Archives of Memory:
The Experience of Greek Jews in Audiovisual Testimonies
Organized by the Group for the Study of the History of the Jews of Greece
24-25 February 2012
Amphitheatre Saratsis, University of Thessaly, Volos
Yiorgos Antoniou: Holocaust memories in Salonican Shoah survivors in USA and Greece: does the social context matter?
Abstract is not available.
Post war political and cultural history is incomplete if we do not take into consideration the first months and the first years after the Liberation of the camps, up to the survivors’ repatriation or emigration.
I propose to reconstruct the complex history of a group of Jews from Salonika, DPs, as they were called in the bureaucratic language of the military authorities and the international organizations, who after the camps’ Liberation remained in Germany for some months or some years at Feldafing displaced persons’ camp, located in the American zone of Occupation. Their story is a complex history pending between the Germans and the Allies, between the past of the war experiences and the future of new lives, between Greece, America and Israel. Behind the scene of the post-war international relations and political history –and in close relation to them- we may find lives and destinies of people who contradict the image of “passive subjects”, absent from their own history.
We discover that these Salonika Jews constitute a group of people sharing the same deportation experiences as well as a decision to emigrate, i.e., not to go back to Greece, their home country. Who were these persons? Why were they still in Germany and had not returned to Greece? Following the traces of their names and their trajectories reveals different aspects of their everyday life in their extraterritorial experience. The microhistory of this group of people allows us to deepen our thinking of the survivors’ lives in the years that followed the war.
Research about the Second World War experience of Salonikan Jews on the basis of oral and written testimonies leads to quite an
unexpected conclusion: some narrators choose to start their personal account of the events which took place during the war, or their description of their pre-war life, with an incident which lies far beyond
what is called “lived experience”. In such cases, the narrative begins with, or includes, emphatic references to their ancestors’ expulsion from Spain, an event which took place in 1492 and which, therefore, predates the
events at the very centre of their account by about five hundred years: of course, neither they themselves, nor their parents or grandparents experienced that event.
In this presentation, I shall draw on a sample of oral testimonies from the last two decades in order to show that the reference to the expulsion of 1492, which the Salonikan Jews make part of their account of the war, constitutes a narrative strategy, primarily aiming to incorporate the experience of genocide and the ensuing destruction of their once flourishing community into a larger oral tradition of successive destructions and revivals. The result is the shaping of a relatively coherent narrative which counterbalances the recent discontinuity due to Shoah by way of continuity to the very distant past. In turn, such a narrative leads to the reconstruction of a post-war collective memory of the Sephardic diaspora.
Riki van Boeschoten: Between duty and respect: the ethics of interviewing victims and perpetrators of the Shoah
The paper will discuss some of the ethical dilemmas confronting researchers in collecting testimonies from Holocaust survivors. I will focus on two powerful but contested episodes from Claude Lanzmann’s monumental film Shoah, in which the interviewer patently transgressed the generally accepted ethical guidelines in the field of oral history. These two scenes raise a number of important questions: how can we negotiate the tensions between the duty towards history and the respect of the interviewees’ subjectivity? Is it acceptable to retraumatize our subjects in order to get their stories on record? Who defines the "rights" of our interviewees? Is it defendable to apply different criteria for victims and perpetrators? What is the role of silence in oral history interviews but also in the interviewees personal lives?
The paper will discuss the uses of national identity in Auschwitz. It critically examines previous studies which have analyzed Greek Jews' references to "Greece" as: an endorsement of a given Greek identity; as a stratagem of survival; or, finally, as a new identity, a product of the stereotypical way the Ashkenazim inmates depicted the Jews from Greece. Taking into consideration the gendered and local dimensions of national identity, the paper focuses on a specific group of Greek Jews, the male Jews from Salonica. It analyzes the range and meanings of the national referent within the context of the survivors' testimonial discourses as well as through their practices in the camps. The paper suggests: that the national referent was inscribed within a broader process of signification of the camp world based on ethnicity; that the "national group" was constructed with regard to a nostalgia for the home country as well as with regard to the position of the inmates in the camp's hierarchy; that "national solidarity", although existent, only partially defined the inmates' relatedness and its cultural meanings; and that "Greekness" did not replace, but rather interacted with other more partial, local identities, like that of the "Salonican".
Anna Maria Droumpouki: Sites of memory of Second World War in Greece through the lens of oral history
In spite of the worldwide progress in the field of memory studies, in Greece the study of memory and the development of memory sites of the Second World War occupy a marginal position. Unfortunately, in Greece, and mostly in its capital, Athens, the visitor must search intensively among the ruins and the abandoned or recently reconstructed and diluted historic buildings in order to find a hint of the recent past. In this announcement I wish to address the jewish memory of the Second World War focusing on “lieux de mémoire”. To do so, I examine a number of public sites including concentration camps and prisons, focusing on the two major camps in Greece, that of Chaidari and Pavlos Melas. My aim is to outline the importance of the reciprocal circularity of oral history and memory and to reconstruct the daily life of Jews at these camps through audiovisual testimonies from Visual History Archive (funded by the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, created by Steven Spielberg in 1994), that help us to track down the official silences of the historiography.
Pothiti Hantzaroula: Transformations of the witness: Memory and emotions in the testimonies of Greek Jews
The paper focuses on the transformations of witnessing by placing the memory of Greek survivors in the historical context of the interview as well as in the context of the making of the archive. Recent scholarship has focused on the "place" of the interview as part of the development of the genre of testimony. It has been argued that the construction of the archive since the 1990s has shaped a "collective narrative" and has provided an "affective community" for the survivor. Furthermore, scholars tend to focus on the non-verbal elements of the testimony implying that “muteness” bears the truth of the experience of the Shoah. The paper will attempt to elaborate further these two notions. Firstly, it will explore the notion of the community of the survivor by pointing to the class and gender aspects of the testimony. This exploration is related to the affective structure of the testimony which permeates the narrative of the survivors. Thus, secondly, memory will be placed in the context of emotion and silence through the exploration of the narrative configuration of the testimonies.
Kerasia Malagiorgi: Coming back from the hiding places. The experiences of Jews of Volos in oral and video testimonies
This paper attempts a first approach on the material available in video and oral testimonies of the Jews of Volos, a material which is becoming a study object for the first time at the present moment. It concerns Jews who went into hiding and their experiences during the German Occupation and during the first postwar years, thus placing emphasis on the construction processes of Jewish identity in the aftermath of the Jewish genocide.
More specifically, the Jewish Community of Volos is the second lower in losses after the community of Zakinthos. Most Jews of the city hid in the area of Pelion, on the mountains of Thessaly and in Athens, while a large number of them participated in the Resistance.
Following a brief presentation of facts concerning the experiences of the Jews of Volos who went into hiding, I will address a number of issues which, so far, have not been approached adequately and/or deserve further study of their own: How is the Jewish genocide perceived by Jews who have not been to concentration camps (either as hidden and/or as members of the Resistance)? How do they differentiate themselves in comparison to camp inmates? And, what does the transmission of memory convey in their case?
I believe that elaboration of these queries contributes to the larger study of the Jewish genocide with reference to issues such as: the experience of “hidden Jews,” a subject that hasn’t been examined sufficiently; the Second World War and the participation of Jews in Resistance; the memory construction process of the Jewish genocide and its integration into the public speech.
Verena-Lucia Nagel: Testifying to Deportation: Jewish Women remember their deportation from Salonika
The historical facts and figures about the deportation of Salonican jews are well researched and widely known. One might ask, what can be learned from individual eyewitness accounts that were recorded some 50 years after the historical event?
In February 1943, German authorities started to concentrate the Salonican Jews in the Baron de Hirsch ghetto, preparing to deport them to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Jewish population from Salonika believed that they would be sent to Poland to work there. The timeframe between the concentration in the Baron de Hirsch ghetto and the arrival in Auschwitz- Birkenau is when this belief was proved wrong.
The effects of this this moment of dehuminization and despair can be well examined on a micro-level, by taking a closer look on what survivors remember about it.
For my presentation I will utilize video testimonies that were conducted by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education in the 1990s. The focus will be testimonies of Jewish women from Salonika who after the liberation of Auschwitz immigrated to various countries and 50 years later narrate their individual memories in English.
Through a comparison of the individual accounts of women, who survived Auschwitz as young women or teenagers, I will examine similarities and differences in their memories and diction and point out specific patterns of remembrance and speech. Further, I will explore what could be gender specifics in their interview narrations.
Vasilis Ritzaleos & Angel Chorapchiev: An untold story: Testimonies on the salvation of the Greek Jews mobilized to the Bulgarian forced labour camp in Belitsa (1943)
The paper aims at revealing the unique story of a small group of Greek Jews, originating from Kavala and Drama, during the Second World War. Since January 1943 these young men had been mobilized for forced labour (the construction of a new railway) in the camp of Belitsa in southwest Bulgaria, together with at least 100 more Greek Jews, which were sent to other, similar, labour camps. In March 1943, the Bulgarian regime, as a German ally, arrested and deported all the Jews from the occupied territories of Northern Greece to the death camp of Treblinka in Poland. Among the 4,200 Greek Jews of the region, only this small group of men escaped the deportation and remained in the camp for the rest of the year. In November 1943 they were released together with the Bulgarian Jews mobilized to the same camp. Eventually, not being able to return to Kavala, they found a safe shelter in the Jewish community of Plovdiv for more almost a year, until the communist coup of September 1944 in Bulgaria. Various oral testimonies of the survivors throw today some fresh light on this extraordinary rescue, in time when the Bulgarian Jews themselves lived under anti-Semitic laws and measures.