jump to navigation

The Shame of Modern Greece January 22, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Yunanistan.
Tags: , , , ,

The country suffers from a lack of moral leadership denouncing the embarrassment of anti-Semitism.

The repeat arson attacks on a synagogue in Greece demonstrate that Turkey is not the only Mediterranean democracy cursed with anti-Semitism. Arsonists have attacked the Etz Hayyim synagogue in Chania, on the Greek island of Crete, twice this year. The fires on Jan. 5 and 17 have inflicted substantial damage on a structure that was only restored in 1999 after lying derelict since the Holocaust. The attempts to destroy Crete’s only synagogue follow a spate of vandalism of Jewish graves in Ioannina in northwestern Greece.

[apos1] Etz HayyimAfter the attacks: The two fires this month have inflicted substantial damage on the Etz Hayyim synagogue in Chania, which had been restored only eleven years earlier.

Compounding these acts of violence is Greek society’s shameful indifference to anti-Semitism. This was amply demonstrated during the arson incidents in Crete. Non-Greeks played an admirable role in saving the synagogue. An Albanian immigrant was the first to spot the fire in the early hours of Jan. 5. The Albanian caretaker of the synagogue and a Moroccan also rendered vital assistance. Nikos Stavroulakis, the director of the synagogue and the man behind its restoration, has written about the “the lack of ‘locals'” on the scene after the first attack—all the more shocking given that these ‘locals’ would have lost their homes and businesses had the fire spread.

[apos2] Etz Hayyim

Those who sleep through the night while a synagogue burns in their own town are a metaphor for Greece’s attitude to anti-Semitism. The fundamental problem with Greek anti-Semitism is not that it is rampant. It is that in a country of 11 million with just 5,000 Jews, few Greeks care to resist it. Greece suffers from a lack of moral, religious and social leadership denouncing the embarrassment of anti-Semitism, be it vandalism or the now banal comparison of Israel with the Nazis in the national media.

The indifference of many Greeks is unsurprising. The official version of the history ensures that few know of the Jewish component of Greece’s past. Many Greeks do not know that their second largest city, Salonika, had a Jewish majority for most of its modern history. Instead of the Holocaust being treated as a moment for moral and historical reflection, it is portrayed as an opportunity for national self-congratulation because of the rescue of a small number of Greek Jews. The genuine heroism of Greek Christians who saved Greek Jews from the Nazis in such places as Zakynthos and Athens is used to obscure the collaboration and indifference that helped condemn tens of thousands of Greek Jews to death in Salonika and northern Greece.

This ignorance has been reinforced by historians, Greek and foreign alike, who have largely skated over collaboration during the Holocaust. Like the Greek government, historians prefer to emphasize the rescue of Jews rather than prompt an examination of the often shameful and ambiguous stance that too many Greeks took during the Second World War. The leaders of Greece’s barely 5,000 strong Jewish community take a similar historical approach for obvious political reasons. Over sixty years after the Holocaust, myths prevail over scholarship.

Most Greek politicians are complicit, failing to take anti-Semitism seriously as a local problem. With the admirable exception of former conservative prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis, who has vigorously condemned the arson attacks, Greek politicians have responded lethargically to the latest incidents. This is despite the tremendous and commendable efforts of such organizations of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which has sought to educate Greek opinion leaders. The AJC’s efforts have convinced some Greek politicians that their country is diminished by ignoring anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, too many still regard anti-Semitism as a public relations issue that affects Greece’s image abroad, rather a moral question bearing upon its social sanity at home.

Very occasionally, some principled citizens express their disgust, but national figures generally do not bother to support these small local initiatives. In December 2009 hundreds of non-Jews in Ionnina formed a human chain around the Jewish cemetery there to protest its repeated desecration. In Salonika a few young historians have begun to ask questions about the massive theft of Jewish property during the war.

What these handfuls of activists have understood is that anti-Semitism can be as harmful to non-Jews as to Jews. Only a handful of Jews remain in Chania and Ioannina. These are places more of Jewish memory than of community—over 90% of Chania and Ioannina’s Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. The non-Jews in these towns now have to live with the lingering hate and immoral ambivalence that over sixty years ago allowed so many Greek Jews to be taken away to their deaths.



No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: