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Leader of Greek Jewry Dead at 77, Was Survivor of Wartime Occupation

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Joseph Lovinger, president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece for 24 years, died of cancer Tuesday in Athens. He was reportedly 77.

Lovinger, who is credited with raising the profile of the organized Jewish community here, was often outspoken on Jewish issues.

During a January 1989 visit to World Jewish Congress headquarters in New York, he called for world ostracism of the Greek justice minister, who had described as a hero a Palestinian he refused to extradite to stand trial for the October 1982 terrorist attack on Rome’s main synagogue.

A vice president of the European Jewish Congress, Lovinger also spoke out against Kurt Waldheim, the Austrian president who served in a German army unit during World War II that, among other things, deported Jews from the Greek island of Rhodes and the city of Salonika to Auschwitz.

A native of Vac, Hungary, a city about 20 miles north of Budapest, Lovinger left for Athens in 1933, “because I was a pessimist,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview two years ago.

“I thought if Hitler was staying six months, he was staying six years,” he recalled, adding, “I was right.”

Before the war, Lovinger was active in the Jewish Assistance Organization, which helped Jewish refugees from Europe who came to Greece and joined the illegal immigration to Palestine.

During the Italian occupation, he was active in the Athens Jewish community, serving as first assistant to Rabbi Eliya Barzilai, who helped Jews escape into the mountains with the cooperation of Greek neighbors and the Greek Orthodox Church.

He and his wife, the former Herta Gross, escaped with the help of local Greeks after they were rounded up by the Nazis in March 1944.

They traveled via the underground to Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and finally Haifa. They remained in Palestine from June 1944 until the end of the war, when they returned to Athens.

Lovinger then went back to Hungary, where he found his family alive in Budapest. He later worked as foreign correspondent for three Hungarian newspapers.

After the war, Lovinger was owner of a pharmaceutical firm in Athens. He also served as president of the local B’nai B’rith lodge.

In December 1988, Lovinger was elected to another three-year term as head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities, a 12-member group representing the fewer than 5,000 Jews who remain in Greece out of a prewar population of 70,000.

(JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York contributed to this story.)

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