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Forum Reflects upon Holocaust in Greece during WWII
May 11, 2011—No. 31 (202) 785-8430

Forum Reflects upon Holocaust in Greece during WWII

WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) hosted a forum on “The Holocaust in Greece during World War II” presented by AHI Foundation Fellow Dr. Harry Dinella at Hellenic House, April 14, 2011.

Dr. Dinella’s presentation recounted the fate of the Jewish community in Nazi-occupied Greece, which numbered approximately 56,000 in 1940. Fully 87 percent of Greek Jews died during World War II as a result of battle, starvation, forced labor, and persecution by the Germans who ultimately deported and murdered the vast majority of Greek Jews in the extermination camps of Poland. He also explored the roles of the German military, Greek authorities, resistance groups, and prominent local community leaders during this period of history.

“We were pleased to host such an important presentation about this little-known chapter of Greece’s history,” said AHI President Nick Larigakis. “It is important to reflect upon tragic events such as the Holocaust because they serve to remind us of man’s inhumanity to man and hopefully as a deterrent for other such atrocities.”

As part of his lecture, Dr. Dinella provided a historical examination of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki from its late 15th century roots in Greece to its status at the beginning of World War II when the community numbered 55,000 people. The German extermination of this venerable community was realized through systemic persecution that began in earnest in the summer of 1942. It peaked with a series of deportations to Auschwitz beginning in March 1943 under the pretext of relocation to Poland. Approximately 45,000 Greek Jews were sent to the death camps in Poland by the spring and summer of 1943.

Among the well-known figures during the Holocaust in Greece was Chief Rabbi Zvi Korerz who, on the order of the SS, undertook the leadership of the community and the registration of the Thessaloniki Jews in early 1943. Koretz, himself terrorized by the Germans, was compelled to assist them in carrying out their plan to deport the entire community to Poland. Fear of German occupation forces, a fully co-opted local Greek government, and a church leadership that suffered from moral clarity, resulted in little organized resistance to against the German persecution of Greek Jews or the deportation plan. However, local partisan groups made efforts to help Greek Jews who were willing to escape to the countryside. These efforts were in part thwarted by Rabbi Koretz who supported and may even have believed the German subterfuge concerning the community’s resettlement in Krakow, Poland.

According to Dr. Dinella, the Thessaloniki Jews, newly incorporated as citizens of the Greek state in 1913, were still in the process of fully assimilating into Greek society at the beginning of the war. This, coupled with their tradition of community and Jewish community leadership, was very effectively exploited by the Germans to make the deportation of the entire community a virtually self-directed, community-organized effort. The incitement of anti-Semitic sentiments by the German occupation authorities, fear of reprisals by Orthodox Greeks, and a virtually co-opted Greek civil authority predisposed the city’s Greeks to not interfere with the well-armed and ruthless German occupying authority during the perpetration of these crimes against their fellow Greek Jewish citizens.

Dr. Dinella is a former U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer for Greece and former NATO Liaison Officer to the Greek General Staff at the Greek Pentagon on behalf of the Commander in Chief, Southern (NATO) Flank. He is a professor of Joint, Interagency, and Multinational Operations at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Satellite Campus at Ft. Belvoir. He is also an adjunct professor of government at George Mason University.

Dr. Harry DinellaDr. Harry Dinella

The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American think-tank and public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.


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