|History of Greek Jewish Community
The Italians were somewhat unwilling
parties to the ideological aspects of German Nazi militarism, and their
lack of enthusiasm was reflected in their attitude toward the Jews in the
Italian occupation zone. In some areas the Italians did make life uncomfortable
for the Jews, as in Rhodes where Mario de Vecchi di Val Cismona was governor
from 1936 to 1942. In contrast to di Val Cismona, however, was Admiral
Campione, who replaced di Val Cismona in 1942 and who made life once again
bearable for the Rhodian Jews. In Thessaloniki the Italian consul provided
many Jews with Italian citizenship papers, granted on the most flimsy bases,
enabling them to escape to Athens. After 8 September 1943, when Italy surrendered
to the Allies, this was a doubtful blessing, for then these ‘Italian’ Jews
found themselves enemy aliens in German occupied Athens.
The Jews in the Italian occupation zone took virtually no steps
to protect themselves. The general impression was that the Jews of Thessaloniki
simply had been deported and were living somewhere in Cracow; news had
not yet come out as to what had taken place in Auschwitz. Also, many people
thought that the German racial laws had been applied to remove the Judaeo-Spanish
bloc in Thessaloniki, that impediment to the full Hellenization of Thessaloniki
since its incorporation into Greece in 1913. In this view, the Jews of
Thessaloniki were the last reminder of an Ottoman presence in Greece.
In Athens, the Jews were well integrated into the city’s life. There
was no particular characteristic in the form either of dress or speech
distinguishing a Jew from his Christian neighbor, nor was there a single
part of the city which could have been described as being ‘Jewish’. The
Jews of Athens were scattered about the city according to their social
and economic status and were not concentrated into an area about the synagogue.
Integrated and Hellenized as they were, they considered it unthinkable
that the fate, whatever it was, of the Jews of Thessaloniki could befall
Jews of Athens. This attitude prevailed in most of the Jewish communities
in the Italian occupation zone.
On 8 September 1943 the Italians surrendered to the Allied Forces
invading Italy. The Germans, considering this an act of betrayal, promptly
arrested the Italians who were in Greece. At the same time the Nazis set
in motion the last phase of the ‘action’ against the Jews of Greece. The
cities with the largest numbers of Jews were Corfu (Kerkyra), Zante (Zakynthos),
Chalkis, Patras, Ioannina, Preveza, Volos, Larissa, Trikala, Rhodes, Kos,
and, of course, Athens. The Jewish communities on the islands were already
isolated. In most of the mainland towns there were Jewish quarters, not
the consequence of a ghetto policy, but the natural tendency by the Jews
throughout the centuries to consolidate their lives near a synagogue.