Greek Jewry in the Twentieth Century, 1913-1983: Patterns of Jewish Survival in the Greek Provinces before and after the Holocaust

By Joshua Eli Plaut | Go to book overview

3
The Destruction and Rehabilitation of the
Greek-Jewish Communities, 1936–1955

On the Eve of the Holocaust

ISAAC Ashkenazi was a survivor of the Holocaust. He was one of the few lucky Greek Jews who, having somehow survived two years in internment in a Nazi concentration camp, returned in 1945 to his hometown of Didimoticho. Only 43 Jews came back to Didimoticho, while some 960 other Jews from this town perished in Auschwitz and Birkenau. Like most of the 1,750 Greek-Jewish survivors who returned to their family abodes throughout Greece, Isaac Ashkenazi faced harsh realities. Not only had entire Jewish communities been annihilated, but with them disappeared a way of life. But Jewish communities do not disappear so easily. Amid the ruins, Isaac and the Holocaust remnant set out to rebuild their lives and to heal the psychological wounds of war.

Their task was not easy. Jews returning to Didimoticho discovered that one of their synagogues had been destroyed by the Nazis and two community Hebrew schools were occupied by the Greek state. Furthermore, within months after the end of war only 4 out of 75 Jewish houses and 5 of 160 Jewish shops had been restituted in Didimoticho, while 75 shops and 160 houses remained occupied by strangers. Most Holocaust survivors were destitute; an American Joint Distribution Committee report describes the twenty-eight returning Komotini Jews as being “all in need—only one pair of shoes received from UNRRA; rations under subsistence.”1 Physical, economic, and mental impoverishment characterized not only Greek Jews but also the rest of the country. Hal Lehrman, a journalist visiting Greece in 1945, wrote about the misery afflicting the war-stricken country:

Greek Jewry was a convulsed microcosm of the Greek people, with all the
stresses and strains wracking the nation, plus some added refinements. There
is conflict between Right and Left, between deportees and non-deportees,
between Zionists and non-Zionists. Concentration camps massacred the elite

-51-

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