May 4, 2007

View Greece’s Wartime History in Context

I am perplexed by opinion writer Andrew Apostolou’s general assessment of Greece’s conscience (“Greece Must Acknowledge Its Complicity in the Shoah,” March 23).

Though most of the historic data presented in the opinion article are true and correct, I believe it is superficial to isolate a part of history and draw judgment without viewing the facts in the general context of World War II and the Holocaust.

I always point out to young historians and researchers that they have to first understand what occupation means — and what German occupation meant to those of us who lived under it.

Shameful pages of history were written all over German-occupied Europe. Fear, betrayal and looting were part of our everyday life at the time, which is why those who helped were heroes. Those who risked their lives and the lives of their families by sheltering Jews during that dark period, when others around them collaborated to survive, are righteous indeed.

The archbishop at the time, Damaskinos, addressed letters of protest to the occupation forces, asking them to stop the deportation of Jews. Other religious leaders in Europe, by contrast, either collaborated with the Nazis or remained indifferent to the deportations. Prime Minister Konstantinos Logothetopoulos also protested against the deportations.

Apostolou refers to Greeks who collaborated with the Nazi occupiers. He makes no mention, however, of countries such as Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus and Ukraine, which local collaborators turned into mass graves for Jews. And while Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Vichy France became Nazi allies, Greece fought bravely against the Italians and Germans. When other countries collaborated, surrendered or were annexed, the small country of Greece resisted for more than five months.

In the postwar period, Greece gave further examples of humanity. In 1945 a law was passed establishing the Central Board of Jewish Communities and tasking it with reconstructing Jewish communities in our country. And in 1946 a law for the restitution of Jewish property was passed. Unclaimed Jewish property was given to the Foundation for the Welfare and Rehabilitation of the Jewish Community in Greece, which was also established by law.

Despite all the domestic political problems Greece faced at the time, it gave both moral and material support to its Jewish community. In fact, it was one of the first European countries to do so.

Memphis Rabbi Helped Complete King’s Work

A January 19 editorial about Martin Luther King Jr. (“King’s Last Message”) references his colleague in the civil rights movement, Rabbi James Wax. Historians, unfortunately, have been too reserved in calling out the dramatic and vital role that Wax played in resolving the sanitations workers’ strike — which had brought King to Memphis, Tenn. — and more broadly in completing King’s work.

Many people have a defining time in their life. For me, it was becoming a bar mitzvah, under the spiritual leadership of Wax, in Memphis just six weeks after King was killed there. The question of whether religious leaders should remain above the political fray roiled communities then, and sadly continues to do so today. Should a line be drawn between politics and matters of spirit? Or do one’s politics reflect one’s sense of humanity, as I repeatedly discerned from the words and actions of Wax?

When Wax first took up the cause of the striking sanitation workers, some members of the congregation threatened to quit, and a few did. Wax ignored them and completed King’s last mission.

Today, by contrast, rabbis of many congregations around the country seem to have been intimidated out of speaking out against the Iraq War, for fear of offending the sensibilities of members who support it.

As King noted in the opening remarks to his landmark speech “Time To Break Silence,” “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” The congregational rabbis who now patronize the right-wing elements of their congregations and avoid statements criticizing the war are betraying their own spiritual integrity, and that of their congregations.

On Pelosi-Olmert Talks

As senior Jewish members of Congress, we would like to comment on an April 20 article about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (“Dems Warn Olmert About Playing Politics”).

Many of us in Congress have known Olmert for decades. We warmly welcomed him upon his address to a joint session of Congress. We appreciate that he has always made himself available for members of Congress visiting Israel, and we respect his work to further the close ties between the United States and Israel.

The controversy over the recent congressional delegation led by Pelosi has been entirely overblown. Democratic members were pleased to learn of the cordial conversation between the prime minister and the House speaker following Pelosi’s visit. That alone should be underscored to resolutely put an end to any confusion over this incident.

Foreskins Being Studied

Opinion columnist Leonard Fein may be interested to know that cells derived from foreskins were used in development of the poliomyelitis vaccine and in studies on anti-cancer mechanisms in soy-derived isoflavone genistein (“Confessions of a Non-intact Jewish Male,” April 27). When it comes to circumcision, it would seem, all is not lost.

‘Son of Sam’ Adopted

I don’t believe that David Berkowitz, also known as the “Son of Sam,” was Jewish, as reported in an April 27 article about the Virginia Tech massacre (“Massacre Triggers Korean Soul-Searching”). Berkowitz was adopted by Jewish parents.

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May 4, 2007

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