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Athens — “It is not possible for only a few thousand remaining Jews. There must be mainstream involvement or a big segment of the mainstream like newspapers, universities and the politicians,” said Hagen Fleischer, the emeritus professor of history at the University of Athens and an expert on the Holocaust and the German occupation of Greece.
The Austrian-born Fleischer, who is not Jewish, organized a public event aimed at countering the growth of Golden Dawn, bringing Holocaust survivors to tell their stories. But, he says, “You cannot solve the problem of Golden Dawn only with enlightenment or telling people there really was a Holocaust.”
Initially, many Greeks and leading politicians downplayed the party’s rise, dismissing it as a knee-jerk reaction from Greeks looking for a shortcut out of the country’s economic crisis but who did not really identify with Golden Dawn’s fascist ideology.
As Golden Dawn has become more brazen, violently attacking migrants, gays and Communists, disrupting theater productions deemed blasphemous and holding racist events like setting up a blood bank for pure Greek blood only, Greek political leaders have begun to mount a stronger response.
In October, parliament voted to lift the immunity of three Golden Dawn members of parliament accused of attacking immigrants. Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias announced the creation of a special police unit to deal with racist violence – a welcome move after repeated allegations that police were deliberately turning a blind eye to, or sometimes even colluding with, the black-shirt gangs in their attacks on foreigners.
Perhaps most significantly, the head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymous II, spoke out. “The Church loves all people, including those who are black, white or non-Christians,” he said.
Saltiel says these developments give him a glimmer of hope.
“If all the political groups, the church, the universities and the media come together to try and put things in the right way, I think that this will change,” he said.
Either way, the Jewish community will keep up its efforts.
“I frankly don’t know if it is enough, but it is something,” Battinou said. “And several small sources of something will hopefully amount to something far-reaching in this dark tunnel of racism and anti-Semitism.”