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The Jewish communities of Greece are amongst the oldest in Europe, dating back more than 2,000 years.  Of the estimated 71,600 Jews who lived in Greece at the time of the 1941 Nazi invasion, at least 58,885 perished in the Holocaust.  Most Jews lived in Thessaloniki, formerly known as Salonika, which had been the religious and cultural hub for Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492.  Between March and early June 1943, the Germans deported 48,974 Jews, most from Salonika, to Auschwitz where nearly all perished.  In addition, Bulgarian authorities deported more than 4,000 Jews from Bulgarian-occupied parts of Greece to Treblinka.

From September 1943, Italian forces occupied Athens and parts of Greece but were not engaged in the mass murder of Jews.  Thousands of Jews who resided in the Nazi-occupied areas fled to the relatively safer Italian zone, causing the Jewish population of Athens to rise from 3,500 before the war to as many as 10,000.  After the Italians surrendered to the Allies in September 1943, the Nazis occupied all of Greece and began deporting Jews from Athens in April 1944.  The Nazis also deported Jews from other communities of the mainland, as well as from the ancient Jewish communities on Greek islands, by summer 1944.

Approximately 10,000 Greek Jews survived the Holocaust, many due to assistance from other Greek citizens and Greek Orthodox Church leaders.  Yad Vashem has named more than 200 Greeks as “Righteous Among the Nations.”  Comprehensive statistics on Holocaust survivors, however, are not available because an undefined number of Holocaust survivors left for Israel and the United States after World War II (WWII).

Post-war Greek governments put Greek war criminals and collaborators on trial, including three prime ministers installed by the Nazis.  In 2014, Holocaust negation and denial was made illegal, punishable by jail and fines.  Descendants of Greek Holocaust survivors have been eligible for Greek citizenship since 2017.

According to the World Jewish Congress, Greece is currently home to between 4,300 and 6,000 Jews.  In Thessaloniki, as of mid-2019, there were 94 remaining Holocaust survivors, including 12 who spent time in Nazi concentration camps.  Holocaust survivors in Greece do not receive a special government allowance, but they do receive social welfare benefits available to Greek citizens facing health-related vulnerabilities, disability, or poverty.  Established in 1945, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece is the umbrella organization for the Jewish community in the country; it allocates resources to rehabilitation programs for Jewish citizens.

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

Greece initiated several directives and restitution laws at the end of WWII.  In 1944, the Greek government was the first European government to state clearly that Greece should under no circumstances benefit from abandoned or confiscated Jewish property.

Greece was among the first countries to enact private property restitution legislation.  On October 27, 1944, the liberated Greek government enacted Law No. 2/1944 providing for the return of all properties originally belonging to Jews.  On May 23, 1945, Compulsory Law No. 337/1945, concerning the Annulment of Law 205/1944 regarding the Administration of Jewish Properties Abandoned or Impounded by the Occupation Authorities, was passed.  On December 31, 1945, Compulsory Law 808/1945 ordered the immediate return of Jewish property by the trustees to the original owners.  Communal property was returned to the Jewish community in Greece under the same set of laws applicable to private property restitution.

The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece allocates resources to rehabilitation programs for Jewish citizens.  To supplement the Central Board’s work, the Organization for the Relief and Rehabilitation of the Israelites of Greece (OPAIE) was founded in 1949.  OPAIE administers formerly Jewish-owned property left heirless after the Holocaust era.  It allocates resources to the Central Board for community‑rehabilitation programs and acts as the successor organization for all Jewish heirless property in the country.

The most emblematic case in which the physical return of property was not feasible was addressed in 2011 through the passage of Law No. 3943, under which the Greek government agreed to pay €10 million (the equivalent of $14 million in 2011) to the Jewish community of Thessaloniki as compensation for the Nazi destruction of the city’s historic Jewish cemetery.  After WWII, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki was built on part of the cemetery’s land.  The Jewish community relinquished its claim to the property as part of the settlement.

Greece passed heirless property legislation related to the Holocaust in 1946.  Emergency Law 846/1946 on the Abolition of the Right of the Greek State to Inherit Jewish Property prevented Greece from assuming title for heirless Jewish properties.  In Greece, property generally reverts to state ownership when there are no heirs to claim it.

OPAIE claims more than 100 properties owned by Jews before the war are now used as government facilities.  In 2017, the country’s Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of OPAIE for one of these properties in the city of Rhodes that had been unlawfully registered and claimed as state property.  In 2019, the Jewish community and the Ministry of Finance agreed to jointly review, register, assess, and negotiate the disposition of other Rhodes properties through out‑of‑court settlements.  An intergovernmental committee has been formed to examine similar cases throughout the country.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

Greece has conducted research on archaeological sites and artifacts that were plundered by the Nazis.  The resulting information has not been made public so as to limit the risk of underground markets in these objects.  Greece was the host of the fourth workshop of the European Shoah Legacy Institute’s Provenance Research Training Program, which was held in Athens in June 2014.  Provenance research, however, is still limited at museums and other cultural institutions in Greece.

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

The Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens holds a few looted Judaica objects, with the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece being responsible for these items.  So far as is known, no provenance research is being conducted on Judaica holdings in Greece’s other cultural institutions.

The Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw holds a number of religious artifacts that are reported to have been stolen from Greek Jews by the Nazis and found in the Eckersdorf Castle in Lower Silesia.  These items included ritual objects used as important accessories for religious observance (mainly rimonim, which are the decorated finials or end pieces used to adorn a sacred Torah scroll, and me’ilim, which are decorative traditional outer coverings for the Torah).  The Thessaloniki community requested the return of these items, but upon investigation, it became clear that the objects held in Warsaw were from all over Greece, not only Thessaloniki.  As a result, an understanding was reached that the objects should be sent to Athens and then distributed within the country.  To date, there have been no known successful restitution claims.

Greece endorsed the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.  It is also a signatory to the International Council of Museums Code of Ethics.

Access to Archival Documents

The country’s most significant loss of Jewish cultural property relates to the looted archives of Jewish communities in Athens, Ioannina, Larissa, Volos, Didymoteicho, Kavala, and Thessaloniki.  Most of these archives are believed to be in the Russian State Military Archive in Moscow.  The Jewish community of Thessaloniki has a pending case against the Russian government for the return of these archives.

Access to Greek state and military archival material is relatively unhindered.  Some issues pertinent to the copying, transfer, and retention of archival documents outside of Greece are under review.

Other available archival resources include the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki’s 2009 published list of more than 37,500 names of the tens of thousands of Jews deported to concentration camps from all over the country.  The Jewish Museum of Greece’s Oral History Archive contains oral testimonies of some 115 Holocaust survivors.

On May 7, 2019, the parliament passed legislation defining as “religious community archives” the entire archival material filed or processed, inter alia, at the Central Board of the Jewish Communities in Greece and at the offices of individual Jewish communities.  The law directs that all religious community archives should be preserved in good condition, be accessible to the public, and be catalogued under the national directory for archives of the state archives authority.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

Greece has dedicated resources to achieve Terezin Declaration goals, including the promotion of Holocaust education and remembrance.  Greece is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and will hold the IHRA chairmanship in 2021.  Government officials regularly participate in commemoration ceremonies, including International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.  As the deportation of Jews from Thessaloniki began on March 15, 1943, that date is also recognized as a day of remembrance.  President Pavlopoulos officially opened the new wing of the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki in October 2019, noting that it would serve “as a beacon for the fulfillment of the permanent duty to remember the Holocaust, at a time when admirers of Nazism and fascism are emerging again in Europe.”

Greece has multiple Holocaust memorials, many of which commemorate locations where Jews and other WWII victims were deported or killed, or where Jewish cemeteries, schools, or synagogues once stood.  Thessaloniki’s planned Holocaust Museum, for instance, will be built on the site of the old railway station where so many of the country’s Jews began their fatal journey to Auschwitz.

The public education curriculum includes Holocaust and human rights education.  For secondary school students, the Ministry of Education funds annual educational trips to Auschwitz.  Greek educators are encouraged to participate in Holocaust courses, such as the 2017 seminars developed by the Olga Lengyel Institute in partnership with the Jewish Museum of Greece and held under the auspices of the Ministry of Education.  In 2014, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki reestablished its department of Jewish Studies with funding from the local Jewish community.



Turkey has legal mechanisms to address Holocaust-era property returns, although with no known current cases, these mechanisms remain untested.  As a country that was not occupied by Axis powers during World War II (WWII) and that maintained a policy of active neutrality during the war, Turkey played a role in facilitating the transportation of Jews fleeing Europe, while also maintaining business relationships with Nazi German firms.  Turkey has no known immovable or movable property cases from this period.

There are approximately 16,000 Jews in Turkey, according to the Jewish Community of Turkey, the primary organization representing the community.  No Holocaust survivors are currently living in the country.

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

The Jewish community notes that, while there are no known Holocaust-era immovable property claims within Turkey itself, individual Turkish Jews who reside in European countries once controlled by Nazi or Nazi-allied governments (some of whom were rescued through the efforts of Turkish diplomats) may present their claims through the appropriate mechanisms in those countries.  Local scholars were only aware of a handful of cases, mostly in France, in which Turkish Jews sought and received compensation for damages to property and goods during the war.  They are not aware, however, of any current claims being pursued by survivors or their descendants.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

Turkish Holocaust scholars and sources within the local Jewish community are unaware of any claims related to Nazi-looted art or other movable property in Turkey.  While admitting the possibility that private individuals may hold such property and recognizing that Nazi‑confiscated and looted art is a global problem, these sources were neither aware of the presence of such pieces in the country nor of their transit through it.

One known instance relates to movable property seizures from the Holocaust era and the use of Nazi gold to buy war materials from Turkey during WWII.  The U.S. National Archives documented the sale of looted gold provided by Germany’s then-Central Bank, the Reichsbank, for foreign currency to fund diplomatic, espionage, and propaganda activities.  Under its policy of “active neutrality,” Turkey supplied materials to both Axis and Allied countries during the war.  American experts estimated Nazi Germany transferred to Turkey between $10 and $15 million (approximately $140-$215 million in current value) in gold during the war.

Post-war efforts to locate Nazi Germany’s external assets, including gold, indicated as much as $71 million worth of assets were in Turkey in 1946.  Turkey’s eventual declaration of war against Nazi Germany complicated the Allies’ ability to liquidate those assets to aid in the reconstruction of Europe.  Shifting geopolitical priorities and prolonged negotiations eventually led to a 1952 agreement to settle the Allies’ claims on German assets (particularly gold) in Turkey with the government for $1 million.  In return, Allied governments relinquished their claims on Nazi German assets in Turkey.

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

According to the members of the local Jewish community, there are no known Judaica or Jewish cultural property items in Turkey looted from Europe during the Holocaust era.  The community emphasized that any potential claims could be pursued with the government – specifically, with the Ministry of Culture as the first point of contact – in the event an item was brought to their attention.  Representatives from the Jewish Museum of Turkey emphasized they can account for all items in their collection and trace items’ origins to communities in Turkey or reputable partners.

Access to Archival Documents

Local representatives are unaware of any challenges in accessing archival documents from Turkish sources that would be relevant to proving ownership of looted immovable, movable, or Jewish cultural properties.  Jewish community representatives noted that Ottoman-era records and genealogical data provided through Turkish population registers are available and can be helpful when conducting lineage research.  Other contacts note that Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ records for the WWII period largely remain closed, citing security grounds.  They add that opening them could provide additional details about Turkish Jews and non-Turkish Jews who traveled to or through Turkey during that time, as well as shed new light on the role Turkish diplomats played in aiding Jews escaping from Europe.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

Turkey was one of the co-sponsors of the 2005 UN resolution designating January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The government commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, participates in several other acts of remembrance, and is an observer in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

There is no official Holocaust-related curriculum in Turkey.  Former participants in Turkey’s delegations to IHRA point to this absence as one of the reasons Turkey has not moved beyond observer status in the organization.  These contacts also indicated that the Foreign Ministry attempted to work with the Ministry of Education at various points to develop a Holocaust education curriculum.  However, the efforts did not result in tangible progress.

Private organizations supported by external donations initiated a number of programs to directly reach students and train teachers in Holocaust education, but these programs are limited in scope.  Recently, the Civil and Ecological Rights Association (SEHAK) neared completion on a three‑year project with the Anne Frank House to design a Holocaust education curriculum in Turkish, hold regional trainer and educator seminars, host educational exhibitions, and organize an international conference.  Several contacts also said reading lists, particularly in private secondary schools, include Holocaust-related material as part of their recommended (but not required) reading options.  Despite these positive steps, the absence of a systematic Holocaust education curriculum is a significant shortcoming, and existing activities only reach a limited number of teachers and students.

There are no known permanent Holocaust memorials in Turkey.  For the past five years, the Governor of Istanbul hosted a commemoration ceremony to mark the sinking in 1942 of the Struma, a ship with nearly 800 Jewish refugees transiting the Black Sea from occupied Romania to then‑Mandatory Palestine.  Turkish officials attend that commemoration event along with Jewish community representatives, including the Chief Rabbi and members of the diplomatic community.  In addition, for the past five years, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs co‑hosted an annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day event with Ankara University.  Similar events take place in Istanbul where the country’s Jewish community is largely centered, and the government releases a public statement each year to mark the day.

The Jewish Museum of Turkey primarily focuses on the cultural history of the community.  In doing so, it also commemorates the actions of Turkish diplomats who saved the lives of Turkish Jews as well as others during WWII.  According to the curators of the exhibition, more than 100,000 Jews passed through Turkey while fleeing Europe, and Istanbul was an important center of rescue activity.  The exhibition features the story of Selahattin Ulkumen, recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, as well as other Turkish diplomats who provided Turkish passports to citizens and possibly noncitizens as they escaped from Europe.  The museum also features an educational outreach program.

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