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Greek Historical Archives: The Efforts of the Service of Historical Archives in the Preservation and Presentation of the History of the Greek Jews by Stelios Zachariou, Athens - 4.01

The Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs has contributed in the effort to shed new light on the rich cultural heritage of the Greek Jewish community that was almost eradicated by the occupation forces during World War II. The volume Documents on the History of the Greek Jews (Kastaniotis Editions, 1998), edited by Mrs. Photini Tomai-Constantopoulou, Director of the Service of Historical Archives, and Thanos Veremis, Professor of the Department of Political Science of the University of Athens, coincided with the drive of nations globally to compensate the victims of the Holocaust, thus making tangible amends for the atrocities of the Nazis for the annihilation of the majority of the Jewish population of Europe. The London Conference on Nazi Gold (December 2 – 4, 1997) was the beginning of the contribution to this effort by the Service of Historical Archives in December 1997. The aim of the conference was to pool the available knowledge relating to looted gold by the Nazis and agree on a set of guidelines and means of reimbursement to the countries. The 39 countries and NGO's that met in London were to decide on how to distribute the remainder of the Tripartite Commission's monetary gold pool worth approximately $30 million. Most nations, including Greece, readily agreed to the return of part of the allotted gold to the survivors of their own countries or to an account set up by the British and Americans, which would distribute the funds to survivors of the Holocaust. The monetary gold allotted to Greece is used today by the George Papandreou Foundation, the institution that bears the name of the first post war prime minister’s whose government passed the first legislative measures in favor of the restitution of property to its rightful owners. The scholarships supported by the monetary gold, are provided to students conducting research at the graduate level for the Holocaust era. Almost one year later The Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets convene in the American capitol (30/11/98 – 3/12/98) to review a variety of issues relating to assets looted by the Nazis. This conference focused on the history of Nazi-confiscated art, Nazi era insurance business practices, and archival transparency and cooperation The Greek delegation consisted of experts in history, economics, and archives, who were in a position to shed new light on subjects such as the German restitution policy towards Greece since the end of the Cold War, the confiscation of communal and private wealth, and the recent finding that stemmed from the research conducted for the Publication of Documents on the History of the Greek Jews. Under Secretary of State Stuart E. Eizenstat shortly after the completion of the conference addressed a letter of appreciation to the Greek Ambassador in Washington reiterating his oral statement at the conference which stated among other things that "Greece has continued its leadership role on Holocaust issues by publishing a collection of Greek Foreign Ministry documents relating to the history of Thessaloniki, as well as the creation of the state of Israel. I thank you once again for your significant contribution to the Conference, as well as your continued commitment to the rectification of lingering Holocaust Era issues." The Washington Conference set in full motion the compensation drive of the victims of the Holocaust, attempting thus to heal the war scars and pay tribute to the memory of a flourishing cultural and religious ethnos that was devastated by Nazi genocide. A year after the conference in the United States and in partial fulfillment of the commitments undertaken in Washington, Sweden held The Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust: A conference on Education Remembrance and Research (January 26 – 28 2000) The primary goal of the conference was to "promote initiatives related to Holocaust education" in order to strengthen Holocaust education, remembrance and research on an national and international level. Head of the Greek delegation was the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. George Papandreou accompanied by members of Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, the Jewish community of Thessaloniki, the curator of the Jewish Museum of Greece and members of non-profit organizations. The attendance of the Greek foreign minister in this high-level conference attests to the importance that Greece places on the continuation of Holocaust remembrance and the rich Judeo-Christian tradition in Greek history and culture. The Greek delegation, in its drive for historical clarity, submitted a proposal suggesting the establishment of an international academic council that would collect and disseminate knowledge and information about the Holocaust for use by the education institutions in each country. It was in this context that the Minister noted in his speech to the Stockholm delegates that "it is imperative that Holocaust education move beyond continental boundaries, that it becomes a banner for human rights . . . .[in an] effort to eradicate hatred, bigotry, racism and fear, in the Balkans in Europe, and in the rest of the world." The minister's words echo a greater consensus among the Greek populous and respective Greek governments. Besides, it was the post war government of George Papandreou, the current ministers grandfather, which was the first among European states to pass legislative measures for the restitution of the property confiscated by the German forces during the war. The Greek state became the first and only one in Europe to return Jewish properties that had been confiscated in the course of the war immediately after the cessation of hostilities. Furthermore, it waived its lawful right of inheritance to those properties whose owners had not left descendants to the fourth degree and the property of the deceased was transferred to a common fund to aid Jews impoverished by war. In recent years the Greek governments have worked closely with the Jewish Central Board, and the Jewish communities throughout Greece in a ongoing effort to preserve the traditions of one of the oldest Sephardic and Romaniot communities in Europe, while presenting the cultural mosaic of modern Greece. This effort has not been easy, nor is it concluded. Much work has been accomplished in the context of the high level conferences and Greece has been praised for its initiatives and sincerity. In addition to the participation of the conferences, the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Service of Historical Archives in particular, has taken several initiatives in an effort to spread the history of the Greek of Jewish heritage. In 1998 the volume Documents on the History of the Greek Jews (Kastaniotis Editions, 1998) was presented in a ceremony attended by leading members of the political and religious community of Greece. Two years later, the volume was published in Greek and presented by the Central Jewish Board of Greece in a ceremony held at the Old Parliament Building, amidst friends and honored quests. In conjunction with the volume, the Service of Historical Archives holds a separate archival unit, which contains all information related to the history of the Greek Jews found in the archival depository of the Ministry. This record group has been analytically indexed and made available to research historians interested in Greek Jewry. In addition to the publication effort, the Service of Historical Archives signed in May 1999 a cooperative agreement with the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. This collaborative effort allowed the museum to microfilm documents relevant to the history of the Greek Jews enriching the central database of archival information currently being developed at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. This cooperative agreement has significantly increased the capacity of researchers, on an international level, to locate and use information regarding the devastated by the war Greek Jewish communities. Because as it is often stated, archives represent the written memory of nations, the Greek Government and particularly the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has requested on behalf of the Jewish communities of Greece the repatriation of the communal archives of the Jewish communities of Greece currently in the Russian state archives. These archival groups were transported during the war by the Germans to Berlin, and following the fall of the Third Reich, were in turn taken by the Russians to Moscow. This archival collection mirrors the rich history of the Jewish communities and constitutes a unique segment of the cultural mosaic of Greece. It was therefore extremely rewarding when during the state visit of the President of the Hellenic Republic Konstantinos Stefanopoulos to Moscow, the Russian government of Vladimir Putin agreed to return the records to the respective Jewish communities. Since then a team of academic researchers has visited the archival depositories in Moscow were the records are held and recorded in detail the record groups of Greek origin including the ones of the Communities of Thessaloniki and Athens. The repatriation of these records will allow historians to conduct the research necessary to present a clear picture of exceptionally thriving Jewish communities in the Balkans. The Service of Historical Archives, through this publication, and involvement in the international for a helps to preserve the memories of the martyrdom of the Jewish communities of Greece. Our continuous efforts and support of the restoration projects throughout Greece, and the repatriation of the archival collections of the communities, reinforce the pledge to educate future generations about the historical heritage of the Greek Jews. The history of the Greeks of Jewish faith is a significant chapter of the history of Greek civilization, and the Hellenic Ministry will continue to support efforts that focus on the preservation of Greek cultural heritage through historical clarity and truth.

Stelios Zachariou is an Academic Advisor for the Service of Historical Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


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