Jewish Community Says Thessaloniki Holocaust Memorial Desecration Insult

Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University. (Photo by MotionTeam/Vasilis Ververidis)

THESSALONIKI – The Jewish Community of Thessaloniki (JCT) expressed “regret” and “indignation” over vandalism on a Holocaust memorial in Greece’s second-largest city where Jews suffered under the WWII Nazi occupation.

The monument, on the campus of Aristotle University (AUT), was erected in the memory of the Jewish students who perished at the Nazi death camps. There was no explanation how vandals were able to carry out a paint attack on the memorial at a public university without being noticed.

“The desecration is an insult to the monument… At the same time this extremely sad event is an act of great disrespect for Aristotle University, an institution of education, a place for molding the character and consciousness of the younger generation,” JCT said.

“The actions of the perpetrators confirm that the necessary and successful efforts made by our Community, in cooperation with the authorities and institutions in our city and homeland to combat racism, anti-Semitism, intolerance and fanaticism while restoring and promoting the history of Thessaloniki and its aspects on the centuries-old Jewish presence, are annoying and disturbing,” it added.

The vandalism was also condemned by university and municipal authorities as the vandalism was erased with university officials stating that,  “The solution to religious fanaticism and bigotry” is education.

The city put out a statement that said, “The desecration of the monument … constitutes a major insult not only to the memory of our Jewish fellow citizens who perished in the Holocaust, but mainly to the collective memory and history of the city itself.”

City officials blamed bitter polarization in Greek politics and forces it said that “arms extreme and fringe elements who seek an opportunity to harm democracy itself, but also the open and tolerant society,” who use foreign policy issues as an excuse without indicating who specifically was to blame.

With particular prejudice coming from Greek Orthodox faithful, Greece is trying to overcome anti-Semitism reported at 69 percent – the highest in the European Union.

Greek scientists from the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki and the University of Oxford in 2017 said the results of reports from the Anti-Defamation league were accurate, according to a study commissioned by the Heinrich Böll Foundation presented in Berlin, the news magazine Deutsche Welle reported.

Greeks particularly believe in conspiracy theories and that Jews rule the world, it was said. “Anti-Semitism is popular in the country,” said Leon Saltiel, one of the four authors of the study. “It often happens that you’ve barely got into a taxi before the driver starts ranting about Jews.” What is especially interesting about this is that there are only around 5,000 Jews in the whole of Greece: They make up just 0.05 percent of the population.

Even with Greece’s government reaching out to improve relations with Israel, the sense Greeks are virulently anti-Semitic is proving hard to break.

“Criticism of the Jewish state in Greece is sometimes extreme,” Leon Saltiel told DW.“As soon as a crisis breaks out in the Middle East, the Israelis are depicted in the media as Nazis, which does more than just relativize the Holocaust and minimize its significance. Criticism of Israel is legitimate. But when Jews are equated with Nazis, that is anti-Semitism.”

But the research found that Greece is trying hard to overcome its reputation and reduce anti-Jewish sentiment with governments denouncing anti-Semitism and allowing teaching of the Holocaust in schools.

A big obstacle is support for the extreme-right Golden Dawn party accused of having Nazi beliefs and holding third place in the country among political parties surveyed.

“It became apparent that the Greek Nazis were justifying their attacks on democracy with anti-Semitic claims, for example that Greece was being governed by Jews,” said Saltiel.

Before moving toward better dealings with Israel, Greece was known to be more sympathetic to Arabic and Muslim countries, even though polls have found Greeks harbor keen discrimination toward Muslims as well.

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