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Professor Pens Book on WWII Greek Jews

Steven Bowman of Judaic Studies looks at the Holocaust through a perspective rarely studied: the Greek Jews.

Date: 11/19/2009
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Steven Bowman, professor of Judaic Studies in McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, has recently published a book, “The Agony of Greek Jews, 1940-1945,” about modern Greek Jewry during World War II.

Steven Bowman.
Steven Bowman researches WWII and has published several books on the topic.

Tell us a little about the book and what you’ve found.

This is the first full length scholarly study based on extensive archival research into the tragic experiences of Greek Jews during WWII. Greek Jewry is central to the story of the Holocaust—it was the center for Sephardi Jewry (Jews exiled from Spain and since the 15th century live primarily in the Balkans), and their wartime story has many unique aspects.

Why did a book of this nature need to be published?

The last large study was published just after the war and our knowledge has greatly increased since then based on archival research. In addition there are daily fewer survivors who witnessed this period.

What are some key findings that resonated with you while researching for the book?

'The Agony of Greek Jews, 1940-1945' is the first scholarly study of the experiences of WWII Greek Jews.

Recently I found a smoking gun that links Hitler directly to the Holocaust. Given the Nazi propensity for secrets, this may be a unique connection. In addition Greek Jews were an important element in the planning and execution of the Sonderkommando revolt in Auschwitz. They also participated in the 1944 Warsaw uprising.

You’ve edited a series in the past about Greek Jews in the Holocaust. What does this book bring to the table that the series didn’t?

The series primarily published survivor memoirs and original reports from the war years. Two additional books are in press. This book is more comprehensive and tries to put all the evidence into a coherent historical narrative

How did you go about researching for this book?

First you organize travel around archives and then you plan leaves for longer periods when you can interview survivors scattered throughout the world. The project began in 1978.

What connection does this piece of history have with today?
WWII is still alive in the memories of participants and survivors and deniers. The material will aid the next generation to learn about the heroism and the victimhood of their ancestors. Also the book should be of use in classes on the Holocaust, and in general on WWII, since Greek Jews and wartime Greece are not part of the normative curriculum in this country. Interest is likely higher in England and Israel where Greece and Greek Jewry are better studied.

What are you working on next?

This is my second book on the war period. The first appeared in 2006 and recounted the role of Jews in the Greek resistance. I return now to my other long term project on a 10th century rewriting of Josephus Flavius’ “Jewish War.” I have translated that lengthy source which is with a publisher. On my forthcoming sabbatical I hope to complete a monograph on The Book of Yosippon.

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