This March marks the 70th anniversary of Greece’s Thessaloniki Jewish community’s deportation to Auschwitz. The anniversary comes at a time when economic depression has led to a rise in the Greek neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, which picked up 18 seats in the latest elections for the Greek Parliament.
While the government has remained mostly silent on the issue, that all changed on March 17, when the Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, gave a speech at the only synagogue in Thessaloniki.
The speech was part of a larger commemoration ceremony that began with roughly 2,500 people marching in silence towards the train station that the Nazi’s used during the war. It also marked the first time a Greek leader has entered a synagogue in over a century.
Much of the shift in attitude can be attributed to sustained pressure from Jewish communities in Greece and abroad, and to Samaras’ desire to maintain relations with Israel that have flourished in the past three years.
“The prime minister realizes the danger Golden Dawn poses to Greece and used this as the perfect opportunity to send the message to Greek society,” said Victor Eliezer, a member of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and a frequent political commentator. “He also wants to take Greece out of the group of European nations that are allowing neo-Nazis to flourish.”
Golden Dawn did not stay silent on the event.
[They] responded to the Thessaloniki commemorations by branding them “part of an international Zionist plan to destroy Greece and re-establish the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans.’
“Little Antonis put on his kippa and went to the synagogue . . . to worship Zionist capital,” said a statement on the party website, which also suggested that Lauder “deal with the problematic behavior of the State of Israel and not ‘worry’ about the rise of the Golden Dawn.”
Despite of the growing power of Golden Dawn, Greek officials seem to be pushing back against the anti-Semitism within the country.
On the evening of the march, soccer player Giorgos Katidis celebrated his winning goal by ripping off his shirt and giving the crowd a Nazi salute. Condemnation was swift — the Greek soccer federation handed Katidis a life ban from representing the national team. In the past, Greek society has simply shrugged off similar acts or displays of Nazi symbolism.