THU, 07 DEC 2000 22:22:52 GMT
AIM Athens, December 7, 2000
In late October of this year, the MP Yiorgos Karatzaferis, a known anti-Semite, tabled a parliamentary question to Prime Minister Costas Simitis to publicly disclose whether his daughter "was married according to Jewish ritual in Synagogue" and, if so, "why did it happen in secret." He went on to clarify that "when the father of the bride happens to be the Prime Minister and the wedding ceremony coincides with a period when the Orthodox Greek is feeling that his faith is being persecuted by governmental actions, this raises questions that must be examined" ("Alpha Ena," 4-5/11).
However, as blatantly racist as that action was, it does not represent the most distressing aspect of Greek anti-Semitism. Neither does the fact that it went completely ignored by the government, the press, and even the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. (Indeed, any official reaction to such a vulgar provocation would have given it the dimension and publicity its author desired.) On the contrary, the most disturbing -and the most frustrating- face of Greek anti-Semitism is characterized by a close friend's remark about the incident: "Well, did she really marry a Jew?"
Greek anti-Semitism is utterly subliminal, which is what makes it so difficult to pinpoint, much less combat. So subtly and profoundly does it permeate the psyche of the populace that the most enlightened citizens do not recognize its obvious presence in their everyday environment, let alone in the nuances of their own thinking.
The process starts at an early age. The children who grow up in terror of "the Jew/Bogeyman who lies in wait to torture little kids and drink their blood" later subscribe to the belief that "Jews (secretly) run the world." The first, everyone knows, is a fairy tale. Although the second, they'll tell you, is fact! Five-year-olds who are taught in kindergarten that "(all) the Jews killed Christ" are later threatened by the "Jewish plot" to destroy Greek Orthodoxy and Greek identity by removing the religious designation from our national identity cards.
Politics takes up where the Church leaves off. Since the early 1980s, sophisticated intellectuals and leftists have armed themselves with a more politically correct argument: they are not anti-Semitic; they are anti-Zionist! In theory this is perfectly acceptable. Many Jews themselves (including a number living in the Holy Land) are vehemently anti-Zionist -a theological rift as radical as, say, the division between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. In practice, however, this legitimate political and theological position is manipulated to support what is seen as tangible evidence of "The Plot." Similarly, it is based on a fallacy: all Israelis are Jews, therefore all Jews are Israelis (who are then all "genocidal imperialists," who are all "American puppets" and vice versa, and so on). In addition, the terms Israelite and Israeli are habitually, and officially, interchanged -a "confusion" conveniently explained as just one more example of the decline of the modern Greek language.
Today's Jewish presence in Greece is not so much despised as denied. When called to task for anti-Semitic sentiment, Greeks always point to the more organized and violent manifestations in Western Europe and the United States, proudly exclaiming: "At least we don't do that!" (Though one wonders whether this is due to more to apathy than to conscience.) Or: "Things could be worse." And: "It happens everywhere." This false sense superiority and complacency perpetuates the notion that it's OK to be mildly anti-Semitic. However, being slightly racist is like being slightly pregnant!
The State and the Church systematically suppress not only documented history but living memory as well. In so doing, they quietly and effectively carry out the "Final Solution" to eradicate all traces of Greek Jewry, past and present. With the people gone (thanks to the Holocaust), street names have been changed, property has been "reabsorbed." But most disgraceful of all: nowhere in the nation's capital is there yet a single public reminder -not even the tiniest plaque- commemorating the nearly 70,000 Jewish citizens killed in the Nazi Occupation and the Holocaust. (That particular issue is another story!) Characteristic, too, is the virtually total Media blackout, especially on television, the primary source of public information, of any Jewish-related event -most recent examples being the "Le Chaim" memorial service for Holocaust victims at the Athens War Museum (5/11/2000), and the 62nd anniversary of "Kristallnacht" (9/11/2000).
Few Greeks, even those with advanced education, know that Judaism is almost 6,000 years old, and that Jews have inhabited Athens and other areas of Greece for more than twenty centuries!
Far more tragic, however, is the widespread ignorance of certain critical events in this country's recent experience. Many young people have never even heard of the Holocaust, let alone have the slightest idea of its scope and horror. A shocking number of Greeks, especially those born since World War II, are totally unaware that during the Nazi Occupation more that 65,000 Greek citizens (86% if the country's Jewish population) were deported to be tortured and killed in European death camps just because of their religious identity! Today, only about 5,000 Jews live in all of Greece; 160 of them are death camp survivors.
Mr. Benjamin Albalas, President of the Athens Jewish Community, informed us in a recent interview (16/11/2000) that a proposal to teach the Holocaust in the nation's schools is currently being discussed with the Minister of Education. Mr. Albalas was cautiously optimistic: "Mr. Efthimiou appears to be the ideal Minister [to effectuate such a proposal]." However, it is still in oral form - and otherwise entirely dependent on the will of whomever happens to hold this post.
The State has a mandate to educate its youth. Greek youth have a right to know their country's history. Everyone, including the Church, has everything to gain from this lesson. At a time when national policies, religious positions and popular attitudes concerning racial and ethnic issues are being scrutinized and challenged in both the domestic and international arena, this offers an ideal opportunity for a publicized display of tolerance and magnanimity. First and foremost, no admission of national guilt or culpability is required, because the entire Greek nation was a victim of the Nazi occupation and its atrocities. In addition, among the heroes of the Resistance are the numerous, truly courageous civilians and Orthodox clergy who risked their lives to save Jewish citizens. One shining example is the Bishop of Zakinthos, who managed to save the island's entire Jewish population (approx. 300 people) by providing them with false Christian identity papers and baptismal certificates. These righteous heroes deserve to be honored. And while the history books are at it, they could also mention that, in addition to the 6 million European Jews, the 12 million Holocaust victims also included 2 million Roma, 500,000 homosexuals, political dissenters, the mentally and physically disabled, and other "undesirables!"
Never again! Ignorance is a crippling affliction that, if allowed to fester, can have fatal consequences. Education is the treatment. Knowledge is the cure.