Citizenship reinstated for Jews who left Greece during or after World War II

Jews who had to leave Greece during World War II can now have their citizenship reinstated. The Greek government passed an amendment to a new foreign resident law that will automatically reinstate Greek citizenship for all Jews that born in or before 1945. The number of Greek Jews affected by the amendment is likely no more than 300 to 350, according to reports. Their descendants, although eligible, will not receive citizenship automatically. They must apply and meet the proper criteria to receive their Greek passports and citizenship. The change comes after 65 years of appeals, applications and advocacy efforts by the Greek Jewish community.

An estimated 90 percent of Greece's pre-war Jewish population of 70,000 was wiped out in the Holocaust, when the country was occupied by German troops. During World War II, a number of Jews were able to escape to Turkey, where the Greek consular officer tried to persuade them to join the Greek army in Egypt. Those who refused and wanted to reach Palestine were stripped of their citizenship. Another group of Greek Jews fought with the Communist partisans' organization against the Nazis. After the war, and during the civil war in Greece from 1946 to 1951, members of the group were hunted down as Communists and executed, imprisoned or exiled in concentration camps. In order to avoid that fate, many Jews accepted the government's offer to go to Palestine and be stripped of their citizenship.

During the debate in the Judicial Committee of the Greek Parliament, Justice Minister Harry Kastanidis said: "It is an honor to Greece [to have these people requesting their citizenship back], an honor that Greece would be obligated to reinstate their citizenship no questions asked." Both the far-right and the anti-Semitic LAOS Party and the Communist Party opposed the amendment, with the Communists accusing the Greek government of forming close ties with Israel in order to further the "imperialistic plans regarding the natural gas reserves" [in the Mediterranean].

Relations between Israel and Greece improving fast

In recent months, Greece and Israel have strengthened their ties. Earier this week, both countries signed a security cooperation agreement. Greek Defense Minister Panos Beglitis and his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak signed a cooperation memorandum on security in Jerusalem. It was the first-ever official visit of a Greek defense minister to Israel.

Israel's ambassador to Greece, Arie Mekel, noted the "unprecedented number of high-level visits" between Israel and Greece this year. He said the visit by Beglitis highlighted the “dramatic upgrade of the relations between Greece and Israel for the benefit of both countries."

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