Greece Passes 'Law of Return’ for Aged, Native-born Jews

'It’s about us feeling slightly better about correcting our past mistakes,' says legislation's initiator.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

The Greek parliament this week approved legislation that entitles Jews of Greek origin from around the world to apply for citizenship and obtain it easily.

The legislation applies to Jews who were born in Greece and left the country before May 1945. A similar piece of legislation applying only to Jews of Greek origin living in Israel was passed in 2011. The new legislation, which will take effect within the next few weeks, applies to Jews of Greek origin living elsewhere in the world.

Dimitrios Dollis, the former deputy foreign minister who initiated the legislation, said he did not believe that many eligible candidates would exercise their right to obtain Greek citizenship and move back to the country, but that was not the point. “It’s about us feeling slightly better about correcting our past mistakes,” he told Haaretz in a phone interview. “We are talking about one of the most ancient Jewish communities in Europe.”

Before World War II, an estimated 100,000 Jews lived in Greece, spread out in more than 30 organized communities. After it was almost completely wiped out during the Holocaust, the Jewish community of Greece now numbers about 5,000. In recent years, it has felt itself under threat with the ascent of the far-right Golden Dawn party.

Dollis spent 28 years in Australia, where he served as a member of the Victoria state parliament and deputy leader of the Australian Labor Party, before returning to Greece in 1999. He initially served as adviser to George Papandreou, who was foreign minister at the time. When Papandreou became prime minister in 2009, Dollis was appointed deputy foreign minister.

Dollis said he developed his strong ties to the Jewish people, and especially Holocaust survivors, while living as an expatriate in Australia, where he made the acquaintance of many. Dollis accompanied Papandreou, as premier, on a historic trip he took to Israel in 2010. “It was then that we met with a group of Israeli Holocaust survivors of Greek origin and heard about the issue of lost citizenship,” he said.

Dollis said the process of applying for Greek citizenship would be very simple, and those granted citizenship would automatically pass it on to their children.

He said he did not have any estimate of how many Jews around the world would be eligible.

Jewish women being expelled from Greece during the Holocaust.Credit: Courtesy of the Ghetto Fighters' House
Salonica, or Thessaloniki, where Jews were rounded up and deported, Greece admits.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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