Copyright, 1934, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
A review of the Jewish situation in Greece during the year 5694 brings to light two salient facts: a perceptible aggravation of the economic conditions and an amelioration of political position. The first of these factors is a terrible weight that oppresses Jewish populations. But if the second appears to be favorable, it hardly permits an exaggerated optimism, for it is accompanied by disquieting symptoms for the future.
The economic disaster that is overcoming the Jews began in 1923, when a large number of Greeks from Asia Minor arrived in the country. Having excellent commercial advantages, and protected by the State, which exempted them from taxation for ten years, these refugees took possession little by little of all sorts of economic positions formerly occupied by Jews. This, with the help of the general crisis, hastened the process of pauperization of the Jewish masses.
IMPORTS LIMIT HITS JEWS
The past months saw the situation grow worse. The measures taken by the government to protect the drachma from a greater devaluation include special limitations on the importation of merchandise. This was, in the first place, a blow to Jewish merchants. Furthermore, two new laws affected the commercial activity of the Jews. The first enforced the closing of all business on Sunday. It had only been partially enforced up to this point. The second proclaimed as closed days six Christian religious holidays, aside from Christmas and Easter when the lay-off was obligatory. Finally, an anti-Jewish boycott made its appearance. Although it is not an organized movement, it exists in a latent state, and its effects are visible principally in the country, where anti-Semitism was negligible until now.
The continually growing misery among the Jews was the cause of several tragedies. Never had so many suicides been recorded as in 5694. Unemployment, which already had been a grave problem increased tremendously with the closing of the tobacco workshops. Living conditions, particularly wretched since the great fire of 1918, grew worse. It is a common sight to see long lines of the poverty-stricken come to seek aid at the doors of Jewish institutions.
The participation of the government and the municipalities in relief for Jews was more satisfying this year, but it is still very far from answering the tremendous exigencies of the Jewish masses.
The ascension of the popular party to power marked the beginning of a period of reconciliation and cooperation with the Jews. But the success of the popular party at the last elections was obtained with the support of a large bloc of Jewish votes. This provoked the Venizelistsâ€”the other great political faction of the countryâ€”to constant hostility. The leaders of the opposition at Salonica profited by this to make anti-Semitism an electoral issue. For the first time in the history of the country a “purely Christian list” appeared to combat the “Judaized list” of the governmental faction. It appears that M. Venizelos, leader of the opposition, is opposed to an anti-Jewish policy for his party. He has made several unequivocal declarations on the subject. But his will is certainly over-ridden by the petty local leaders of Venizelism.
Violent press campaigns were directed against the Jews by the journals of the opposition. One of these campaigns utilized the pretext of the establishment of Yom Kippur as a legal holiday, and succeeded in creating such a wave of opinion that the government hastened to annul the decree in question. But the principal cause of the anti-Semitic situation is the already famous problem of the separate Jewish electoral college at Salonica. One of the first acts of the government was to abolish the separate election, against which the Jews had protested. The Venizelists furiously combatted this measure and accused the Jews at the same time of being enemies of the country. On several occasions, members of the government and the Prime Minister himself rose emphatically against such accusations, and eulogized the Jewish citizens.
SERIOUS THREATS MADE
The continual agitation against the Jews sponsored by the organs of the opposition does not fail to cause a certain uneasiness. Rather serious threats have been made. The energetic attitude of the authorities prevents an overflow of invective, and aside from a few anti-Semitic excesses which were quickly suppressed at Salonica and Castoria, there were no serious disorders in 5694. But a large part of public opinion is slowly becoming poisoned. It has even been discovered that German propaganda encourages anti-Semitism in the country. Fortunately, the anti-Jewish organization E. E. E., which was transformed into the National-Socialist party, has been deprived of its power to harm by the government. A change of government, quite improbable at the moment, could put the Jews in a difficult situation. Several Jewish leaders have been trying, unsuccessfully until now, to better the relations between the Venizelists and the Jewish element.
The material wretchedness of Judaism, the development of anti-Semitism in Europe, the developments in Germany, have given the Zionist party a new access of popularity. Almost all of the Zionist leaders, however, have established themselves in Palestine during these last few months, with the result that the movement is leaderless.
Emigration to Palestine has extended considerably. It has broken all records in 5964. The most important aspect of this emigration is the installation of 200 Jewish dock workers from Salonica in the port of Haifa, where they have attained a new position for Jewish labor. Thousands of families desperately await the certificates which will permit their emigration to Palestine, and entire communities are enrolled at the Greek Palestinian office.
The misfortunes that have affected Greek Judaism during the last few years have killed all traces of Jewish cultural progress. Dr. Koretz, the new Grand Rabbi who has just assumed office, has made an effort to change this state of things.
Economic difficulties for the present; political complications for the future. These are the two factors that weigh down Greek Jewry. Nothing thus far offers illumination beyond the dark clouds on the horizon.