By Margarita Pournara
Greece lost 86 percent of its Jewish population in World War II, paying a very heavy price in the Holocaust. It took years and a great systematic effort to make the tragic stories of Greece’s Jews known even among Jewish communities in other parts of the world. But these stories are starting to be heard mainly thanks to the efforts of the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens, which has conducted extensive research, educational activities and exhibitions.
In the past few years, the museum has started to shed light on another chapter of the Greek Jews’ history that is little known: the long symbiosis of Greek Orthodox Christians and Jews and how they joined forces at times of national crisis. Most Greeks, for example, know that thousands of the country’s Jews fought on the Pindos mountains in World War I, but very few know how important their contribution was to the National Resistance in WWII, how hundreds of Greek Jews refused to pin the yellow star on their outer garments and instead took up arms against the Nazis.
The Jewish Museum is currently hosting an exhibition on this chapter of history. Titled “Synagonistis: Greek Jews in the National Resistance” and running through next April, the exhibition pays homage to the 650 men and women who decided to become outlaws not just in order to save their own lives but also in the service of freedom.
The research behind the exhibition was conducted by historian Iasonas Handrinos, who uncovered fascinating new evidence and testimonials.
The majority of the Greek Jews who joined the resistance fought with the National Liberation Front (EAM), the first organization of its kind that tried to draw the world’s attention to the ethnic discrimination being practiced by the occupiers. When the first deportations began in 1943 in Thessaloniki, EAM issued a declaration about the “death trains.” EAM was also instrumental in helping organize a protection network for Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, among them the rabbi of Athens, who was being pressured by the Nazis to hand over a list of the names of the members of his community.
Most of the Jews who joined the resistance were well educated and spoke foreign languages. Today we know that at least 63 were killed while fighting with the rebels and that another 76 were summarily executed.
The exhibition is accompanied by a small but comprehensive catalog as well as a documentary featuring real testimonies. It runs to April 25, 2014.