Greek mayor rejects Holocaust Memorial; Star of David persecuted again
Posted by Abravanel, the Blog στο 16/05/2015
By now you’ll have probably heard that the Municipality of Kavala, a medium sized city in the northern part of Greece, rejected a Holocaust Memorial which was to be unveiled in 3 days time. The Mayor was frank: the Star of David was unfit for the public because it is the sign of the Jewish religion. This candid confession might appear surprising for the average western reader who is used to a less overt antisemitism, but it is normal in Greece which is the most antisemitic non-Muslim country in the world and a modern nazi party is currently the 3rd strongest in the greek parliament. This article aims to provide a concise explanation to what happened, why it happened and what lessons we’re to learn; each segment can be read independently and if it seems long jump to the 3rd segment where all the substance lies.
THE JEWS IN KAVALA BEFORE WW2:
Kavala home to a Jewish community since the biblical era, although the real boom was with the arrival of Jews fleeing Spain in 1492. They thrived and became an essential part of the economic and cultural life with prominent rabbis and western-style schools; roughly speaking they lived in harmony with Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims. When Kavala became greek in 1913 the Jews quickly accepted the new state and incorporated the greek language in the curriculum, while the State granted civil liberties and a considerable degree of autonomy. The defeat of Greece in the greco-turkish war in 1923 led to an influx of Asia Minor Christian Greeks and the change of the demography led to a worsening of living conditions and rise of antisemitism. Central was the blood libel in 1930 when a Jew was accused of murdering a christian child, Jewish shops smashed and a pogrom only narrowly averted. Still, the dictatorial regime of Metaxas in 1936 squashed the antisemitic groups and in 1940 Jews flocked to join the Greek army in numbers never before seen.
THE HOLOCAUST IN KAVALA AND JEWS AFTER THE WAR
Kavala during WW2 was occupied by Bulgaria which was allied to Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. Bulgaria planned an ambitious plan of ethnic cleansing which would force part of the local greek population to self-declare bulgarian, another part to emigrate and those who denied to be exterminated. The Jews were considered Greek and the Greek Jews themselves refused to self-declare as «Bulgarians». This led to Bulgarians enforcing Nuremberg-style antisemitic laws and eventually rounding them up and handing them over to the Germans to be exterminated in german death camps. It should be noted that Bulgaria refused to hand over the Bulgarian Jews and it has garnered international acclaim for their saviour, for more information click on dr.Hagouel’s work here.
So the Jews of Kavala were murdered by the Germans because they were Jews and the Bulgaria helped them because she considered them Greek.
The totality of the Jews of Kavala were exterminated and only a handful survived. In the ’70s the last Jews either died or left for the bigger communities of Athens and Salonica. Nominally the community exists to take care of the cemetery and the property which still controls. The community has also made several gifts to the city by donating buildings, schools and indicative are events like president Victor Venouziou donating 300kgs of food for the needy Christians of the city.
THE HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MONUMENT
Jews are not considered «real Greeks» by a large part of the Greek Christians and the Holocaust is not seen as part of the greek suffering during WW2; for many decades, as late as 2006, it was not even mentioned in the schools. The city of Kavala was no exception and despite systematic efforts by the surviving Jews of Kavala, the city refused to commemorate the murder of their families. In 2004 when the last survivors died a decision was made to erect some kind of monument; at the time the decision was highly controversial and accusations were flung about the secret agenda of the Jewz. In 2014 the Municipality finally condescended to erecting a simple plaque which was to be paid by the Jews themselves of course. The text was vetted by the municipality beforehand and it included the biblical verse «Remember and not forget» and beneath a Star of David «The Municipality of Kavala and its citizens in memory of their 1484 compatriots which were arrested on March, 4rd 1943 deported and exterminated in the death camps by the Nazis and their allies».
Three days before the ceremony, while invitations were sent and descendants of Kavaliot Jews were coming from Israel and the States, the mayor of Kavala Dimitra Tsanaka decided to cancel the ceremony. The reason was simple: the monument was not pleasing aesthetically and in specific the Star of David was deemed problematic because it is a sign of the Jewish religion. She also added that public display of Jewish symbols ensures vandalism. The Mayor telephoned the Central Board of the Jewish Communities (KIS) and asked for its removal as a requisite to accepting a Holocaust Memorial. The KIS vehemently rejected the proposal and made a furious announcement, denouncing the Mayor as insulting both of the Jewish religion and the memory of the Holocaust victims.
Indicative is the fact that she accused the former mayor Kostis Simitzis, which objected to her actions, of being a stooge of the Jews. «The Central Jewish Board told me the same things. What is your relation to them ?» were her exact words, which play fertile ground to the conspiracy theories which Greeks are so fond of.
Although the mayor alluded to external pressure, she did not specify their origins. A prime example would be people like rabid pro-Palestinian Christos Melidis, who considers the monument as an afront to Gaza victims. His mixture of antisemitism, antizionism, anti-islamic, anti-german, anti-turkish a good example of the populism which pervades greek politicians from all the parts of the political spectrum. Still, one should not forget that the Mayor was elected under the conservative Nea Dimokratia which is infiltrated by traditional far-Right extremists and bona fide cannot be considered a typical western conservative party but a populist nationalistic one.
For the casual reader it might seem incongruous to be pro-Palestinian and anti-Islamic but in real-life-greece Palestine and Israel are code names for hating Jews and hating Islam. Under this premise one can understand better the reactions of known antisemitic politicians like Voridis and Georgiadis which supported the monument and condemned the mayor actions: we do not like Jews but we like a rich Israel which can fight Muslims for our sake. Why create problems with a small monument when no Jews exist in the city, as to make real concessions?
Similarly hypocritical appear the protests of some leftist organizations which engage regularly in Holocaust-relativism and were indifferent to instances of antisemitism in the city. It is not so long ago when the progressive leftist area attacked the Star of David in Larisa’s synagogue or defaced Holocaust monuments in cities like Thessaloniki.
Still not all protests are politically motivated. Professor Vasilis Ritzaleos organized the event and leads now the protests in a Facebook page. University professors like Angelos Palikidis, prominent citizens like Kyriakos Lykourinos, politicians like Michalis Lichounas have expressed their sharp opposition and are the moral backbone of the city. Also the Secretary of Religious Affairs Kalantzis made a clear statement which leaves me totally satisfied as far as the Greek Government is concerned; hopefully he’ll repeat it when members of his own party defile a monument. Many more expressed their outrage in the social media and many plan to stage a more massive protest.
What will happen?
Well, on Sunday a protest will be staged. It is unknown whether the Mayor will back down but my guess is that she will. The incident has turned international, (even the American Jewish Congress blasted them) and her candid admission that she does not like seeing symbols of the Jewish religion is too much, even for greek antisemitic standards.
The plaque will be erected, probably broken within a few months and then regularly defaced every time the tension in the Middle East rises.
And the Jews of Kavala who died as Jews and as Greeks will remain an anonymous paragraph to be inserted in the next tourist guide which will say of the multi-cultural heritage and how tolerant the city is. Perhaps if the Jews are stupid enough, they will give more money and buy some event which will show of how good the modern citizens of Kavala are. Who knows? If Venouziou throws more money and more food they will even express sincere dismay in antisemitic graffiti appearing on the walls around the city.