THESSALONIKI/BERLIN/FLORENCE (Own report) – When the German foreign minister appeared in the synagogue in Thessaloniki (Greece), he was met with strong protest from prominent members of the Jewish community. In his speech at the synagogue on December 4, (published by the German Foreign Ministry) Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) praised “our German hands to be used in the life of your community” – after Jewish life was eradicated under the Nazis. In his historical reflections, the German foreign minister alluded to the more than 50,000 Jewish Greeks, who, in 1943, had been forced to buy “Reichsbahn” tickets to Auschwitz, where they were murdered upon arrival. He did not utter a single word about the German receipts (89 million Euros) from those trips taking them to their death, or about Berlin’s refusal to pay its debts. Neither did Steinmeier mention the reimbursement of the several million Euros in racist “ransoms” as the Jewish community demands. Prominent Jewish Greeks were outraged because Berlin’s foreign policy is obviously undermining the legal claims of Nazi victims with moralist avowals and non-committal monetary hand-outs. Protests were also raised against Steinmeier’s being offered “honorary membership” in Thessaloniki’s synagogue. Steinmeier made similar appearances in relationship to Italian victims of Nazi mass crimes.
Prior to Steinmeier’s “honorary membership,” his Minister of State Michael Roth (SPD) had visited Thessaloniki on numerous occasions. According to members of the Jewish community, Roth had repeatedly declared that the Nazi victims’ legal claims could not be a basis for negotiations. With various offers, he sought to learn what amount would entice the Jewish creditors to waive their legal rights.
The sum – which critics call “hush money”  – seems to be directly related to Steinmeier’s being awarded “honorary membership,” as prominent members of the community wrote in their letters of protest. There were no prior consultations with relatives of the deported and murdered Jews, and the award had been kept secret until 48 hours before Steinmeier’s appearance. This is a “direct insult to the memory of the victims,” declared community member, Paul Isaac Hagouel, whose father had been prisoner 118633 in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In various protest letters, read aloud December 7, at the public communal assembly in Thessaloniki, it was said that “the German government has persistently refused to pay reparations to the Greek victims – both Christians and Jews … . Our sense of justice cannot be bought with any form of ‘monetary handouts’.” The renowned Jewish historian, Rena Molho, whose work, “The Holocaust of the Greek Jews,” had been presented in Berlin by the SPD-affiliated Friedrich Ebert Foundation last November, was among the signatories of this protest. The indignation was directed at the German foreign policy’s maneuvering. “We have all learned to differentiate between the foam of diplomacy and the depth of historical responsibility,” was read from another community member’s written protest.
Among its non-committal avowals about the “journey that built friendship” in “a united Europe,” the foreign ministry has been increasingly adding military perspectives. In late November, for example, Steinmeier called on his counterparts, including the Italian foreign minister, to “demonstrate to the populations of the member countries,” how “Europe’s common security and defense policy can be advanced.”
Dimensions of a Crusade
There is a direct path leading from the non-settlement of German WW II mass crimes to the arming of “Europe” for new wars, without first having paid the bills for those of the past. In the words of Giorgos Margaritis, professor of history at the University of Thessaloniki: “At a time when the German political leadership nourishes hopes that the European Union’s sovereign governments and peoples accept its political hegemony, the campaign to ’embellish’ the past has assumed dimensions of a crusade.”