Some of the Jewish Communities in Greece, like those of Chalcis, Janina, Arta, and Corfu, are very ancient. Their origin is lost in antiquity.
For instance, amongst the ruins of Delos, the sacred island of Ancient Greece, reputed to have been the birth place of Apollo and a great centre of worship throughout the pagan ages, the remains of the Synagogue are still to be seen.
The modern Community of Salonica, the largest in Greece, is a settlement of Spanish Jews who fled there from the persecutions of Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand the Catholic. They still speak amongst themselves a Spanish dialect in which many archaic forms of language were preserved, and many of them had Judaeo-Spanish names. Ever since Greece recovered her independence by conquest in 1830, the laws of the Kingdom have granted full civil and social rights to the Jews of Greece. At no time have these rights been denied or questioned, and at no time have the Greek people allowed themselves to be reached by any of the successive waves of anti-Semitism which have periodically swept over Europe; in fact, anti-Semitism is entirely unknown in Greece and entirely alien to the national character. Neither had the Jews, during domestic controversies, some of which have been extremely acute, been made as in so many other countries, scape-goats for public misfortunes. This is all the more remarkable because the Jews in those parts of Greece which were most recently united to the Kingdom (Salonica, for instance), although completely assimilated as far as the national consciousness and the actual participation in the nation's life are concerned (they were always represented in Parliament by Jewish members), have been entirely free to retain their own dialect, a form of Judaeo-Spanish which they speak amongst themselves, and their own customs.
In more recent years the Greek Jews have always shared the vicissitudes of their country of adoption. In the present war against Fascism and Nazism, many Jews have distinguished themselves by their gallantry in military action. A particularly memorable example was given by the Jewish Colonel Frizis, of the Greek Royal Infantry, a member of the very ancient Jewish Community of Chalcis, in Euboea. Colonel Frizis, after a series of feats of arms, was killed on his horse, which he refused to dismount, in total disregard of danger, during an attack by dive-bombers. The Greek Press published a detailed account of this heroic death, together with the letter of condolence addressed to his widow by the late Prime Minister of Greece, in which lie informed her that the Colonel's children would be brought up in the nation's care.
Soon after the invasion of Greece, the Gestapo, which arrived on the heels of the German Army, enforced, together with other general measures of oppression and terrorism, the introduction of anti-Jewish measures, forbidding Jews to practice certain professions, to enter cafes, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, etc. The repercussions of such measures were keenly felt in Salonica, where the Jewish Community is very large. These measures, dictated by a hated and despised enemy, and directed against compatriots who had taken a full and honorable part in this last total war of the Greek nation, were met with profound indignation by Greek public opinion, and with such stubborn opposition that their efforts were entirely neutralized. It seems that even the Puppet Government, under authorities had a formal protest against anti-Semitic measures.
Information reaching London from the underground newspaper E Mahomene Ellas (Fighting Greece) and from other sources, reveal something of the recent position of Jews in Axis-occupied Greece.
In the month of August, 1942, the German authorities ordered all male Jews between the ages of 16 and 40 to assemble in Salonica, the intention being, apparently, to send them to a specially organized ghetto to be established in Crete. When 9,000 had been rounded up, the Germans paraded them and forced them to march and run for two hours, then beat them indiscriminately. About 100 of the prisoners fell unconscious as a result of this treatment, and two died. Informers who were present pointed out those Jews who were known to have property, and the Germans by means of extreme ill-treatment extorted money and jewelry from them.
A solemn warning was issued by Greek Orthodox Church authorities that if the Germans persisted with a plan to send the Jews to the Crete ghetto, or if they deported them to Poland, there would be a general uprising of the entire population: accordingly the plan was abandoned. Instead, the Jews were sent to a concentration camp in the Macedonian Mountains. Where they were condemned to forced labor, road-building and farm work.
Apparently 8,000 of these Jews reached the concentration camp, for in October, various Greek quisling newspapers reported that of that number some 200 had been fettered and thrown into prison because they attempted to escape and join the guerrillas operating from mountain bases.
Report No. 6, Issued by The Inter-Allied Information Committee, London, May 1943.