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Judaic Studies Scholar Launches Book Series
on Greek Jews in the Holocaust

Date: July 26, 2002
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Archive: Reseach News

A University of Cincinnati scholar is helping to shed more light on a little-known aspect of the Holocaust - the experiences of Greek Jews. The Sephardic House and Block Publishing Company recently released the first in a series of books edited by UC Judaic Studies Professor Steven Bowman.

Book cover

Bowman, a faculty member in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, approached the publishing house with the idea for a series. "I realized there just was not that much material available in English, and because of that, it is not integrated into the teaching of the Holocaust or general studies of it," says Bowman, who wrote the introduction for the inaugural volume, "The Holocaust in Salonika: Eyewitness Accounts."

The book includes three accounts written during or shortly after the Holocaust. Scholar Isaac Benmayor, a native of Salonika, translated the works into English. "These are really the only official accounts we have. All the other writings came later," Bowman explains. The trio of voices includes:

  • Yomtov Yacoel, lawyer for the Jewish Community of Salonika who served as a liaison with the Nazi civilian representatives after the Germans seized Greece. He maintained contact with Jewish and Christian political leaders in Athens. In his manuscript, "In the Anteroom to Hell," Yacoel presents the unique perspective of a Jewish leader intimately involved in the negotiations with the Germans. Eventually he was sent to Birkenau, where he died in the gas chambers in 1943. (More details from Yacoel's writing).

  • Physician Isaac Aaron Matarasso. This second piece, originally titled "And Yet Not All of Them Died: The Destruction of Salonika's Greek Jews During the German Occupation," was originally published in Greek in 1948. Its author is a doctor who, although Jewish, avoided being sent to a camp because he was married to a Christian. After the war, he wrote about the Nazis' occupation, which he explains, unfolded in three stages.

  • Salomon Uziel, a Jewish businessman and community volunteer who defended himself against charges that he aided the Germans and profited during the occupation. Uziel was not imprisoned until late in the deportations and then was sent to Bergen-Belsen, a camp that did not have a crematorium or gas chamber. After the war ended and he returned to Salonika, he faced accusations from other members of the Jewish community. Uziel characterizes himself as a volunteer who did what he could to help fellow Jews in a difficult situation. "This is a pamphlet he published privately to clear his name," says Bowman. In 1972, the Jewish community officially recognized that he was not a collaborator.

Bowman says it is generally unknown that Greece was the first country to enjoy a victory over the Axis powers. When the Italians invaded Greece in 1940, the Greeks were able to chase them back into Albania. But the early victory did not last. In spring 1941, Hitler successfully invaded Greece to bail out his hapless ally.

After the occupation by the Nazis, Greek Jews faced a fate similar to the rest of Europe's Jews. The Nazis forced a new structure and reorganization upon the Jewish community that fed into their plans for the "Final Solution." Bowman found the reorganization plan in the Klau Library at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati and includes it as an appendix in the book.

In 1942, persecution of the Jews began in earnest. By March 1943, deportations to concentration camps began. In all, between 45,000-48,000 Greek Jews were sent to Auschwitz, Birkenau, Treblinka and other camps. At war's end, less than 2,000 survived to return to Salonika.

Bowman notes that well over 650 Jewish fighters joined the "andartes" in the Greek Resistance, while thousands of young men and women served in various capacities in the mountains. Many also escaped to take refuge in mountain villages and among Greek friends and business acquaintances. A third group was able to survive because they held Italian citizenship and were protected by the Italian Consulate and left Salonika by military train. "Later in a thrilling joint venture between the Greek Resistance and the Palestinian Hagganah, the latter were among the more than 1,000 Greek Jews who were secretly ferried to safety in Turkey. From there, they were transferred to Palestine," says Bowman.

The importance of the series on Greek Jews is recognized by major Jewish funding organizations in New York. The project has received funding from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Lucius M. Littauer Foundation, the Recanata Foundation and several private donors.

For the next book, Bowman is conducting research at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is serving as the Miles Lerman Fellow, studying the role of Greek Jews in resistance in WWII. From October 2002 to February 2003, he will travel to the University of Haifa, Israel, to investigate more of the history of the Jewish resistance in Greece during World War II.

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