archaeology research proposal, but I had read some articles about Thessaloniki's history and talked with friends and colleagues about it and was shocked by what I had learned.

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