Error404 on Democracy :Greece’s modern slavery: lessons from Manolada

Blood strawberries from Nea Manolada, Greece

April 24, 2013


As Europe’s far right raises its head, the more violent things become. Some 30 migrant workers were injured in a shooting on a strawberry farm in Nea Manolada, Greece, after requesting salaries that had not been paid. Thanks to @ritorikaxalikia for the heads-up and the poster below. 

Writes the BBC:  ”The Council of Europe – the main European human rights watchdog – issued a report this week detailing abuse against migrants in Greece. The report warned of a growing wave of racist violence, stating that “democracy is at risk”. It highlighted the role of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.”

Kuvankaappaus 2013-4-26 kello 13.17.03

  1. PS voter – temporary resident on April 24, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    I don’t know that well the circumstances during the shooting, but of course I condemn it, unless it has been justified self defence. I hope that the shooting gets thoroughly examined and guilty persons properly punished.

    I hope that we will never see as bad situation and tensions that are now at Greece. And I don’t think the situation will ever get as bad in Finland. However, if Finland had as huge flow of illegal immigrants and at the same time economic collapse and mass unemployment as Greece has, I cannot be sure how bad the situation would get. However, I am pretty sure that there would be more tensions than now. Of course, even during times like that, shooting of workers/immigrants/anybody is not acceptable.

    I think the best way to avoid that kind of development is to take care of Finnish economy, stop supporting current unsustainable currency union, stop giving development aid which with loaned money and by keeping the amount of new immigrants at levels that is sustainable. It is not good for immigrants, nor Finns that we let in so many new immigrants that we cannot properly take care of them.

    unless it has been justified self defence.[???? huh???]

    You mean it’s quite normal for people to be kept on a farm working and not be paid for one year and for the foreman to carry guns for ‘self-defence’ and then to shoot at these workers if they dare to demand their salaries? I think you should give some serious consideration to that comment of yours!

    I think the best way to avoid that kind of development is to take care of Finnish economy, stop supporting current unsustainable currency union, stop giving development aid which with loaned money and by keeping the amount of new immigrants at levels that is sustainable. It is not good for immigrants, nor Finns that we let in so many new immigrants that we cannot properly take care of them.

    Withdrawal from the currency union would be a disaster for Finland. Other EU countries would not allow Finland to adopt an ‘a la carte’ approach to European trade and treaty obligations, picking the bits that are beneficial and failing on obligations that involve costs. The legal ramifications would be massive and complicated, and you’d have to pay lawyers a fortune to extricate Finland from the mess of re-denominated contracts. Even after that, there would be no willingness to allow Finland to benefit from EEA-EFTA accession, and the likelihood is that Finland would be treated as a third non-European country in this respect (i.e. paying tariffs), making trade with European partners particularly difficult and more expensive for Finns. If Finland wanted to devalue its ‘new’ currency to improve exports (mostly to Germany and Sweden and Russia) that would make goods coming into Finland (€41 billion) from the EU and elsewhere also more expensive too, such as the raw materials and electrical components that form the bulk of it’s €45 billion export trade, not to mention foodstuffs, petrol, cars, etc. Withdrawal itself would take at least two years and probably much longer for full ratification and that period would bring enormous uncertainty and probably a massive slowdown in international and internal investments. Finland would almost certainly immediately enter a recession that would last at least 4 years, by which time, the economic problems in Europe as a whole will almost certainly have abated, providing the uncertainty over Finland’s withrdawal didn’t in itself cause uncertainty for the EURO. The next problem would be the exit of multinational companies from Finland, which would further undermine growth and add to unemployment queues. Could Finland survive? Of course. And the potential is there to benefit, but that benefit would come after an extremely painful period and would rely on Finland expanding exports into developing countries like China and India. As Finland’s current import/export partners are mainly EU, Russia and US, that would require a completely different orientation for Finnish companies – success would not be guaranteed, especially as these countries are now growing extremely fast through internal investment and growth.

    Development aid is low by international standards as it is, but it also goes a long way to helping to diminish global inequalities that drive economic migration in the first place. I agree that the level of immigration should be sustainable, but that government cannot import workers/future workers and then not be willing to invest in their integration.

    • You cannot withdraw from the currency union and remain a free-trade partner within the EU. No country would be allowed to cause some much instability and be allowed to benefit from existing EFTA and EEA agreements. They would all have to be renegotiated, but this time bilaterally with each EU country, assuming that a way out of the EURO has already been negotiated with uninamity of all 27 EU states (extremely unlikely). Cyprus may already have left had this been possible, given that Russia was dangling significant sweeteners in providing it’s own bailout package to Cyprus.

      Sweden is committed to joining the euro and more than likely will join in the next decade. Their exchange rate is fixed at ±2.25% of the EUR, and the currency is allowed to float freely. They got the opt-out (through the negotiable ERM-II mechanism) for joining the EURO when they joined the EU in 1994.

      Once you adopt the EURO there is no current legal way to leave the EURO without also leaving the EU (article 50 TEU). So, you would have to get all the other EU countries to agree to change the current treaties. If this was done to provide Finland with all the benefits (free trade) and none of the costs (EU budget contributions) of EU membership, it is a non-starter. The instability that would emerge from withdrawal would be enough for other countries to actually demand compensation, by way of strict tariff agreements, i.e. there would be no free trade! Finland needs the EU, but the EU could live easily without Finland.

    • on April 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm

      Thanks for the clarification, wasn’t aware all that.

Greece’s modern slavery: lessons from Manolada

A shooting in a small agricultural town in the Peloponese demonstrates the stark dangers of the anti-immigration rhetoric gaining ground in Greece.

A migrant worker at Manolada's strawberry fields, photographed in 2008.
A migrant worker at Manolada’s strawberry fields, photographed in 2008. Photograph: Getty Images

On Tuesday 16 April, Commissioner Nils Muižnieks of the Council of Europe, made the following announcement: “The commissioner is seriously concerned by the increase in racist and other hate crimes in Greece, which primarily targets migrants and poses a serious threat to the rule of law and democracy”, it said. “The Greek authorities [need] to be highly vigilant and use all available means to combat all forms of hate speech and hate crime and to end impunity for these crimes”, including imposing “effective penalties or prohibition, if necessary” on political groups advocating hate crimes, “including parties such as the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn”.

The Greek government, responding with its usual reality-denial, issued an announcement, that could be summed up with in this phrase:

Racist attitudes remain a marginal phenomenon in Greek society … Its culture of hospitality and openness remains strong and vivid.

Unfortunately for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his minister of citizen protection Nikos Dendias, reality insists on being all around us, and what transpired in a small agrictultural town in the Peloponese only two days later stands testament to that. The following account was given, according to the Greek anti-racism organisation UARFT, by Liedou, a Bangladeshi worker at the strawberry plantations of Manolada in the Peloponnese. There, three modern cotton-plantation-style enforcers, fired upon 200 immigrant workers with shotguns and a pistol, when they demanded six months of unpaid wages. Liedou told UARFT:

We were told we would be paid at one o’clock. Then they told us we should come by later, at five and then finally they told us to go as another group would work and not us. Then three guys [Liedou has named the perpetrators] started shooting straight at us, injuring about 20.

The shocking video of the aftermath leaves no doubt as to what transpired.

The three foremen fled the scene but were arrested this morning, while the owner of the farm and a fifth person that provided them with shelter for a night were arrested yesterday.

Manolada has been in the center of such controversies before. In 2008, two journalists from the daily newspaper Eleftherotypia broke the story when they visited the area to investigate a strike the workers had staged over inhumane working conditions. Dina Daskalopoulou, who investigated along with Makis Nodaros, told the New Statesman:

I went there initially to investigate allegations of inhumane working conditions. When I visited the strawberry fields, and started talking to the immigrant workers about how much they worked, how much money were they getting etc. I realised these people were in fact victims of trafficking. Asking them the standard questions Amnesty International suggests, they fulfilled nine out of ten criteria that classified them as victims of trafficking.

When the owners picked up on our presence and what we were doing, they ganged up around us, started pushing us and yelling at us. I didn’t go in prepared for that, and we paid for it as immediately after I started receiving menacing phone calls, my car was followed and my colleague was threatened as well. I had to go to a nearby town and meet my contacts there in order to investigate. When the report was published, there was much controversy. I was called “an enemy of the Greeks”, an “anti-Christian” and much more.

The police, despite having full knowledge of the incidents there on, did nothing. No district attorney took action,  nothing, even when I was getting anonymous calls telling me “2000 euros are enough to have you killed around here”.

Daskalopoulou explained that the plantation owners later paid local newspapers to run articles against them, in order to defame them. They can afford that, as their strawberries are a valuable and exportable good, with 70 per cent of it leaving the country for markets abroad. Efforts to boycott these operations are already in place, under the name Blood Strawberries (#bloodstrawberries on Twitter).

“Ancient and modern Greece have much in common. Like slaves for instance”, a humorous tweet went a few hours after the incident hit the news. But there is nothing funny about this story. What we are witnessing in Greece is the annihilation of workers and human rights, all finding justification in the hate speech the Golden Dawn and senior members of the government, like the aforementioned Samaras and Dendias, unleash on a regular basis and the promise of ever-elusive “growth”.

Dendias, whose ministry has failed to tackle the problem despite knowing full well what is going on after the public beating of an Egyptian immigrant in the middle of the town, released the following statement: “We can’t tolerate hundreds, or even maybe thousands of people, being taken advantage of financially in our democracy, or allow for them to live under inhumane conditions. Even more so, they’re attempted murder.”

But we all know his promises are empty, and frankly, they come too late. The farmers of Manolada, praised many a times for their entrepreneurial spirit from government and media alike, have enjoyed this impunity for years. Nodaros’ report speaks of shacks in which the workers are forced to live and pay rent for to their bosses, illegal supermarkets among them selling expired products at two and three times their price, and a shocking tolerance from the authorities who have done nothing to stop this despite the 150 plus cases on file against them. Does it make much difference that the ministry promised that none of the immigrants, most of them without green cards, wouldn’t be deported? The mechanism that allows for this exploitation will simply replace them with other hands, in some other farm, maybe somewhere else in Greece. Even if they get legal papers, they will still face the danger of being beaten in the streets, knowing full well the Greek police won’t do anything for them.

Political parties have condemned the attack in its aftermath. Even the Golden Dawn, albeit with a twist: they spoke against the owners who hired immigrants instead of Greeks. Not mentioning of course that those “illegal immigrants”, those “invaders” as they often call them, were paid five euros per day for their work (when they were actually paid) to be exploited, tortured and shot at. Some might say that the Golden Dawn has nothing to do with the incident, and they might be right. Not directly. But as the party fans the flames of hate, casting immigrants as second-rate humans, and the Greek state tolerates it, we will see Manoladas everywhere. We’ll get to see their vision of Greeks and immigrants being paid scraps for hard manual labour come true. And soon, not just immigrants being shot at.

Greek Jews get sudden boost in neo-Nazi fight

More than 2,500 people, many of them non-Jews, participate in a march to mark 70 years since the deportation of the Jews of Thessaloniki. (Michael Thaidigsmann/ WJC via JTA)

THESSALONIKI, Greece (JTA) — Antonis Samaras stood in the pale morning light coming through the stained glass windows of the only Thessaloniki synagogue to survive World War II and vowed, “Never again.”

For Greek Jews marking the 70th anniversary of the destruction of this city’s historic Jewish community, the Greek prime minister’s words were long awaited. So was his presence — the first time a sitting Greek premier had set foot in a synagogue in 101 years.

Golden Dawn Says Papoulias “Traitor”

Golden DawnAfter he denounced Fascism, Greek President Karolos Papoulias – who fought Nazis in World War II – was accused by the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party that adores Hitler of being a traitor and politician who has sold out his country.

In his New Year’s Day message to the nation, the 83-year-old president attacked Golden Dawn, claiming it was hard to believe that Greeks would accept neo-Nazis since they had fought against them during World War II.

“Personally, I refuse to accept that fascist-inspired phenomena suit a nation such as the Greek people, who gave thousands of dead to the European challenge to free itself from Nazism,” he said. He has been one of the few political leaders to speak out against Golden Dawn as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has said almost nothing about the rising party that is challenging the base of his New Democracy Conservatives.

Golden Dawn’s founder and leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos did not attend the President’s traditional meeting with all Greece’s political parties, claiming he denies any interaction with those “responsible for the international vilification of the country and the leveling of the Greek people”.

He responded to Papoulias by saying Fascism is not to blame for “the current daily robbery of this country by foreign usurpers and plutocrats,” referring to Greece’s international lenders who have demanded harsh austerity measures in return. (Those to blame are) the traitors and sold-out politicians,” he claimed. “A noble class to which the president evidently belongs.”

Papoulias’ spokesperson declined to comment. The Nazis committed many atrocities against Greeks during WWII, including massacres at a number of villages where they killed men, women and children. Golden Dawn includes Hitler’s Mein Kampf in its literature but has denied being Nazi-lovers.

(Source: ibtimes)

“We have to be very careful to remember the message of ‘Never again,’ ” Samaras said at the March 17 commemoration. “The fight against neo-Nazis is more important than ever.”

Greek Jews had the past on their minds on the weekend of March 15 to 17, as they gathered to remember the beginning of the Nazi deportation of Thessaloniki’s Jews to Auschwitz. But they were also mindful of the present, in particular the sudden rise of Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party that erupted onto the political scene last year, coming from nowhere to grab 18 seats in the Greek Parliament.

Greece’s government, besieged by an economic crisis and unwilling to confront an emerging populist party, has said little about Golden Dawn’s violent activities against immigrants and anti-Semitic outbursts. But Samaras’ presence in Thessaloniki, and his vow to be “completely intolerant to violence and racism,” appeared to mark a shift.

Jewish cultures in Greece

Most Jews in Greece were Sephardim, but Greece is also the home of the unique Romaniote culture. Besides the Sephardim and the Romaniotes, small Ashkenazi communities have existed as well, in Thessaloniki and elsewhere.


The Romaniotes are a Jewish population who have lived in the territory of today’s Greece for more than 2000 years. Their historic language was Yevanic, a dialect of the Greek language. Yevanic has no surviving speakers recorded; today’s Greek Romaniotes speak Greek. Large communities were located in Ioannina, Thebes, Chalcis, Corfu, Arta, Corinth and on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes, and Cyprus, among others. The Romaniotes are historically distinct from the Sephardim, some of whom settled in Greece after the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain. All but a small number of the Romaniotes of Ioannina, the largest remaining Romaniote community not assimilated into Sephardic culture, were killed in the Holocaust. Ioannina today has 35 living Romaniotes.[6]

Sephardim in Greece

The majority of the Jews in Greece are Sephardim whose ancestors had left Spain, Portugal and Italy. They largely settled in cities such as Thessaloniki, the city which was to be named “Mother of Israel” in the years to come. The traditional language of Greek Sephardim was Judeo Espaniol, and, until the Holocaust, the community “was a unique blend of Ottoman, Balkan and Hispanic influences”,[7] well known for its level of education. The Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture calls Thessaloniki’s Sephardic community “indisputably one of the most important ones in the world”.[1]

History of Judaism in Greece

Interior of the Kahal Shalom Synagogue in Rhodes

The first recorded mention of Judaism in Greece dates from 300-250 Before Common Era (BCE) on the island of Rhodes. In the 2nd century BCE, Hyrcanus, a leader in the Jewish community of Athens, was honoured by the raising of a statue in the agora.[8]

According to Josephus (Contra Apionem, I, 176-183), an even earlier mention of a Hellenized Jew by a Greek writer was to be found in the work “De Somno” (not extant) by the Greek historian Clearchus of Soli. Here Clearchus describes the meeting between Aristotle (who lived in the 4th century BCE) and a Jew in Asia Minor, who was fluent in Greek language and thought:

“‘Well’, said Aristotle, […] ‘the man was a Jew of Coele Syria (modern Lebanon). These Jews were derived from the Indian philosophers, and were called by the Indians Kalani. Now this man, who entertained a large circle of friends and was on his way from the interior to the coast, not only spoke Greek but had the soul of a Greek. During my stay in Asia, he visited the same places as I did, and came to converse with me and some other scholars, to test our learning. But as one who had been intimate with many cultivated persons, it was rather he who imparted to us something of his own.'”[9]

Archaeologists have discovered ancient synagogues in Greece, including the Synagogue in the Agora of Athens and the Delos Synagogue, dating to the 2nd century BCE.

Greek Jews played an important role in Greek history, from the early History of Christianity, through the Byzantine Empire and Ottoman Greece, until the tragic near-destruction of the community after Greece fell to Nazi Germany in World War II.

Hellenistic period

The empire of Alexander the Great conquered the former Kingdom of Judah in 332 BCE, defeating the Persian empire which had held the territory since Cyrus‘ conquest of the Babylonians. After Alexander’s death, the Wars of the Diadochi led to the territory changing rulership rapidly as Alexander’s successors fought over control over the Persian territories. The region eventually came to be controlled by the Ptolemaic dynasty, and the area became increasingly Hellenistic. The Jews of Alexandria created a “unique fusion of Greek and Jewish culture”,[10] while the Jews of Jerusalem were divided between conservative and pro-Hellene factions. Along with the influence of this Hellenistic fusion on the Jews who had found themselves part of a Greek empire, Armstrong argues that the turbulence of the period between the death of Alexander and the 2nd century BCE led to a resurgence of Jewish messianism,[10] which would inspire revolutionary sentiment when Jerusalem became part of the Roman Empire.

Roman Greece

Rembrandt‘s Paul of Tarsus.

Greece fell to the Roman Empire in 146 BCE. The Jews living in Roman Greece had a different experience than those of Judaea Province. The New Testament describes Greek Jews as a separate community from the Jews of Judaea, and the Jews of Greece did not participate in the First Jewish-Roman War or later conflicts. The Jews of Thessaloniki, speaking a dialect of Greek, and living a Hellenized existence, were joined by a new Jewish colony in the 1st century CE. The Jews of Thessaloniki “enjoyed wide autonomy” in Roman times.[1]

Originally a persecutor of the early Jewish Christians until his conversion on the Road to Damascus, Paul of Tarsus, himself a Hellenized Jew from Tarsus, part of the post-Alexander the Great Greek Seleucid Empire, was instrumental in the founding of many Christian churches throughout Rome, including Asia Minor and Greece. Paul’s second missionary journey included proselytizing at Thessaloniki’s synagogue until driven out of the city by its Jewish community.

Byzantine Empire

Byzantine Emperor Alexander the Great is offered Great gold and silver by the Rabbis

After the Collapse of the Western Roman Empire, elements of Roman civilisation continued on in the Byzantine Empire. The Jews of Greece began to come under increasing attention from Byzantium’s leadership in Constantinople. Some Byzantine emperors were anxious to exploit the wealth of the Jews of Greece, and imposed special taxes on them, while others attempted forced conversions to Christianity. The latter pressure met with little success, as it was resisted by both the Jewish community and by the Greek Christian synods.[1]

The first settlement of Ashkenazi Jews in Greece occurred in 1376, heralding an Ashkenazi immigration from Hungary and Germany to avoid the persecution of Jews throughout the 15th century. Jewish immigrants from France and Venice also arrived in Greece, and created new Jewish communities in Thessaloniki.[1]

The Ottoman Empire

The White Tower of Thessaloniki, marking the southeastern edge of Jewish quarter of Thessaloniki, “the Mother of Israel”.

Greece was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from the mid-15th century, until the conclusion of first the Greek War of Independence ending in 1832, and then the First Balkan War in 1913. During this period, the centre of Jewish life in the Balkans was Thessaloniki. The Sephardim of Thessaloniki were the exclusive tailors for the Ottoman Janissaries, and enjoyed economic prosperity through commercial trading in the Balkans.

After their expulsion from Spain, between fifteen and twenty thousand more Sephardim settled in Thessaloniki. According to the Jewish Virtual Library: “Greece became a haven of religious tolerance for Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition and other persecution in Europe. The Ottomans welcomed the Jews because they improved the economy. Jews occupied administrative posts and played an important role in intellectual and commercial life throughout the empire.” [11] These immigrants established the city’s first printing press, and the city became known as a centre for commerce and learning.[1] The exile of other Jewish communities swelled the city’s Jewish population, until Jews were the majority population in 1519.

The middle of the 19th century, however, brought a change to Greek Jewish life. The Janissaries had been destroyed in 1826, and traditional commercial routes were being encroached upon by the Great Powers of Europe. The Sephardic population of Thessaloniki had risen to between twenty-five to thirty thousand members, leading to scarcity of resources, fires and hygiene problems. The end of the century saw great improvements, as the mercantile leadership of the Sephardic community, particularly the Allatini family, took advantage of new trade opportunities with the rest of Europe. According to historian Misha Glenny, Thessaloniki was the only city in the Empire where some Jews “employed violence against the Christian population as a means of consolidating their political and economic power”,[12] as traders from the Jewish population closed their doors to traders from the Greek and Slav populations and physically intimidated their rivals. With the importation of modern anti-Semitism with immigrants from the West later in the century, moreover, some of Thessaloniki’s Jews soon became the target of Greek and Armenian pogroms. Thessaloniki’s Jewish community comprised more than half of the city’s population by the early 1900s. As a result of the Jewish influence on the city, many non-Jewish inhabitants of Thessaloniki spoke Judeo Espaniol, the language of the Sephardic Jews, and the city virtually shut down on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, given it sometimes the name of ‘Little Jerusalem”.[13] Many sea-travellers reaching the port of Thessaloniki humorously recalled that Thessaloniki was a city where people worked only four days while resting three consecutive days. This was due to the three major religions the population adhered to and their respective resting days: Friday for Muslims, Saturday for Jews and Sunday for Christians.[citation needed]

Independent Greece

Ottoman rule of Thessaloniki ended in 1912, as Greek soldiers entered the city in the last days of the First Balkan War. Thessaloniki’s status had not been decided by the Balkan Alliance before the war, and Glenny writes that some amongst the city’s majority Jewish population at first hoped that the city might be controlled by Bulgaria.[14] Bulgarian control would keep the city at the forefront of a national trade network, while Greek control might affect, for those of certain social classes and across ethnic groups, Thessaloniki’s position as the destination of Balkan village trading. After liberation, however, the Greek government won the support of the city’s Jewish community,[2] and Greece under Eleftherios Venizelos was one of the first countries to accept the Balfour Declaration, 1917.[8]

In 1934, a large number of Jews from Thessaloniki made aliyah to Mandatory Palestine, settling in Tel Aviv and Haifa. Those who could not get past British immigration restrictions simply came on tourist visas and disappeared into Tel Aviv’s Greek community. Among them were some 500 dockworkers and their families, who settled in Haifa to work at its newly-constructed port.[15]

World War II and the Holocaust

A woman weeps during the deportation of the Jews of Ioannina on March 25, 1944. The deportation was enforced by the German army. Almost all of the people deported were murdered on or shortly after April 11, 1944, when the train carrying them reached Auschwitz-Birkenau.[16][17]

Population of Thessaloniki[18]

Year Total Population Jewish Population Jewish Percentage
1842 70,000 36,000 51%
1870 90,000 50,000 56%
1882/84 85,000 48,000 56%
1902 126,000 62,000 49%
1913 157,889 61,439 39%
1943 53,000
2000 363,987 1,400 0.3%

During World War II, Greece was conquered by Nazi Germany and occupied by the Axis powers. 12,898 Greek Jews fought in the Greek army, one of the best-known amongst them being Colonel Mordechai Frizis, in a force which first successfully repelled the Italian Army, but was later overwhelmed by German forces.[8] Some 60,000-70,000 Greek Jews, especially those in the areas occupied by Nazi Germany and Bulgaria, or at least 81% of the country’s Jewish population, were murdered. Thousands of Jews were saved by the Greek Orthodox Church hierarchy due to a proclamation by Archbishop Damaskinos, instructing the church to issue false baptismal certificates to all Jews who requested them.[19] Although the Germans [20] deported a great number of Greek Jews, others were successfully hidden by their Greek neighbours.

On July 11, 1942, the Jews of Thessaloniki were rounded up in preparation for slave labour. The community paid a fee of 2.5 billion drachmas for their freedom, the effect of which was only to delay deportation until the following March. 46,091 people were sent to Auschwitz, and most of their sixty synagogues and schools were destroyed. Only 1,950 survived.[2][18] Many survivors emigrated to Israel and the United States.[2] Today the Jewish population of Thessaloniki numbers roughly 1,000, and maintains two synagogues.[18]

The Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture writes “One cannot forget the repeated initiatives of the head of the Metropolitan See of Thessaloniki, Gennadios, against the deportations, and most of all, the official letter of protest signed in Athens on March 23, 1943, by Archbishop Damaskinos, along with 27 prominent leaders of cultural, academic and professional organizations. The document, written in a very sharp language, refers to unbreakable bonds between Christian Orthodox and Jews, identifying them jointly as Greeks, without differentiation. It is noteworthy that such a document is unique in the whole of occupied Europe, in character, content and purpose”.[2]

In Corfu after the fall of Italian fascism in 1943, the Nazis took control of the island. Corfu’s mayor at the time, Kollas, was a known collaborator and various anti-semitic laws were passed by the Nazis that now formed the occupation government of the island.[19] In early June 1944, while the Allies bombed Corfu as a diversion from the landing in Normandy, the Gestapo rounded up the Jews of the city, temporarily incarcerated them at the old fort (Palaio Frourio) and on the 10th of June sent them to Auschwitz where very few survived.[19][21] However, approximately two hundred out of a total population of 1,900 managed to flee.[22] Many among the local populace at the time provided shelter and refuge to those 200 Jews that managed to escape the Nazis.[19] As well, a prominent section of the old town is to this day called Evraiki (Εβραική) meaning Jewish suburb in recognition of the Jewish contribution and continued presence in Corfu city. An active Synagogue (Συναγωγή) is an integral part of Evraiki today with about 65 members.[22]

The 275 Jews of the island of Zakynthos, however, survived the Holocaust. When the island’s mayor, Carrer, was presented with the German order to hand over a list of Jews, Bishop Chrysostomos returned to the Germans with a list of two names; his and the mayor’s. The island’s population hid every member of the Jewish community. In 1947, a large number of the Jews of Zakynthos made aliyah to Palestine (later Israel), while others moved to Athens.[23] When the island was almost levelled by the great earthquake of 1953, the first relief came from Israel, with a message that read “The Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten their Mayor or their beloved Bishop and what they did for us.”[3]

The city of Volos, which was in the Italian zone of occupation, had a Jewish population of 882, and many Thessaloniki Jews fleeing the Nazis sought sanctuary there. By March 1944, more than 1,000 Jews lived there. In September 1943, when the Nazis took over, head rabbi Pessah worked with Archbishop Ioakim and the EAM resistance movement to find sanctuary for the Jews in Pelion. Due to their efforts, 74% of the city’s Jews were saved. Of the more than 1,000 Jews, only 130 were deported to Auschwitz. The Jewish community remained in Volos after the war, but a series of earthquakes in 1955-57 forced many of the remaining Jews to leave, with most immigrating to Israel or the United States. Only 100 Jews remain in Volos today.[19]

Antonis Samaras is the first Greek prime minister to visit a synagogue in more than a century. (Michael Thaidigsmann/ WJC via JTA)

Antonis Samaras is the first Greek prime minister to visit a synagogue in more than a century. (Michael Thaidigsmann/ WJC via JTA)

“For me, this was something that I saw now for the first time,” said David Saltiel, president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. “It was the first time for a prime minister in a synagogue, and also for him to be so clear that he wanted this to symbolize his tough decision not to permit racism and anti-Semitism.”

Greece’s small Jewish community has watched in horror as Golden Dawn has grown in popularity over the past year, garnering more and more public support. Greek Jews had hoped there would be some pushback from the country’s leaders in the face of attacks on immigrants by black-shirted gangs and anti-Semitic statements by party leaders. But there has been little.

Samaras, heading a shaky coalition government, put all his efforts into dealing with Greece’s massive economic crisis; the unpopular austerity measures he forced through left him very little political capital for taking on the populist party. And the weary Greek public dismissed rising support for Golden Dawn as just a protest vote, turning a blind eye to its violence and ideology of hate.

But the commemoration weekend in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, with an area population of nearly 800,000, included several signs that change is in the air.

A public march from its Liberty Square, where the Jews were first rounded up, to the Old Railway Station, where 50,000 were put on cattle cars to Auschwitz, was organized by the city’s dynamic and controversial new mayor, Yiannis Boutaris. It was the first such display by the Jewish community since the end of the war.

Golden Dawn mocked the prime minister: ‘Little Antonis put on his kippa and went to the synagogue’

An unorthodox, chain-smoking, straight-talking businessman with a stud in one ear, Boutaris, 71, has shaken up Thessaloniki since becoming mayor in 2011. One of his main thrusts has been to revive Thessaloniki’s cosmopolitan history, embracing a city important to Turks for its Ottoman past and to Jews, who once were a majority, as a center of Sephardi and Ladino culture.

“For the first time, we have a mayor who dares to say we are all one family,” Saltiel said. “For the first time, we have a mayor who is not afraid.”

About 2,500 people took part in the march, according to police estimates, and most of them were not Jewish. They walked the two miles in silence until they reached the station before scattering flowers on the rails. Keeping watch were busloads of riot police blocking off the route and military snipers on rooftops.

“This is the least we can do to honor the citizens of Thessaloniki who lost their lives in the concentration camps,” said Boutaris, who is also working for further restitution of Jewish property.

Much of the shift in attitude can be attributed to sustained pressure from Jewish communities in Greece and abroad, and to Samaras’ desire to maintain relations with Israel that have flourished in the past three years.

“The prime minister realizes the danger Golden Dawn poses to Greece and used this as the perfect opportunity to send the message to Greek society,” said Victor Eliezer, a member of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and a frequent political commentator. “He also wants to take Greece out of the group of European nations that are allowing neo-Nazis to flourish.”

Busloads of riot police and military snipers protected those commemorating the Holocaust

Standing at the podium in the synagogue, Samaras was surrounded by the heads of the World Jewish Congress, the European Jewish Congress, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and the ambassadors of Israel and the United States.

“In our talks with [Samaras], we made it very clear that the rise of extremist, neo-Nazi forces in Greece is not acceptable, and must be fought vigorously by all democrats,” said WJC President Ronald Lauder, who urged Samaras to enact tough legislation against Golden Dawn and even outlaw the party.

Golden Dawn responded to the Thessaloniki commemorations by branding them “part of an international Zionist plan to destroy Greece and re-establish the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans.’ ”

“Little Antonis put on his kippa and went to the synagogue . . . to worship Zionist capital,” said a statement on the party website, which also suggested that Lauder “deal with the problematic behavior of the State of Israel and not ‘worry’ about the rise of the Golden Dawn.”

For Greek Jews, who now number about 5,000, perhaps the most heartening incident came from outside the commemorations.

On the evening of the march, soccer player Giorgos Katidis celebrated his winning goal by ripping off his shirt and giving the crowd a Nazi salute. Condemnation was swift — the Greek soccer federation handed Katidis a life ban from representing the national team. In the past, Greek society has simply shrugged off similar acts or displays of Nazi symbolism.

“This is why we say something is changing,” Saltiel said. “There is no longer a tolerance for such Nazi styles. And this is very good for Greece.”

What did Venizelos just say about the Jews?

At first I wasn’t sure whether to believe them or not. A few tweets claiming that Evangelos Venizelos, the current Pasok leader and former Greek finance minister, said that the only names he’d seen on a controversial catalogue – the so-called Lagarde list – of about 2,000 Greeks with large bank accounts in a Swiss bank were “Jewish”.

But the tweets grew in number and a quick search of the Greek press proved that they were correct. I was shocked. The leader of the second largest party supporting Antonis Samaras’ coalition government had specifically singled out Jews when discussing a list of suspected tax evaders.

Venizelos was speaking to parliament’s institutions and transparency committee on October 11. In a five-hour testimony to MPs, the Pasok leader said that he had received the list on a flash drive from the then head of the Financial and Economic Crimes Unit (SDOE), Yianns Diotis, in August 2011.

Diotis had also printed out some pages from the data, continued Venizelos, who insists that he never opened the actual file.

He looked at the print outs and got the “unpleasant impression that three of the names were of Greek Jewish origin” (Ta Nea, 12 Oct 2012).

(His exact words will be revealed when the video of his testimony is uploaded to parliament’s website, which should happen early this week.)Venizelos has yet to comment on why he felt the need to single out Jews when talking about tax evasion and financial crime. His official statement to the transparency committee makes no mention of Jews, or Jewish names for that matter.

Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos attempts to justify his failure to use the information on the Lagarde list on Mega TV news, 3 Oct 2012

As a citizen of Thessaloniki, he should know better. The city, once known as the “Mother of Israel”, lost 94% of its Jewish population in the Nazi Holocaust. For centuries, Jews formed the largest ethnoreligious group in the city.

One Greek Jewish citizen has written of his anger at Venizelos’ comments.

“Since the crisis began, I wondered who would be the first idiot to heap the blame on us, the Jews,” asked Jean-Jose Cohen, in an open letter to the Pasok leader.

“As a Greek citizen and voter, I would ask you not to transfer your personal political problems to us. For me, it’s clear what you’re trying to do. To distract the public from your own political problems by throwing the blame on us, the Jews.

“No, Mr Venizelos. The crisis is not our fault. Most people (based on the last election) believes that the blame for the crisis rests with your party which brought us the debts of Andreas Papandreou and the chaos of ‘Little’ George Papandreou.”

Cohen pointed out that had Greek ministers used the list in the same way as their French and German counterparts, who bought in billions to state coffers, there would be no need to cut pensions and salaries now.

Greek prime minister in shul visit vows crackdown on neo-Nazis

He concluded by saying Venizelos should resign following the Lagarde list controversy and not try to “scapegoat the Jews”.

Already, obscurantist rightwing blogs have started to feed off Venizelos’ comments. In a post that is adorned with a disgusting antisemitic image, one blog, Hellas-Orthodoxy, demands that names of the three “Jews” be published, claiming there is a media conspiracy to keep them secret. It also absurdly claims that a Syriza MP, Zoe Konstantopoulou, was particularly angry over the remarks because she is of Jewish ancestry herself.

Accusing politicians on the left of being Jews and fake converts to Christianity is common among Greek rightwing circles.

Greek premier pledges anti-Nazi laws

AEK Athens footballer Giorgos Katidis gives a Nazi salute after scoring last weekend (Photo: PA)AEK Athens footballer Giorgos Katidis gives a Nazi salute after scoring last weekend (Photo: PA)

The prime minister of Greece, Antonis Samaras, promised Jewish leaders who gathered last weekend in Saloniki to mark the 70th year since the start of deportations to the death camps from the city, that his government would enact new laws to proscribe neo-Nazi parties.

Only 1,500 Jews live in Saloniki today but the port city in northern Greece has a Jewish history going back 2,200 years, and for hundreds of years it was the location of the largest Jewish community in Europe. Over 90 per cent of the 53,000 Jews who lived in Saloniki on the eve of the Second World War were murdered by the Germans in the death camps, and the events this weekend were the first-ever large-scale commemoration of the deportations to take place in Greece.

Mr Samaras made the first visit to a synagogue by a serving Greek prime minister when he attended a memorial service at Saloniki’s Monastiriotes Synagogue. He said at the service that “Greek society has been infected by voices that seek to resurrect racism” and that “neo-Nazis have reappeared once again in Europe”. Despite promising his government would “continue to legislate towards complete intolerance of violence and racism,” Mr Samaras refrained from directly referring to the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party which won seven per cent of votes in the last Greek election.

Many of those involved in the commemoration events acknowledged, however, that they were taking place partly in reaction to the rise of Golden Dawn.

Black-shirted Golden Dawn members (Photo: PA)Black-shirted Golden Dawn members (Photo: PA)

It was unclear what the new laws being proposed by Mr Samaras would look like. The leaders of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), who held an executive committee meeting in Saloniki in a display of support for Greece’s Jews, demanded a law barring Holocaust-denying parties such as Golden Dawn from running in the elections. But it did not seem that Mr Samaras was prepared to go that far. In a closed meeting with WJC representatives and leaders of the local Jewish community, Mr Samaras made more detailed commitments to push through legislation against Golden Dawn, but one of the meeting’s participants said: “I am still not convinced he has the political willpower for an effective law to be enacted.”

In his speech at the memorial service, WJC President Ronald Lauder was the only speaker to mention Golden Dawn by name, saying that “they think like Nazis, they speak like Nazis, they act like Nazis. They are Nazis.”

Golden Dawn has so far pursued a mainly anti-immigrant agenda and president of the Jewish community in Saloniki, David Saltiel, said this week that “they are not at present physically attacking Jews, but we must see every attack on immigrants as if it is an attack on Jews and demand the government does everything to prevent them”.

I DO agree with all the above,just one objection!!!,Golden Dawgs ARE NOT AGAINST the Jewish people,they are against any immigrant with or without legal documents justifying their stay in Greece. ThEre was NOT EVEN A SINGLE JEW PERSON KILLED IN GREECE DURING THE PAST YEARS while there were quite many IMMIGRANTS  killed

That alone makes the Greek goverrnment,a Jewish Nazi government

Its not contradictive at all,usually the edges tend to incline.

Greek Neo-Nazi Spokesman Cleared in Attack on Student

Too Complicated to solve isn’t it.

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