The former helped to develop an early post—World War I diplomatic position for Salonika Jewry, and during the interwar years there was increased economic activity between Austria and Germany with Jewish customers especially the tobacco entrepreneurs of Thrace and Macedonia as part of their developing commerce with Greece. In Salonika, there were even negotiations to purchase German ovens for the local baking of Passover matzoth. A few even came for extended careers, most notably Rabbi Zvi Koretz who became chief rabbi of Salonika; see Chapter 4 and travel agents such as Jacques Albala.
Occasionally, Greece was seen as a vocational oasis and an area of opportunity in a Europe increasingly closed to Jewish migration. In both these cases, the hospitality of Greece and her Jewish communities was a welcome and rare haven in the storm-tossed s. T h r e e In Victory and Defeat From the initial invasion to occupation by the Axis, Greece fought for nearly seven months. In the first stages November through February , she defeated Italy; in turn the German invasion of April overran the mainland in three weeks, and by the end of May the Axis had completed the conquest of Crete.
Though unwanted, it was not unexpected. Both Allied and Axis plans targeted Greece as a theater of operations or occupation.
By the time Metaxas conferred with the king and the British and formulated his reply to the ultimatum—a resounding oxi no! Outnumbering the Greek forces by nearly four to one and supported by tanks and aircraft though most were grounded owing to inclement weather , the Italians were overconfident as they descended the Pindus range and approached the rain-swollen rivers. The battle at the Kalamas River was a prelude to subsequent Italian defeats. It was followed by a series of stunning Greek victories and the stabilization of the front inside Albania through the winter of — Mordekhai Frizis, a Jew from Chalkis and the hero 39 40 In Victory and Defeat of that battle, was promoted posthumously to colonel.
Greece mobilized a total of , men to repel the Italian invasion; Jewish community figures record the mobilization of 12, Jews. Whereas the total population of Jews in Greece was about 75,, this estimate should be treated with caution. The Greek response to the Italian invasion resulted in a shift of timing and momentum of the Nazi war plans. Indeed U. Tens of thousands of Italians were taken prisoner; more than a quarter of Albania was occupied, and the whole Italian position in Albania was threatened. The Allies in turn were elated.
The stalled spring offensive, which Mussolini personally supervised, was only part of his general worry: British victories in North Africa, East Africa, and Ethiopia signaled the end of any future Italian threat. The Greek army in Albania refused to abandon its gains in the face of the German threat, and the German move through Yugoslavia in April effectively cut off the Greek army, which was then encircled by the combined Axis forces.
After some initial hard fighting, General Tsolakoglou recognized the inevitable and negotiated a surrender of his forces to the Germans. The Greek army was unique in that it was not interned by the Germans.
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Without transport, thousands of demobilized soldiers walked hundreds of miles to their homes, now under German occupation. A number of young Salonikans who had immigrated to Palestine in the s were among the volunteers from the Yishuv in the BEF. Company built an airfield near Larisa in mid April.
During the battle of Crete, the Pioneer units who unloaded ammunition ships in Suda Bay during the continuous German air raids were cited honorably for their service. In the chaos of the British retreat, only a few of the Palestinian units were evacuated, and these thanks to the intervention of the attached British leaders who recognized the danger of Nazi animosity to Jews. Others advised them to escape and some made it to Crete. A handful succeeded in returning to their families in Salonika and later either joined the andartiko or suffered during the subsequent occupation and deportation.
A special force of Palestinian irregulars, trained as sappers by Nicholas Hammond, had engaged in operations on the Greek mainland as far north as Salonika, and later saw service in Crete.
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At the end of the war, the survivors of these last two units formed the nucleus of the group that would later establish the wellknown Israeli secret service, called the Mossad. The fates of the national treasury and the Greek cabinet however have only recently come to light.
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Minos Levi, one of the two directors for the Greek National Bank, was responsible for organizing and supervising removal of the gold supply of the Greek government to prevent its capture by the Germans. It should be noted that tragically neither the Jews of Crete nor those of Kos would be evacuated during the brief periods of the British occupation, and only a cursory mention of the Cretan community, more as a curiosity, would be noted in the memoirs of Palestinian Jewish volunteers. Graecia capta et rapta Victorious German units rolled into Salonika on April 9, and into Athens on April 27 amid the sympathetic cheers of some Greeks and the silent gazes of others.
German nationals were absent; they had been, for the most part, interned along with those, including a number of Salonikan Jews, holding Italian passports. Elsewhere the victorious Germans marched over the detritus of the scorched earth the retreating BEF had created just a few days earlier. Soon British POWs would be put to work on repairs, and by July Salonikan Jews would be organized in Todt labor battalions to rebuild communications.
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Some went as far as Athens, others to Crete; only a few succeeded in reaching Egypt. Only one rabbi and his family were allowed to pass on to Palestine, according to Dr. Marco Nahon of Dhidhimotikhon. It seemed that permission to cross into Turkey required the presence of a relative in 43 44 In Victory and Defeat Istanbul. Later, smugglers organized escape routes through Thracian ports in the Bulgarian zone. Arrests included numerous Freemasons among whom were a number of Jews; the entire Jewish community council of Salonika was arrested as well. Rabbi Koretz remained at large, however; he was in Athens seeking support for his community.
The U. MacVeagh presumed that as American Jews had contributed to the fund, Greek Jews were entitled to a percentage of the money. Some of the best line officers thus sat out the war, according to Stefanos Sarafis;23 their plight was compounded by the same policy of exclusion among the new government in exile in Egypt.
There too they were discriminated against for their politics.
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Preconquest politicians were also arrested and found among the hostages taken, the latter sub poena mortis in retaliation for future attacks against Germans. This policy illustrates the importance of the above-mentioned rescue of the Greek cabinet in summer Then the looting—or, to put it more properly, confiscations—began. It was both systematic and individual.
Greek produce—animal, vegetable, and mineral—was seized, both to provision the army and to send back to a Germany desperately short of supplies. Immediately following the conquest of Crete, the German commander promulgated an order forbidding the slaughter of animals. Automobiles and bicycles were requisitioned. Bread, the staple of the Greek population, was in short supply and soon was rationed.
The first to suffer in Greece were the demobilized Greeks and refugee Serbs who had no extended families to protect and feed them. Later it would be interned in Larissa, where more than five hundred died of starvation.
Wounded soldiers were thrown into the streets as the Germans commandeered all the hospitals in the country for their wounded, whose numbers increased as a result of the fierce battle for Crete in May. Needless to say, there were minimal rations if any for the British POWs forced to work, or those wounded or whole in the Corinth holding camp. The Greeks responded in various ways. For example, on May 30, , the German occupation flag on the Acropolis was torn down.
A reward was posted and the perpetrators threatened with execution; a week later, the swastika was torn down a second time. In their memoirs, young Greek Jews recalled their own similar contributions. Eventually this information gathering 45 46 In Victory and Defeat was systematized for the remainder of the occupation, and along with aid to British POWs it was one facet of the urban resistance. The black market phenomenon developed early in the occupation. On the one hand, it sponged up much of the surplus wealth of the country; on the other, it facilitated distribution of otherwise unavailable foodstuffs.
Eventually much of this network was absorbed into the overall resistance movement, where it was systematized, but not until the civilian population had sustained heavy losses from the famine.
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Italians and Germans shot anyone suspected of being involved in the black market; occasionally the famine was used as an excuse to cover execution of starving individuals caught in possession of food for their families. Nazi newspapers reported on these incidents and occasionally mentioned execution of Jews. Systematic debriefing of refugees in Istanbul and Cairo during the war along with postwar Jewish memoirs preserve an accurate record of the declining availability of food and the soaring of prices.
Eventually Germany would make some formal attempts to stabilize the drachma. More important, importation of wheat from Rumania was organized by Hermann Neubacher, whose wife was a Rumanian Greek, and by the last year of the occupation the dearth of food ceased to be a fatal problem. The situation had changed, however, following the summer of Greece was now dismembered and divided among the Axis powers, a policy that was to affect the rhythm of the Holocaust in Greece. Hitler gave Mussolini the bulk of mainland Greece and her islands, reserving for his forces Salonika, its harbor and hinterland, and most of the island of Crete.
A small German force was stationed in eastern Thrace to separate the Bulgarians from the Turks. In Victory and Defeat The fate of the Greeks—Christians and Jews—would differ according to the individual policies of each occupier. Bulgaria immediately absorbed the new territories and, as in World War I, embarked on a program of Bulgarization through introduction of a new administration, new priests, and a new educational system that stressed Bulgarian language and culture. Massacres were not uncommon—the revolt in Drama and Kavalla at the end of September was savagely repressed, resulting in some fifteen thousand Greeks killed—and eventually the German zone was flooded with tens of thousands of refugees.
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According to an ICRC report,40 the workers were sufficiently clothed and adequately fed. But in general the Greek and Jewish population of the Bulgarian zone received significantly smaller rations than the Bulgarians. The situation in the German zone was stabler at first and somewhat milder in comparison to the Bulgarian occupation. The tragedy of the deportations of spring is remembered as a culmination of the 47 48 In Victory and Defeat process of harassment that began only in July with the forced registration of some nine thousand men and their recruitment for labor battalions.
Only a few Jews witnessed the arrival of the Germans in Salonika, even though the enemy entered the town along the harbor promenade that fronted the Jewish business area. They came from the south and turned toward the east in the direction of the end of the trolley line. The motorcycles proceeded very slowly, perhaps five to six kilometers per hour. After the motorcycles marched a huge company of regular infantry. A great fear seized me when I remember this picture. In the space of two—three weeks they invaded Jewish houses and confiscated them for themselves.
This was the beginning of the end for Salonikan Jewry. I try to recall the atmosphere of the invasion day, but I cannot recall specifics surrounding that fear. We knew we were in a period of war, but we did not know that the Jews would be the primary victim. They already knew of the persecutions in Germany and Austria from the many refugees who had arrived in Greece since the late s. The community was shocked by the arrest and imprisonment of its council and leading individuals. Others, such as journalist Barukh Shibi, fled with the retreating British.
Saby Sabbetai Saltiel, a relatively weak-willed individual, was installed as president of the community. No council was appointed to manage local affairs. Indeed, a formal Judenrat was established only in spring after the arrival of Alois Brunner although we shall see that evidence indicates creation of the Judenrat in December As food supplies dwindled, committees were established to supplement the limited resources of a host of communal institutions.