January 21, 2020
I learned a lesson when conducting research for my recently published book, “Family Papers: a Sephardic Journey Through the Twentieth Century.” I had discovered the story of a young Jewish man forgotten to history until now, a story that taught me that neither cultural affiliation nor family history is a reliable predictor of future behavior. In short, identity is not destiny, and all of us can fall prey to the tides of history. Vital Hasson was a native of Thessaloniki, Greece, a cultural capital of the Sephardic Jewish world and a city that once boasted a majority Jewish population, who knew their home as Salonica. He came from an educated, middle-class family of journalists, writers, educators and political leaders.But Hasson diverged, fatally, from his family’s enlightened values. Hasson became intoxicated by a populist regime and chose to be swept up by its violence, its false promises, its hatred. He used a position of power to degrade the vulnerable. He was publicly denounced by family for his excesses. After the Second World War, Hasson was the only Jew in all of Europe to be tried and executed by a state, Greece, for collaborating with the Nazi occupiers. ‘Less than nothing’Hasson’s family, like most of the Sephardic Jews of Salonica, were descended from Jews expelled from Iberia in the 15th century who spoke and wrote in a Judeo-Spanish language known as Ladino. For five centuries, they called the Ottoman Empire, southeastern Europe and Salonica home. But before the war he was not important, “less than nothing,” according to one of the dozens of Jewish survivors who would subsequently testify against him. When his city was still Ottoman, in the 1870s and 1890s, his great-grandfather introduced the first French- and Ladino-language newspapers to Salonica, chronicling and shaping modernity as it was experienced by southeastern European Jews. In time, war redrew borders around the family, transforming them from Ottomans to Greeks. Emigration pulled them in many directions, with cousins relocating to England, France, Spain, Portugal, India and Brazil. Hasson himself moved to Palestine for a time, returning to his native town in 1933.Then, war came, transforming Hasson from a nonentity to an important person. Hasson’s ‘depravity’Four generations of Hasson’s family were living in Salonica when German forces occupied the city in April 1941. Two years later, Hasson assumed the position of head of the Jewish police of Salonica under ambiguous circumstances. The position gave him authority over about 200 unarmed men, all local Jews. Among Hasson’s first acts was to volunteer himself as a human bounty hunter, exceeding his charge. In May 1943, he crossed from German-occupied Greece into Italian-occupied Greece in pursuit of Salonican Jews fleeing the Nazis, whom he was uniquely qualified to identify. His efforts were thwarted, but it hinted at the lengths he was willing to go to satisfy those in power.When a ghetto was created within Salonica by the Nazis, the depth of Hasson’s depravity made itself known. The Baron Hirsch ghetto, one of two areas in which all Jews were concentrated, existed from March to August 1943, by which time Nazi officials completed the deportation of Greek Jewry.
Vital Hasson, the Jew who worked for the Nazis, hunted down refugees and tore apart families in WWII Greece
‘Lion let out of a cage’Within the ghetto’s wooden walls, which were surrounded by barbed wire and control towers, more than 2,000 Jewish women, men, and children were crammed into 593 rooms. Disease and crime were rampant.A 23-year-old German SS officer was technically in charge of the Baron Hirsch ghetto. But Hasson appears to have been granted great latitude to execute Nazi orders on the ground. Recollections of Hasson’s actions, which swirl through Greek-, Hebrew-, Ladino- and English-language survivor testimony, are nightmarish. Hasson, it was said, raced through the ghetto in a horse-drawn carriage, and made his fellow Jews sweep the streets. He strutted about, using the glistening boots of the occupiers to knock down both doors and people. He stole from the imprisoned, carrying around the ghetto an open bag into which women and men were expected to place what jewels or money they had managed to hang on to. And he identified young men to be inducted into forced labor. In the words of one survivor, a woman by the name of Bouena Sarfatty, “He was like a lion let out of a cage.” Hasson reserved particular cruelty for girls and women. He forced them to strip naked, searched their genitals for hidden money, sheared their hair, raped them and pimped them to others. To protest her forced marriage to Hasson’s brother Dino, who long harbored an obsession with the young woman, Sarika Gategno wore the same dress for three months and consumed nothing but alcohol and cigarettes. Salonica emptied of JewsFrom March to August 1943, Nazi overseers directed 19 transports of Salonica’s Jews, totaling 48,533 souls, to depart from the train station adjacent to the Baron Hirsch ghetto. One of these trains would head for the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen; 18 for Auschwitz. The journey to Auschwitz took between five and eight grueling days. Nearly all the Salonican Jews brought there were gassed upon arrival. On Aug. 2, a special deportation carried away the families of Salonica’s wartime Jewish community leadership (including the Jewish police) to the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. Before his own deportation, on this very train to Bergen-Belsen, Hasson’s father publicly disowned his son, who yet remained in Salonica. By August 1943, Salonica, like Greece as a whole, had been virtually emptied of Jews by the Nazis. On trialHasson himself arranged to flee eastward with his wife, daughter and pregnant lover in August 1943. Several times in the dramatic, confused weeks and months that followed, he was recognized by Jewish refugees from Salonica (in Albania, Italy and Egypt) and arrested by Allied representatives, but amidst the chaos of war Hasson repeatedly escaped or was released. Finally, upon the liberation of Greece in October 1944, the British captured him and returned Hasson to Greece for trial. In the summer of 1946 that trial, a sensational event that gripped the city of Thessaloniki and the Salonican Jewish diaspora, resulted in a guilty verdict. Hasson was sentenced to death and executed.Jews across the political spectrum, from Bernie Sanders to Benjamin Netanyahu, claim to seek inspiration in Jewish tradition to explain and propel their political values. But cultural inheritance does not necessarily determine a person’s behavior or destiny. And Jewish history ought not be sanitized. What Hasson’s story teaches is that under the right circumstances, the politics of hate are seductive, even to those who might otherwise be a target.[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend. ]This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts.Read more: * The ominous metaphors of China’s Uighur concentration camps * This young woman created 784 paintings while hiding from the NazisSarah Abrevaya Stein does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Related Stories
Latest News
Top news around the world
Coronavirus Disease

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.

Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

Around the World

Celebrity News

> Latest News in Media

Watch It
John Cusack Says He Was Never Going to Play 'Breaking Bad's' Walter White
September 24, 2020
t8dtgMU4whA
2020: The Tipping Point for Connected TV Storytelling and Advertising - Variety Streaming Room
September 24, 2020
RtGX38E26SI
'Julie and the Phantoms' Stars on the Show's Music and Message
September 24, 2020
5dc_QR8aOCs
Mariah to Oprah: I won’t be ‘treated like an ATM machine with a wig on’ | Page Six Celebrity News
September 24, 2020
uNWcpZ17PVU
‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ at 50: Cast shares secrets of iconic sitcom | Page Six Celebrity News
September 24, 2020
Z2ATRwTw_QA
Emmy-nominated 'Pose' makeup artist breaks down her favorite looks | Page Six Celebrity News
September 22, 2020
mwnf88fnaxE
Best Of TMZ on TV This Week: 9/21-9/25
September 25, 2020
AK7597t5iAA
Gigi Gorgeous Says J.K. Rowling's Dead to Her After More Anti-Trans Backlash | TMZ
September 24, 2020
eiKX6w8tL3Q
'Fuller House' Star Candace Cameron Bure Defends Husband's Boob Grab | TMZ
September 24, 2020
EAcv2jvjJxE
Mariah Carey Won't Be Treated Like an "ATM Machine With a Wig" | Daily Pop | E! News
September 25, 2020
HWAJCOrpHNM
Kelsea Ballerini on Dropping New Album "Ballerini" in Quarantine | Daily Pop | E! News
September 25, 2020
YK4MGW4vRck
Lizzo Calls Out Commercialized Body Positive Movement | Daily Pop | E! News
September 25, 2020
dcdguXScF0c
TV Schedule
Late Night Show
Watch the latest shows of U.S. top comedians

Sports

Latest sport results, news, videos, interviews and comments
Latest Events
26
Sep
UKRAINE: Youth League
Kolos Kovalivka U-21 - Inhulets U-21
26
Sep
BELARUS: Premier League
Energetik-BGU - Isloch
26
Sep
BELARUS: Premier League - Women
Bobruichanka W - Dnepr Mogilev W
26
Sep
POLAND: I Liga
Miedz Legnica - Korona
26
Sep
RUSSIA: PFL, Group 4
Orenburg-2 - Volga Ulyanovsk
26
Sep
ESTONIA: Meistriliiga
Tulevik Viljandi - Kuressaare
26
Sep
UKRAINE: Youth League
Lviv U-21 - Zorya U-21
26
Sep
AUSTRALIA: NPL Capital Territory, Championship group
Canberra - Gungahlin
26
Sep
KOREA REPUBLIC: K-League 2
Anyang - Bucheon 1995
26
Sep
KOREA REP.: K-League: Relegation Round
Suwon Bluewings - FC Seoul
25
Sep
AUSTRALIA: NPL Tasmania
Clarence Zebras - Riverside Olympic
26
Sep
AUSTRALIA: NPL Tasmania
Launceston City - Glenorchy Knights
25
Sep
AUSTRALIA: NPL Tasmania
Devonport City - Kingborough Lions
25
Sep
ENGLAND: Championship
Huddersfield - Nottingham Forest
25
Sep
AUSTRALIA: NPL Tasmania
South Hobart - Olympia Warriors
26
Sep
AUSTRALIA: NPL South Australia
Adelaide United U-21 - Adelaide Blue Eagles
26
Sep
AUSTRALIA: NPL South Australia
MetroStars - Croydon Kings
26
Sep
AUSTRALIA: NPL South Australia
Adelaide City - Modbury Jets
26
Sep
AUSTRALIA: NPL South Australia
Adelaide Comets - Adelaide Raiders
26
Sep
AUSTRALIA: NPL South Australia
Cumberland United - Adelaide Olympic
26
Sep
AUSTRALIA: NPL South Australia
Para Hills - Campbelltown City
25
Sep
MEXICO: Apertura
Juarez - Atlas
25
Sep
MEXICO: Apertura
Puebla - Queretaro
25
Sep
BRASIL: Serie B
Botafogo SP - CRB Maceio
25
Sep
BRASIL: Serie B
Chapecoense - America MG
25
Sep
BRASIL: Serie B
Cruzeiro - Avai Florianopolis
25
Sep
PERU: Primera Division, Apertura
Sport Boys - Dep. Municipal
25
Sep
PARAGUAY: Apertura
Guairena - 12 de Octubre
25
Sep
POLAND: Ekstraklasa
Gornik Zabrze - Wisla Krakow
25
Sep
PERU: Primera Division, Apertura
Universitario - Grau
25
Sep
PORTUGAL: Primeira Liga
Braga - Santa Clara
24
Sep
EUROPA LEAGUE: Third qualifying round
Shkendija - Tottenham Hotspur
24
Sep
ENGLAND: League Cup
Manchester City - Bournemouth
24
Sep
ENGLAND: League Cup
Lincoln City - Liverpool
24
Sep
EUROPA LEAGUE: Third qualifying round
AC Milan - Bodo-Glimt
23
Sep
ENGLAND: League Cup
Leicester City - Arsenal
23
Sep
ENGLAND: League Cup
Chelsea - Barnsley
22
Sep
ENGLAND: League Cup
Luton - Manchester United
21
Sep
ENGLAND: Premier League
Wolves - Manchester City
21
Sep
ITALY: Serie A
AC Milan - Bologna
20
Sep
ENGLAND: Premier League
Chelsea - Liverpool
20
Sep
ENGLAND: Premier League
Southampton - Tottenham Hotspur
20
Sep
FRANCE: Ligue 1
Nice - PSG
20
Sep
SPAIN: La Liga
Real Sociedad - Real Madrid
20
Sep
ITALY: Serie A
Juventus - Sampdoria
20
Sep
ITALY: Serie A
Parma - Napoli
19
Sep
ENGLAND: Premier League
Arsenal - West Ham United
19
Sep
ITALY: Serie A
Verona - Roma
19
Sep
ENGLAND: Premier League
Manchester United - Crystal Palace
17
Sep
EUROPA LEAGUE: Second qualifying round
Lokomotiv Plovdiv - Tottenham Hotspur
17
Sep
EUROPA LEAGUE: Second qualifying round
Shamrock - AC Milan
16
Sep
FRANCE: Ligue 1
PSG - Metz
16
Sep
INTERNATIONAL: Club Friendlies
Barcelona - Girona
15
Sep
INTERNATIONAL: Club Friendlies
Inter Milan - Lugano
14
Sep
ENGLAND: Premier League
Brighton - Chelsea
14
Sep
GERMANY: National cup
Duisburg - Borussia Dortmund
13
Sep
ENGLAND: Premier League
Tottenham Hotspur - Everton
13
Sep
FRANCE: Ligue 1
PSG - Marseille
13
Sep
INTERNATIONAL: Club Friendlies
Juventus - Novara
12
Sep
ENGLAND: Premier League
Liverpool - Leeds
Find us on Instagram
at @feedimo to stay up to date with the latest.
Featured Video You Might Like
L1eLanNeZKg i1XRgbyUtOo -g9Qziqbif8 0vmRhiLHE2U JFCZUoa6MYE UfN5PCF5EUo 2PV55f3-UAg W3y9zuI_F64 -7qCxIccihU pQ9gcOoH9R8 g5MRDEXRk4k tudKp5Vhs3k
Copyright © 2020 Feedimo. All Rights Reserved.