Introduction to Rescue in Greece


Greece, 1941-1943


In 1941, there were 77,178 Jews living in Greece.  This represented 0.9% of the overall population of Greece.  56,000 lived in Salonika.  This represented 20% of the overall population of the city.

On April 6, 1941, Hitler invaded Greece by way of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.  On April 18, the Greek army fled to Crete.  Crete fell to the Germans after a massive invasion beginning on May 20, 1941. 

Greece was divided into three zones of occupation.  The Italians occupied the Ionian islands, central and southern Greece, and Athens.  The Germans occupied central Macedonia and the eastern edge of Greek Thrace.  The Bulgarians occupied the majority of Thrace and part of Macedonia.

After the German occupation, Jewish papers were closed or suppressed, Jewish property was confiscated, and prominent Jewish business and political leaders were arrested.

In February 1943, Eichmann sent his assistant to ghettoize the Jews of Salonika.  New antisemitic laws were established.

In July 1942, 10,000 Greek Jews were put in forced labor battalions in humiliating and horrific conditions.

In March 1943, 12,000 Greek Jews from the occupied territories of Thrace and Macedonia were deported to their deaths.  Most were killed in the Auschwitz death camp.

Germans deported 48,000 Jews from occupied Salonika from March to May 1943.  37,000 were murdered on arrival in Auschwitz.  96% of Salonika’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

Greek political and community leaders protested the deportations to the Greek government and Italian and German occupation forces.  150 lawyers from Salonika appealed to the Greek government in Athens to stop the deportations.  The Germans refused.

During this period, Athens and the Italian occupied zone remained a safe haven for Jews.  Italian diplomats, soldiers and military police protected many of the Jewish inhabitants in Athens and its environs.

There were 3,500 Jews living in Athens during the Italian occupation. Until the surrender of the Italian occupying forces in Greece on September 8, 1943, the Jews of Athens enjoyed the protection of the Italian occupying forces.  During this period, few Jews were menaced. 

Archbishop Damaskinos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church, encouraged church leaders to protect Jews in religious institutions.  The head of the Greek government, Dr. Constantine Logothetopoulos, also tried to stop the deportations. Many of the Jews of Athens survived the war because of protection by the Greek resistance, police, and ordinary Greek citizens.  Many Athenian Jews went into hiding and were protected by their neighbors.

265 Greeks have been honored by the State of Israel for saving Jews.


Princess Alice of Greece*

Princess Alice of Greece, a great granddaughter of Queen Victoria—and mother of Prince Philip of England—hid and saved Jews in her personal residence in Athens.  For this, she was made a Righteous Person by the State of Israel in 1993.

Archbishop George Damaskinos,* Metropolitan of Athens, Acting Head of State for Greek Government in Exile

After the Greek government went into exile, Archbishop George Damaskinos, Metropolitan of Athens, became temporary head of state.  During his tenure as Metropolitan of Athens, he encouraged members of the Greek Orthodox Church and clergymen to hide Jews throughout Greece.  He made numerous protests against the Nazi persecution of Jews.  He issued church encyclicals, hid Jewish children, and issued false Baptismal Certificates to Jews.  For his actions, he was declared Righteous Among the Nations in 1969.



Jewish Survival in Greece


Jews of Greece – 13-22% (10,380-17,380 survived, 60,000-67,000 lost). Pre-deportation Jewish population was 77,380.[1]  In Athens, thousands of Greek Jews were aided by diplomats from Turkey, Spain, and Italy.  Theophilos Damaskinos, Regent for the Greek government in exile and Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Greek Orthodox Church, intervened directly to aid Jews.[2]  Princess Alice of Greece is also honored for aiding Jews.  In addition, the Athens Police, headed by chief Angelos Evert, issued forged documents to Jews.[3]  More than 600 Greek Orthodox clergymen were arrested for issuing baptismal certificates and hiding 250 Jewish children. The Greek underground transported and hid Jews. In Salonika, Italian diplomats helped hundreds of Jews by issuing them protective documents and helping them escape to the Italian zone around Athens.[4]  335 Greeks have been honored for rescuing Jews.[5]




[1] Bauer & Rozett, in Gutman, 1990, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, s.v. “Estimated Losses in the Holocaust,” p. 1799-1800; Hilberg, 1985, p. 1220

[2] Bender & Weiss, 2011, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous among the Nations: Europe (Part II), s.v., “Greece.”

[3] Bender & Weiss, 2011, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous among the Nations: Europe (Part II), s.v., “Greece.”

[4] Bowman, in Gutman, 1990, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, s.v. “Greece,” pp. 614-616; Kerem, in Gutman, 1990, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, s.v. “Athens,” pp. 104-105; Carpi, 1981

[5] Bender & Weiss, 2011, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous among the Nations: Europe (Part II).


Updated November 4, 2017