‘Greek Jews’ at Auschwitz and the uses of national identity

Paris Papamichos Chronakis

This paper discusses 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’.

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