Wednesday, July 27, 2005

'Crystal' Night 1938 Revisited

Recently the Greek American Assemblyman Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria), pushed through a legislative resolution for a Religious Tolerance Day in response to Jewish lobby efforts. The Jewish lobby pushed for this resolution in response to a spate of graffiti in the New York borough of Queens , that Jews claim was anti-Jewish and threatening. The perpetrators of such, all too convenient, graffiti have been all too usual in the past. Gianaris also claims that his father's house was burned down by the Nazis, it seems that a lot of Greeks ,in my experience,who want to count on some Jewish support claim that Nazis burned down their father's or grandfather's house, as if that was all the Nazis were doing in their short-lived three and a half year occupation of parts of Greece. Next time I hear about a house burning of a Greek grandfather's house by Nazis , I would like to ask the claimant to produce some pics. After all the Nazis did for Greece, making almost the entire Jewish stranglehold on our Thessaloniki disappear almost over night, for instance, you would think Greeks would at least show some respect for one of our more beneficial conquerors, relative to the Turks or the Franks they did behave quite decently in retrospect.

In any case, tonight's the night when we should take time to reflect on the famous 'Crystal' night as re-examined here, by the astute German scholar Ingrid Weckert, enjoy:

German National Socialism basically regarded the Jews as non-German aliens who had proven themselves destructive to any nation that permitted them to dominate. Therefore, the only way to prevent further problems was to separate the Jews from the Germans. In other words, they had to emigrate. On this point the National Socialists and the Zionists were in full agreement. Although the Jews made up less than one percent of the total German population in 1933, they had power and influence in finance, business, cultural affairs and scientific life far out of proportion to their small numbers. Jewish influence was very widely regarded as harmful to German recovery after the First World War. No legal measures were taken against the Jews in Germany until after the international Jewish "Declaration of War" against Germany, as announced, for example, on the front page of the London Daily Express of 24 March 1933.


Blogger Hellenian said...

I thought the stories you mentioned about individuals claiming that their fathers' or grandfathers' homes were burnt by the Germans as though it were some sort of single-minded preoccupation or compulsion by the Nazis was hilarious. Personally, I've never heard anyone tell such stories concerning their fathers' or grandfathers' houses being torched in seemingly random fashion. However, such allegations to further political aspirations are in complete harmony with the behavioral patterns of the Greekling.

From what I've personally observed amongst Greeks (that were raised in Greece) concerning the popular view of Nazism, I think it's a generally mixed perspective. Yes, the average Greek typically hates the Nazis and has low opinions of what they believe to be Greek "neo-Nazis". Yet at the same time, the Nazis' perceived annihilation of Jews appeals to them as most Greeks hold anti-Jewish views. Thus, it is not completely strange to see forms of limited praise directed at Hitler. In fact, some Greeks will go so far as to compare Hitler to Alexander the Great in that he was a visionary and not a simple conquerer like Genghis Khan.

The primary reason, I believe, that the typical Greek resents the Nazis is because of the German Occupation. Although plenty of fiction of Nazi brutality abounds in popular lore, there can be no doubt that the Germans were responsible for inflicting many unjustifiable horrors against Greek civilians (e.g. the massacre of Kalavryta which included the torching of an Orthodox church).

However, while there can never be any argument to exonerate German brutality against innocent civilians, these events should be placed in their proper context. The fact of the matter is that German massacres were in response to the Marxist guerrilla activities of EAM-ELAS; the Nazis didn't just get bored and decided on whim to massacre entire villages. The Germans had made it perfectly clear that any resistance against the occupation that resulted in the deaths of German soldiers and especially of higher-ranking officers would have extremely serious consequences for civilians of that area. As such, it is no leap of the imagination to deduce that EAM-ELAS intentionally targeted higher-ranking officers to trigger massive and bloodly reprisals against innocent Greek civilians. Such brutal reprisals would act as excellent propaganda to cultivate undying hatred towards the Germans and also aid the effort to recruit civilians seeking revenge into EAM-ELAS units. With this in mind, the Communists were just as responsible for the Nazi massacres of Greeks as the German executioners themselves were. Of course, these are points that are totally ignored by Greek history books as they discredit EAM-ELAS' heroic image.

The other main resentment towards the German Occupation stems from the fact that so many Greeks starved to death during that short period of time. However, this too, needs to be put into the proper context:

First of all, it needs to be noted that the Germans were not the only occupiers of Greece -- something that seems to be conveniently ignored. The Italians and Bulgarians also occupied Greece and, thus, if guilt is to be passed for the famine (or any other atrocity), the Italian and Bulgarian roles should not be ignored. The Italians, after all, were the culprits responsible for reversing Hitler's extremely lenient terms of surrender towards the Greek Army -- terms that no other occupied nation had ever been offered. The Bulgarians, on the other hand, represented the greatest persecutors of Greeks. The Bulgarian occupation of northern Greece was extremely brutal since, unlike the German or Italian occupations, it aimed at the extirpation of Greeks in that region for replacement by Bulgarian settlers. Greeks who escaped execution by the Bulgarians actually fled to German or Italian-occupied districts for safety.

Secondly, although the Nazis are universally blamed for the famine, the fact remains that the British were arguably most responsible for creating this environment in the first place by bombarding ships coming into Greece with desperately needed imports. The Allies had to be forced by international opinion just to allow neutral (!) countries to import food and humanitarian aid into Greece. And, by that time, most of the damage had already been done. At this point one must ask why it was so important to the Allies for Greece to be so deprived of basic living supplies. After all, Greece hardly represented the key to destroying the Axis either strategically, militarily, or through its meager contribution of exports to the Axis. Although true that food -- as well as humanitarian aid -- was diverted and exported out of Greece to aid the Axis despite the horrible conditions that existed within Greece, these exports were a negligible threat that could not possibly justify rendering the entire civilian population of Greece so expendable in the efforts to limit the Axis' potential supplies that the greatest famine of the Second World War was sanctioned to befallen the Greek population. This callous (if not barbaric) attitude by the Allies is magnified by the fact that Greece was a former Ally. Although the Axis' behavior is obviously deplorable for re-routing badly needed Greek supplies, the Axis would not have been pressed to do this to a starving country if it were not for the Allies who, for some inexplicable reason, decided upon a course of destroying any imports intended for Greece -- a country that as previously mentioned held no real tactical advantage. However, in fairness to the Axis, I should note that the Germans halted the export of food from Greece in 1942, thus alleviating some of the suffering. And before that time, the Axis did import some food into Greece while the Germans assisted the Greek collaborationist authorities in distributing food to Greeks. So, at the very least, the Germans seem to have shown some concern towards the Greek population whereas the British were solely interested with the objective of eliminating supplies irrespective of the consequences for the Greek people (who obviously would suffer the most from this policy).

Also, some investigation should be done to gauge the dire results produced by Greek farmers who refused to cooperate with the collaborationist government even in order to feed their very own people.

It's unlikely the many factors revolving around the German Occupation will be analyzed and put into their proper context to create a scholarly and genuinely historiographic account of this event anytime soon considering the current political climate. However, even if it was, how many Greeks would accept it? The mass man doesn't like multi-faceted explanations, preferring instead simple and one-sided interpretations that don't require him to think much.

9:08 PM  

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