Jewish residents in the northern city of Thessaloniki on Saturday gathered to commemorate the 70th anniversary from the first roundup and deportation of Jews to Nazi extermination camps in World War II. Several hundred people gathered at the city’s Eleftheria (Freedom) Square, where the first batch of Jews were rounded up by the occupying German forces on March 15, 1943.The crowd held a moment of silence and then marched to the city’s old railway station, where the first trains departed for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex. A short ceremony was held at the station and flowers laid on the tracks. Speakers included the city’s mayor Yiannis Boutaris and Holocaust survivors.
People gather to commemorate the Holocaust in Thessaloniki “The commemoration is an honor for the city of Thessaloniki. But some people look upon this era nostalgically and are bringing back the old Nazi symbols,” said David Saltiel, leader of the city’s Jewish community, referring to the emergence of the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party.
On March 15, 1943, 2,800 Jews departed for the concentration camp.
“We were packed 80 to each train wagon … When we arrived, they sent a number straight to the crematoriums and kept some of us for work. We were beaten often by the guards,” recalled Holocaust survivor Moshe Haelion.
Another survivor of the camps, Zana Santicario-Saatsoglou, described how for many years she was unable to tell her story. “My children used to ask me what that number on my arm was,” she said, referring to the identification number tattooed on Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoners. “I told them it was my old phone number in Thessaloniki.”
By August 1943, 46,091 Jews had been deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of those, 1,950 survived. Fewer than 5,000 of the 80,000 Jews living in Greece survived. The majority, after returning from the camps, emigrated to Israel.
Today, the Jewish community in Thessaloniki, which until the early 20th century formed a slight majority of the city’s inhabitants, numbers fewer than 1,000.
The Jews of Thessaloniki were mostly Sephardic ones, who immigrated to the city after 1492 to escape persecution in Spain.
source: enet english