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Koretz, Zvi

KORETZ, ZVI

KORETZ, ZVI (1894–1945), rabbi in Greece. Koretz was born in Galicia. He studied in a yeshivah and after World War i went to Vienna to study in the university. After receiving his doctorate, he went to the Vienna Rabbinical Seminary, the Hamburg Institute for Oriental Sciences, and the Berlin Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums.

In 1933 he was appointed chief rabbi of Salonika. After three months he delivered his first sermons in Greek and Judeo-Spanish.

Shortly after the beginning of the German invasion of Greece on April 15, 1941, Koretz and the community president, Dr. Halevi, were arrested by the Germans in Athens. Koretz was exiled to a prison in Vienna on the pretext that he had cabled the Jewish communities of Palestine, Egypt, England, and the United States, protesting the Italian air bombing of the Saint Sophia church in Salonika.

In February 1942 he was freed from imprisonment in Vienna, but was imprisoned again in June 1942 in Salonika. He was the sole Jew taken, along with 600 Greek Orthodox. On August 2, 1942, he was freed, along with the other prisoners.

He was then forced by the Germans to fill several positions which affected his image among the Jews. Koretz was installed as liaison with the Germans. In the course of the next few months, as a member of the Jewish Community Committee, Koretz had an active and leading role in negotiating with the German Command for the ransom of thousands of Jews sent to forced labor. When the German commander of Salonika, Max Merten, changed the ransom fee from an agreed two billion drachmas to three and a half billion drachmas, the Committee had great difficulties in raising the money. As one of the Committee members the rabbi was present when they were compelled to hand over the 500-year-old cemetery for its desecration in exchange for the deduction of one billion drachmas from the ransom fee. Koretz endured great difficulties in raising money from the wealthier members of the community. This was one of several factors in the community's failure in contributing the necessary funds.

On December 11, 1942, Koretz was appointed president of the Jewish community. He made his acceptance conditional upon the agreement that six members of the committee and he would bear collective responsibility to the German authorities.

As head of the community, Koretz bore much of the brunt of complying with the orders issued by Eichmann's representatives, Alois *Brunner and Dieter *Wisliceny, who instigated a constant state of terror. The preliminary steps taken to prepare the expulsion of the Jews were the establishment of ghettos, curfews, and the collection of money in a special account. Koretz had the responsibility of transmitting these and other harsh German orders to the members of the Jewish community.

On March 10, 1943, five days before the first transport, Koretz tried to defer the deportations by offering the Germans one half of the property of the Jews in the form of real estate. The high command in Berlin refused the offer. Koretz arranged a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Rallis on April 9, 1942. He requested that the latter mediate with the Germans to prevent the expulsion of the ancient Jewish community of Salonika. Rallis replied evasively. Koretz was imprisoned, and sent to a camp and then deported, with his family, to Bergen-Belsen. In the camp Koretz was forced to do hard labor and eventually caught typhus after he was transferred to Theresienstadt. Three months after the liberation by the Russians he died in the small town of Trebitz, 45 miles (70 km.) from Dresden.

[Yitzhak Kerem]

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