‘I love Greece... I’ll wait pa­tiently’

Decades later, descen­dants of Holo­caust sur­vivors look to ac­quire Greek ci­ti­zen­ship

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY IOANNA FOTIADI

Ev­ery Wed­nes­day, a 60-year-old man iden­ti­fied only by his ini­tials – P.S. – at­tends a Greek lan­guage class in Tel Aviv. No one was surprised to see him take up the lessons, given the fact that P.S., who re­tired six months ago, is halfGreek.

“I started the process to ac­quire Greek ci­ti­zen­ship 12 years ago,” P.S. told Kathimerini in a re­cent in­ter­view.

“It is not a straight­for­ward pro­ce­dure be­cause many of the ar­chives from that era have been de­stroyed,” he said, show­ing no ev­i­dent sign of frus­tra­tion about the long wait.

“I love Greece. I very of­ten visit the coun­try and I’ll wait pa­tiently for the rul­ing,” he said.

His chances are strength­ened by the fact that his fam­ily left the north­ern Greek town of Xan­thi us­ing a Greek pass­port in 1935. “I hope that my daugh­ters and I can get Greek ci­ti­zen­ship,” he said.

Last week Par­lia­ment adopted an amend­ment that grants ci­ti­zen­ship to the descen­dants of Greek Jews who did not re­turn to Greece af­ter World War II.

In the late 1990s, Greek deputies passed leg­is­la­tion restor­ing the ci­ti­zen­ship of Greek Jews who sur­vived the Holo­caust but never re­turned to Greece.

“One of the prob­lems we faced was proof of iden­tity, as the ap­pli­cants’ first names were very of­ten spelled dif­fer­ently in each coun­try,” said lawyer Stella Salem, who has un­der­taken about 100 such cases to date.

“Another ob­sta­cle is the re­movals from the male registry that took place en mass with ad­min­is­tra­tive acts and based on Ar­ti­cle 19 of the old ci­ti­zen­ship law,” she said.

The re­cent amend­ment could be a boon for a large num­ber of Greek Jews. “In­ter­est in Greek ci­ti­zen­ship is keen among the chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of peo­ple who lived in Greece, who be­came suc­cess­ful busi­ness­men dur­ing peace­time and who fought along with other Greek cit­i­zens in the war,” Salem said.

The new le­gal de­vel­op­ment con­cerns a large num­ber of descen­dants – up to 20,000 Jews of Greek de­scent are es­ti­mated to live in Is­rael. A greater num­ber live in the United States as im­mi­gra­tion there be­gan be­fore World War II.

“Ev­ery sum­mer Kas­to­ria is vis­ited by young Amer­i­cans, them­selves descen­dants of Jews who lived in the city. They ask for our help as they search for their roots,” said Soul­tana Zor­pi­dou of the Jewish Her­itage Stud­ies Cen­ter in Kas- to­ria, north­ern Greece. “Many peo­ple are email­ing us to find out the rules on ci­ti­zen­ship,” she said. Zor­pi­dou, a his­to­rian, says she of­ten sees emo­tional vis­i­tors try­ing to de­ci­pher the in­scrip­tions across the city.

Two years ago Spain granted ci­ti­zen­ship to 4,302 peo­ple whose Jewish an­ces­tors fled af­ter be­ing or­dered by the Span­ish monar­chy in 1492 to con­vert to Catholi­cism or go into ex­ile. Although Spain set strict cri­te­ria for nat­u­ral­iza­tion, the move gave hope to many Jewish fam­i­lies around the globe.

“Greece has be­come one of the most pop­u­lar tourism des­ti­na­tions for Is­raelis,” said P.S., com­ment­ing on the strength­en­ing of bi­lat­eral ties. “Af­ter the cri­sis in Tel Aviv’s ties with Ankara, Is­raeli tourists have been flock­ing to Greek is­lands in­stead,” he said, adding that his fam­ily had vis­ited Rhodes three times in the past five years.

“There is no cul­ture which is closer to Greece’s than here in Is­rael,” said the 60-year-old, who de­scribes be­ing brought up as a child lis­ten­ing to sto­ries from his Xan­thi-born fa­ther. It’s been decades since he last vis­ited his birth­place, whose pop­u­la­tion was all but wiped out at the Tre­blinka ex­ter­mi­na­tion camp in oc­cu­pied Poland. “Only six of the 560 res­i­dents re­turned,” he said.

The Xan­thi fam­ily made a new start in Is­rael. “The sec­ond and third gen­er­a­tion of Greek Jews have done pretty well here,” he said. Greece’s de­ci­sion to for­mally rec­og­nize their ori­gin is seen here as a ges­ture of good will. “It’s a moral recog­ni­tion which means a lot to us,” he said. “It’s bet­ter to build bridges than to de­stroy them. This is how you gain al­lies.”

Greek Jews are seen be­ing rounded up for de­por­ta­tion in the north­ern port city of Thes­sa­loniki, in July 1942.

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