Review of "Jewish Resistance in Wartime Greece" by Steven Bowman

Greece has the tragic distinction in being the only European country where World War II was followed by a bitter civil war. Because many of the participants in the WW II resistance ended up in the losing side in the civil war the coverage of the history of the resistance has been tainted by politics. Collaborators of the Nazis who later fought with the winning side in the civil war escaped any punishment. This provides another dubious distinction for Greece, a country where some of the collaborator of the Nazis were treated better than those who resisted the Nazis. As a result large parts of the history of the WW II resistance have not been written.

Steven Bowman's book sheds light to the significant involvement of Greek Jewish fighters both in armed conflict in the mountains and in the underground struggle in the cities. The book is focused on interviews with surviving fighters and their close relatives so it provides first hand accounts of their story. Most of the Jewish participation in the resistance was through the EAM and ELAS organizations and because these were communist control many members of the resistance faced later the accusation of being communists. Bowman deals with this issue right away and he points out that " ... only a minority of Jews who went to the mountains was sympathetic to communism. More were socialists ... Even more were apolitical; they came out of desperation, as an escape from persecution and deportation."

Greece is probably the only country in WW II Europe where Jews reached leadership positions in a resistance movement that was predominantly non-Jewish. One of them was Yitzhak Mosheh who was using the nom-de-guerre Kapetan Kitsos. As he told the author "All my men knew I was a Jew, and I was proud to let it be known that a Jew was fighting for Greece." Another Jewish leader was Louis Cohen who used the nom-de-guerre Kapetan Kronos. Other leaders were Kapetan Makkabaios (Ido Shimshi) and Kapetanissa Sarika (Sara Yehoshua, the niece of the war hero colonel Mordecai Frizis).

Jewish fighters in ELAS were more numerous than their proportion in the general population and their active participation in the fighting is a shiny example that, given the possibility, Jews will fight and not go to their deaths like "sheep to slaughter." Their stories, recounted in this book, should make every Jew proud. Greeks should also be proud because, in contrast to some Eastern European countries, Jewish resistance in Greece was part of the overall resistance movement.

There is a sad postscript to the story. After the war several of the Jewish fighters were arrested because their affiliation with EAM and ELAS made them communists to the eyes of the Greek government and some were even executed. Others avoided execution or lengthy imprisonment by renouncing their Greek citizenship and emigrating to Israel where, unfortunately, were told to "keep a low profile." Apparently Israeli authorities accepted the view of the Greek authorities that these people were communists.

Professor Bowman has done a great service in recording the history of the period. If an objective and comprehensive history of the period is ever written it will owe a lot to his work. I recommend this book not only to Greek Jews, but also to any Jew or Greek. The stories recounted here provide much insight to that turbulent period about which so little has been written objectively.

T. P. - July 2006