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Greeks Battling Nazis to Save 15,000 Athens Jews from Deportation

November 26, 1943
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The fate of 15,000 Athens Jews rests on the outcome of a bitter struggle being waged between the Greek population, which is concealing the Jews, and the German occupation authorities who have ordered the arrest and deportation of every Jew in Greece, it was revealed here today by the Greek government-in-exile.

In an 8,000-word report describing the situation of the Jews in Greece the government describes how the population snatched the Jews from under the noses of the Gestapo and has so far concealed them successfully despite an intensive search by the Nazis. The report confirms that at least 50,000 of Salonika’s 60,000 Jews have been deported and that western Thrace and eastern Macedonia, which have been seized by the Bulgarians, are completely “judenrein” today.

The report says that a few weeks after Italy’s capitulation, members of the special commission set up by Alfred Rosenberg, chief Nazi “race” theorist, to exterminate European Jewry arrived in Athens and demanded that Chief Rabbi Barzilai turn over to them a list of all Jews living in the Greek capital. Pleading that he needed at least three days to secure such a list, the Chief Rabbi utilized the delay to destroy all records of the Jewish community and then disappeared.

The three-day delay also gave Greek patriots time to spirit away most of the Jews in the city. Jewish families were dispersed and individual members were given shelter in the homes of non-Jews. Meanwhile, the patriots, aided by Greek civil and religious functionaries and by Greek police who were secret members of the resistance groups, prepared false identification cards for the Jews.

The Rosenberg commission took prompt counter-measures. They issued a decree warning Jews to return to their own homes and to report to the police in their home districts under penalty of death. They also warned the heads of families (non-Jewish) to notify the police of the identity of every non-member of the family residing in their homes. Heavy penalties, including death in some cases, were also provided for failure to report. But the German threats failed. Only 300 families reported to the police. Greek families adopted hundreds of Jewish children, passing them off as their own, while entire Jewish families were given refuge in homes in the countryside.

The report, of the Greek Government hails Archbishop Chrysostomos and other members of the clergy for aiding the Jews and for intervening with the Germans in their behalf. It points out that the question of the Jews became a national issue and even the puppet premier was forced to protest to the Germans.

It tells of how in Salonika the Nazis succeeded in obtaining the Jewish community’s lists and consequently were able to round-up most of the Jews. The Baron de Hirsch center was used as a deportation depot from which the arrested Jews were loaded into freight cars for shipment to eastern Europe. Hundreds of Greeks, the report discloses, were arrested and sent to concentration camps for attempting to aid the Salonika Jews. About 4,000 Salonika Jews escaped from the city and joined Greek liberation bands.

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