DAVID SALTIEL 58.
(photo credit: Jonathan Beck)
ATHENS – Holocaust survivors of Greek extraction will soon have their Greek citizenship restored in an expedited process, the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitrios Dollis, who accompanied Prime Minister George Papandreou on his official visit to Israel in late July, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
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That survivors have been denied their citizenship until now was a “result of the paranoia of consecutive governments,” Dollis said.
Dollis, a veteran politician who was an exile in Australia and a member of the Labor Party there, said that as a longstanding supporter of Israel, he had been pushing for Holocaust survivors to be naturalized as Greeks again for a long time.
He added that the initiative had been in the pipeline since Papandreou came to power in October 2009, but had been delayed “for various reasons,” and would have been undertaken regardless of the recent improvement in bilateral ties.
“They’re our people... It’s their natural right,” he added, characterizing the current state of affairs as a “moral injustice that had to be corrected.”
There are approximately 100 survivors in Israel who will be granted citizenship. Dollis and Papandreou held a meeting with some of them during his visit in July.
Dollis told the Post
that the papers would be processed within months, and the survivors would be holders of Greek ID cards by early 2011.
While all of the survivors are elderly and the move would be mostly symbolic for them, Dollis said their descendants would then be able to file requests with the Greek Embassy to receive citizenship as children of naturalized Greek citizens.
As a member state of the European Union, Greek citizenship automatically grants its holders all the privileges of being a citizen of the EU.
Speaking at a meeting with Israeli journalists on Monday – attended by members of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, as well as Israeli Ambassador Aryeh Mekel – David Saltiel, the board’s chairman, told the Post
that the previous governments’ refusals to give citizenship to Greek Jews who fled the country during the Holocaust was a remnant of the country’s anti- Israel past. That past, he said, was expressed in some “anti- Semitic legislation” his organization was trying to overturn.
Saltiel, who only recently took over as chairman, is using the flowering ties to leverage an improvement in the condition of the Jewish communities in Greece.
He said that since Papandreou’s efforts to improve ties with Israel had gone into high gear, the community was finding it easier to book meetings with government ministers and that the government had been cooperative in repairing and restoring synagogues and cemeteries.
Saltiel attributed anti-Israel sentiments in Greece partly to a religious- based anti-Semitism, but expressed optimism that now that the government was changing course, the Greek population would follow suit.
“Anti-Semitism in Greece comes from ignorance and from books where you read about the crucifixion of Christ,” he said, adding that thanks to the Board of Jewish Communities’ efforts, today “elementary school books speak about what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust.”
A book published by the board in cooperation with the Greek Ministry of
National Education and Religious Affairs in 2008 (and in 2009 in
English) was shown as an example. Titled Young People in the Maelstrom
of Occupied Greece, the Persecution and Holocaust of the Jewish People
1943- 1944, the book contains personal accounts and testimonies by
survivors. Saltiel clarified that such a publication would certainly not
have been possible just a few years ago.
Victor Eliezer, a member of the board, added that Papandreou’s harsh
condemnation of a recent incident in which a synagogue in Crete was
vandalized was an unprecedented reaction to anti- Semitism.
“Still, there’s a problem of education of Greek society,” Eliezer said.
“There are anti-Semitic articles in the press, and we still always
expect Greek society to react in a certain way,” Eliezer added. He cited
incidents of vandalism of monuments and cemeteries in several towns
following Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip two years ago.
The Jewish community in Greece numbers a mere 5,000 people today, down
from 77,000 before World War II. The community in Thessaloniki
flourished so much that the city came to be known as “Jerusalem of the
Balkans,” Saltiel said.
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