Members of the “Vardaris Neighborhood Team” and other people gathered yesterday to remove far-right and nazi symbols that had been sprayed onto the street mural commemorating the deportation of the Jews of Thessaloniki. (see photos below)
The mural was painted by street artist Same84 on Michael Kalou Street on a wall of the eastern fence of the New Railway Station – a place where the Rezi Vardar neighborhood was located. Through this action, the “Vardaris Neighborhood Team” seeks to pay tribute to one of the most important and once numerous communities of Thessaloniki, the Jewish community, for the tragic consequences suffered by its population during World War II. The mural is a symbolic composition of places, people and events, inspired by photographic material of that period and includes seven consecutive images. (More information about the project.)
The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS) denounced in a statement another attempt to diminish and exploit the Holocaust:
The new cartoon published in “Efimerida ton Syntakton” on January 16, 2021, combines the Nazi sign with the cartoonist’s confection “Studies make you free”, thus equalizing the gate of Auschwitz with the gates of the universities and the prisoners in this horrific extermination camp with the students. It is a hideous and vulgar instrumentalization of the Holocaust for political purposes.
In any case, the newspaper’s expressed respect towards the victims of the Holocaust and its firm position against antisemitism cannot be used as excuses for the publication of such cartoons that insult both the memory of the victims and the survivors alike, by trivializing the place of their martyrdom.
The same cartoonist, Kostas Grigoriadis, published in “Efimerida ton Syntakton” in July 2018 a similar cartoon depicting the entrance to the Auschwitz death camp with the message “the 12-hour [work day] sets you free,” to protest plans for a 12-hour work day in Austria. (more information)
Although the numbers of Greeks of Jewish religion is, according to the Greek Census, very low (5000, i.e. 0.05% of the Greek population) the incidents of anti-Semitic rhetoric and the recorded attacks against Jewish monuments or synagogues are disproportionately high. (Antisemitism in Greece today: Executive Summary, 2017)
October 5: “Neo-Nazis vandalized the external surrounding walls of the Jewish cemetery of Athens with the same slogans the Nazis used 80 years ago in order to deport millions of Jews from their homes and exterminate six million in the gas chambers, amongst whom 60.000 Greek Jews.” (from the KIS announcement for the antisemitic graffiti at the Jewish Cemetery of Athens)
October 10 & 11: The words “Death to Israel” were discovered at the Jewish cemetery of Thessaloniki, while four tombs were vandalized in the Jewish cemetery on Rhodes island in the southeast. The acts of vandalism come after the leader of Greece’s neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn and his inner circle were handed 13-year prison sentences on Wednesday. (AFP)
October 16: A graffiti saying “With Jews you lose” was sprayed onto a monument dedicated to the 50,000 Jews of Thessaloniki in northern Greece perished during the Holocaust. (AFP)
November 10 & 12: The Greek newspaper “Makeleio” whose publisher was convicted recently of anti-Semitic defamation warned its readers that Pfizer’s Jewish CEO will “stick the needle” into them while calling the pharmaceutical company’s prospective COVID-19 vaccine “poison.” A further article repeated the accusations against Bourla, with a screeching headline claiming that the “Greek Jew” had “trousered millions” on behalf of the “Israeli Council.” (JTA / The Algemeiner)
December 3: “A man wearing a cassock and holding an icon, sprayed a Christogram cross with the words “Jesus Christ Conquers” on the Holocaust monument of Larissa. He did the same on the outer wall of the Synagogue which is currently being restored. The incident was recorded on cctv street cameras which were examined after the President of the Jewish Community of Larissa informed the police and filed a lawsuit. The man was arrested the following day in the nearby area of Tempi. He was charged with damaging property and violating antiracism law.” [reported by the KIS]
December 28: The Holocaust Monument in the city of Drama, northern Greece, was vandalized. The perpetrators sprayed a black cross and broke the base of marble at the base of the monument. A similar graffiti appeared on the door of the old tobacco warehouse where, on March 3, 1943, the Bulgarian occupying forces arrested and imprisoned Greek Jews from Drama, before deportating them to Nazi extermination camps. [ekathimerini]
Via Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece(KIS):
Daily “Makeleio”, known for frequently publishing incendiary anti-Semitic articles, on November 10, 2020, circulated with yet another anti-Semitic front-page title related to the announcement made by Albert Bourla, the CEO of the Pfizer pharmaceutical company, on the upcoming vaccine for covid. The front-page (as well as the teaser of the on-line Makeleio.gr) is illustrated with the photo of the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele next to the photo of Dr. Bourla whose Jewish faith is used in the title to disseminate stereotypical propaganda, while in the surtitle of the front-page the term “poison” is used for the vaccine.
The Greek Jewry’s outrage was expressed with the following announcement of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS), which was followed by the immediate reaction of the General Secretary for Religious Affairs, Mr George Kalantzis, who issued the statement below: [Read both statements in English here]
Greek Helsinki Monitor has filed a criminal complaint to the Prosecutor concerning the antisemitic headline in Makeleio newspaper.
A Greek court in October 2020 convicted the Makeleio newspaper over an antisemitic article targeting Minos Moissis, the former President of the Jewish Community of Athens.
In September 2013, an Australian team travelled to Greece to shoot a documentary focusing on the Greek Jews – their rich history, the impact of the Holocaust on them as well as their present-day existence. The documentary is based on an original screenplay written by Carol Gordon who also directed the film together with Natalie Cunningham. “Following Shira’s Journey: A Greek Jewish Odyssey” premiered at the Delphi Bank 21st Greek Film Festival in Melbourne on October 26, 2014 and it has been screened at Film festivals worldwide since then. An integral part of this project are the photos captured by Emmanuel Santos; they were featured in a major exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Australia in Melbourne in 2017.
Carol Gordon answered some questions for the Against Antisemitism blog about this remarkable project.
Your multi-faceted project is based on intense research. How did you first become interested in Greek Jewish Communities?
I grew up in South Africa in a traditional Jewish household. I knew about the Greek Jews from Rhodos because many of them came to South Africa before the war. I also knew vaguely about Jews in Thessaloniki because I had read a book that mentioned the community. South Africa was also home to a very large Greek Orthodox community so we had many Greek friends and they often told me information about the Jews of Greece that I’d never heard of before. After school I travelled to Greece and felt a very strong connection there, resulting in me going back a few times. With each trip I learned more about the many Greek Jewish communities that had existed there. I became determined to find out as much as I could and to document this very unknown history – particularly the devastating effect of the Holocaust on the Greek Jewish communities. It is only in the past ten years that much more information has come out into the public domain. It took me around thirty years of researching until I felt I had enough to write the screenplay and do the documentary.
The Documentary and Photographic shoot took you to 10 communities throughout Greece. What were the challenges that you faced?
It was a lengthy process to identify the last remaining Jewish communities in Greece. Once I’d done that, the next challenge was to meet people in those communities and set up interviews with Holocaust Survivors. One of the problems in finding Survivors to interview was that many were too old and some were not well or had dementia. Sadly, since the shoot in 2013, many of the Survivors have passed away. I don’t speak Greek so I often had to work through interpreters. Another major challenge was to raise funding for the project. Unfortunately I never managed to raise much except for a few donations that I was very grateful for. I ended up funding the project from my own savings.
“Following Shira’s Journey: A Greek Jewish Odyssey” was shot at a particularly difficult time for Greece, as the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” party had already entered Greek Parliament, thus multiplying its violent and murderous attacks on migrants and leftists. Most of the Greek Jews that you interviewed – among them some Holocaust survivors – were very worried about this situation. Are you aware of their thoughts and reactions after judges ruled on October 7 that “Golden Dawn” was a criminal organisation in disguise? What in your opinion is the significance of this verdict?
I have been in contact with many of the people in the Jewish communities since the verdict and they are all extremely pleased with the result and relieved as well. I think the significance of this verdict is that it sends a very clear message – that racism and antisemtism will not be tolerated. Neo Nazism has no place in our world and this ruling confirms that.
In your documentary you also discuss the challenge for survival that the Greek Jewish communities face. What do you think could be done to revitalise those communities?
Sadly, I don’t think that those communities can be revitalised. Before WWII there were 32 thriving Jewish communities throughout Greece. Of the 10 remaining communities that have some semblance of existence, only 3 are fully functioning communities with Synagogues holding regular services. These are Athens, Thessaloniki and Larissa. The most important thing is to make sure that the history of those communities is remembered and celebrated because it is probably only a matter of time before the numbers decrease even more.
To what extent can your documentary contribute to Holocaust education and to raise awareness about the problem of Jew-hatred?
Our vision for the Project is to share untold stories for a more tolerant world. Our mission is to connect people, cultures and stories via creative and educational platforms. The fact that we have interviews with Survivors in the documentary and in the Education Package that we are putting together, is very impactful in terms of Holocaust education. It is always powerful to hear testimony from someone who went through it. I think that through the testimonies, the viewer gets an understanding of the danger and horrors that anti-Semitism can lead to. This can be applied to any form of racism.
Are you planning an update of your film or/and a DVD edition?
The documentary is being updated at the moment to include some new information regarding Golden Dawn. Once the film has been updated and the education package is complete, we will make them available on line. We have also just finished a Greek subtitled version of the documentary which we hope will be used throughout Greek schools and other institutions for educational purposes.
What do you think about the problem of antisemitism in Greece and in Europe more generally?
Unfortunately the problem of anti-Semitism is still very prevalent in Greece and throughout Europe. There are constant attacks on Jewish institutions and vandalism of cemeteries and monuments. The only thing to do is to continue to educate people about the facts and the dangers of such acts.
Can you give us some key information about Jewish life in Australia? Is Jew-hatred a recurrent problem on the continent?
The Jewish population of Australia represents approximately 0.5% of the national population. There are around 113,000 Jews in Australia with the majority residing in Sydney (New South Wales) and Melbourne (Victoria). There has definitely been a rise in antisemitic activity over the past few years. This includes anti-Semitic vandalism and graffiti, the circulation of anti-Semitic documents and fliers, verbal abuse and online hate groups. We have community groups that monitor such activity and the police are active in responding to it.
Carol Gordon is a Melbourne-based writer, filmmaker, and Holocaust educator. Carol trained as a film editor in South Africa and worked in the film and television industry there for many years. In 1995, Carol moved to Australia with her family. With a Degree in Teaching and an Honours Degree in Communication (Media Studies), Carol has completed several courses through the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. Devoting more than thirty years to the research of the history of Greece’s Jewish communities and their near-destruction during the Holocaust, Carol continues on her mission to present the Shira’s Journey Project to local and international audiences of all ages, and sharing the little known history of these once vibrant and dynamic communities.
Natalie Cunningham is an Australian filmmaker of Greek heritage. Following the success of her debut short documentary, ‘You Know What? I Love You,’ a touching portrait of her grandmother, Natalie has pursued her passion for inspiring and evocative storytelling through film. Natalie’s work explores themes of cultural identity and belonging and her films have screened at local and international film festivals including the Melbourne International Film Festival and Palm Springs International Short Film Festival. Natalie’s role as co-director and editor of the documentary Following Shira’s Journey: A Greek Jewish Odyssey (2014) marked the beginning of her collaboration with Carol Gordon, with whom she has since worked on The Bialik Button Project (2015) as well as a series of educational resources exploring the history and present day experiences of Greek Jewry.
Born in the Philippines, Emmanuel Santos is an Australia based documentary and art photographer. For more than a decade, Emmanuel Santos has been tracing the songlines of the Jewish spirit. His photographs are memory tracks spiralling through history, hinting at the prophecy of ingathering from every corner of the earth.
Opposition party of the Left “SYRIZA” uploaded a political video spot, entitled “How much does Moses Cost?” on the party’s website, facebook and You Tube channel, on June 19, 2020. The video, was produced in an attempt to criticize the Government’s funding of the mass media during the pandemic.
The reference to Moses in the video was strongly condemned by the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers (ESIEA), the frm. President of the Athens Jewish Community Minos Moissis, the Secretary General of KIS Victor Eliezer and many prominent journalists. KIS issued the following announcement (June 22, 2020):
«When we watched SYRIZA’s political spot “How much does Moses cost?” we wondered how was it possible for a party with a determining contribution to the fight against antisemitism to reproduce antisemitic stereotypes in order to serve its opposition policy, linking Moses with the money falling down from the sky as the “manna from heaven”.
Three days after its launch the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece expresses its regret over the fact that -in spite of the massive reactions- SYRIZA did not withdraw this spot, with its only reaction being that of characterizing it as “satiric”.
European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative is a German-based
non-profit organization with the core objective of protecting and preserving
Jewish cemetery sites across the European continent. With the financial support
of the European Commission, the ESJF started in December 2018 a full mapping process
of 1,500 Jewish burial sites across five European countries. Diána Vonnák, Head
Officer of Communication and Media (and a trained social anthropologist) at
ESJF European Jewish Cemeteries, answered some questions for Against
Antisemitism blog about this unique project.
Until its completion in June 2020, the project will
carry out extensive research and survey work in five European countries:
Greece, Lithuania, Moldova, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Why did you choose those
We wanted to have a range of countries that are all
important for the history of Judaism in Europe, and that encompass the
diversity of European Jewish heritage. It has been a great experience to work
in Sephardic and Ashkenazi cemeteries and research the differences. Another
important angle is the institutional and legal diversity of these countries:
the challenges have been really different: Lithuania had a comprehensive list
of cemeteries, but these weren’t surveyed with the accuracy of our drone
surveys, while for instance Ukraine and Moldova had no comprehensive data. In
these cases it is crucial to verify the existence of cemeteries, visit any site
where there’s a chance to find one: we visited 132 places in Moldova and were
able to survey 70 cemeteries, but there were places nobody documented before.
This work is less spectacular but it is incredibly important if we want to have
a proper overview of European Jewish cemeteries. In some places, like in
Slovakia, the Jewish community owns these sites, but elsewhere, as in Greece,
ownership varies from site to site. By the end of this survey we will have a
solid grasp of the main challenges and a greater understanding of the
situations in our project countries.
In order to map burial sites, your team is using unmanned aerial vehicles
commonly known as drones. How do drones facilitate your work?
Drone technology allows us to take high resolution aerial images which has individual GPS coordinates of every image (geotag). Later we are processing those images to create a point cloud from which we can make a preliminary terrain analysis such as topography of the site. This gives us very precise information about each and every site, which serves a dual purpose: it documents the condition of every cemetery, and it is the basis of any future protective measure like fencing. We are using point cloud to create a 3D model of sites that makes it easy, cost effective and fast to plan fencing. In short, UAV made our work more faster and accurate.
Your team travelled in Greece between 26 March and 14
April 2019, visiting 48 places and mapping 45 sites
altogether. What have been the challenges and particularities of mapping Jewish
cemeteries in Greece?
The geography of Greece was a challenge for our survey team: places can be remote, you have to fly, take a ferry to reach smaller islands. This is something we did not experience in other places. Greece is really divided: most sites are either demolished, or when they survive, they tend to be fenced and cared for. We classify cemeteries according to the urgency of the need for fencing and we found only three sites that would require urgent action: Argostoli and the old and new cemetery in Didymotheicho.
The city of Ioannina once was the center of Romaniote Jewish life. It is not well known that the Zosimaia Lyceum and a school yard are standing today on the site of the old Jewish Cemetery. How did you survey a burial site that doesn’t exist anymore?
We use old maps and historic information to establish the boundary of cemeteries. In case they are built over, as in Ioannina, Heraklion or Corfu, we still gather photographic evidence, but there is not much we can do. In Greece, this has been a sadly common situation: 43% of the sites we surveyed were demolished and overbuilt. In Thessaloniki, for instance, a university campus was built on a really old cemetery that dates back to the late 15th century. We encountered similar cases elsewhere too, e.g. in Ukraine. In these cases, memorialisation is especially important, as this remains our only chance to save these sites from oblivion. Education, awareness raising is crucial in these contexts and it takes the place of using cemeteries themselves as testimonies of a shared history, which is what ESJF would do otherwise.
Your team also surveyed other Jewish cemeteries in the region of Epirus which are less known than the cemetery in Ioannina: Paramythia, Arta and Preveza. Which are the challenges that you faced?
Arta, Paramythia and Preveza are all demolished sites, so our work was chiefly about documentation. Arta has a sign at the former Jewish neighbourhood, and a memorial. Preveza has residential and commercial buildings over it, Paramythia is now covered by a highway and a bus stop. In these cases it is often difficult to establish the boundary accurately, that can be a huge challenge. If we step away from the challenges of survey itself, the biggest difficulty lies in keeping the memory of something invisible alive. A comprehensive database like ours helps to grasp the sheer scale of destruction, and hopefully to work against it, to address this loss.
According to a recent study commissioned by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Greece, the incidents of antisemitic rhetoric and the recorded attacks against Jewish cemeteries, monuments and synagogues in Greece are disproportionately high although the numbers of Greeks of Jewish religion are, according to the Greek Census, very low (5000, i.e. 0.05% of the Greek population). How do you think that the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative can contribute to a better protection of Greek Jewish cemeteries?
ESJF believes in the importance of the engagement of
communities, local authorities and the broader public in general. We always try
to work with mayors, reach out to schools. We do not carry out advocacy work
per se, but we believe in the power of restoring knowledge and awareness about
heritage sites. Jewish heritage is part of our shared, European heritage and
often, especially in the absence of a local Jewish community, gentile
communities are important guardians of these sites. Our surveyors experience
quite some interest from locals: people ask questions, want to know more. Building
an open-access database, carrying out educational projects and engaging local
leaders are the first steps to work against atrocities.
Some weeks ago, Moses Elisaf, the head of the tiny
Jewish community in Ioannina and a distinguished professor of pathology, was
elected the country’s first-ever Jewish mayor. What do you think about Elisaf’s
Of course we welcome a political climate where the Jewishness of a candidate is not an obstacle for their success. However, the sheer emphasis that his Jewish origins receive points to the fact that Greek Jewish life hasn’t been “normalized” post-Holocaust in a way that one may hope. There is still an “us” vs. “them” logic in marking Elisaf as a Jewish mayor. We had an amazing experience with many mayors in various countries, and have seen the dramatic difference their policies can make in the fate of Jewish heritage sites. We welcome any mayor, Jewish or not, who is happy to undertake the responsibility of tending to the local Jewish heritage, engaging their entire community. ESJF’s work, through education and awareness, aims at showing that Jewish heritage is not something separate that concerns only those who identify as Jewish. Instead, it’s a common heritage. Greek Jewish history is also relevant and important for non-Jewish Greeks (and beyond that for Europe in general). We hope that ESJF’s work can be a help in normalizing and integrating Jewish presence, Jewish identity and Jewish heritage in Europe.
Journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, editor of “Documento” newspaper, trivialized Holocaust in a tweet criticizing Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his statement in favour of the ‘7day work week’. Vaxevanis in his tweet of May 12, 2019 used the inscription over the gate of Auschwitz “Arbeit Macht Frei” to comment on K. Mitsotakis.
The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS) stressed in an announcement the inappropriate use of the symbols of the Holocaust:
The use of this inscription within a political controversy and a journalistic comment is unacceptable because it downgrades, minimizes and trivializes a symbol of horror and Nazi barbarism. In Auschwitz every trace of humanity was lost and inhumanity and harrowing death prevailed. Millions of people were killed there because they were either Jews or “different”.
Holocaust trivialization is a recurrent phenomenon in Greek politics. For example, a cartoon published in the leftist newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton in July 2018 depicted the entrance to the Auschwitz death camp with the message “the 12-hour [work day] sets you free,” to protest plans for a 12-hour work day in Austria (more information).
Athens, 19.4.2019- The Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) presented yesterday their annual report, which analyses findings of racist violence and hate crime across Greece in 2018, recorded by the 46 organizations participating in the Network.
From January to December 2018, the RVRN documented, through interviews with victims, 117 incidents of racist violence, with more than 130 victims. In 74 incidents the victims were migrants or refugees on grounds of ethnic origin, religion, colour, associations of third country nationals, human rights defenders due to their connection with refugees and migrants, as well as a memorial to the victims of shipwrecks. In six (6) incidents, Greek citizens were targeted due to their colour, foreign or ethnic origin. In nine (9) incidents, the targets were Jewish sacred or symbolic places and the Jewish community and in one (1) incident the target was a Greek citizen due to educational activity against anti-Semitism or perceived religion. In 27 incidents the targets were LGBTQI+ persons, including five (5) refugees, asylum-seekers and EU citizens. In 59 incidents more than one victim was targeted, whereas in 63 incidents the assault was committed by a group of at least two people.
In 2018, the RVRN recorded 9 anti-Semitic attacks. In particular, there were 6 incidents of desecration of Holocaust memorials in Athens and Thessaloniki, 2 incidents of desecration of the Jewish cemetery in Nikaia and Trikala as well as 1 incident of vandalism of the synagogue in Volos. In these incidents the perpetrators drew Nazi symbols or words and slogans referring to the Holocaust, threatening the Jewish community as a whole. Additionally, there was an incident against a teacher, who is being harassed severely due to his educational activity against anti-Semitism. According to the Fundamental Rights Agency—FRA, the challenge regarding the rise of anti-Semitism worldwide, has the following paradox: According to the most recent Eurobarometer results, while anti-Semitic behaviour is so common that it is considered a normal situation, only 36% of those who answered believe that anti-Semitism has increased. In addition, only 4 out of 10 Europeans believe that children in schools learn enough about the Holocaust*. The RVRN is aware of the many faces of anti-Semitism in Greece, which, as in other countries, is not limited to desecrations and vandalisms by groups, but it also penetrates large parts of the population and is reflected in the everyday talks. For the above, the RVRN participated, with great interest, to a meeting held by the General Secretariat of Transparency and Human Rights.
Bronze memory stones which commemorate victims of the Holocaust who worked at the port of Thessaloniki during World War II were vandalized by unknown perpetrators. Giorgos Antoniou posted photos of the vandalism online.