Germans enter Thessaloniki on April 9, 1941. A few days later Jews
are banned from cafes, pastry shops etc. The Germans imprison the
members of the Community Council, order the Jews to turn in their
radio sets, occupy the Hirsch hospital, as well as many Jewish-owned
houses, and loot the Community offices and the richest Jewish libraries.
On July 11, 1942, all Jewish men aged
18 to 45, are ordered to report at Liberty square. There, after
being subjected to indescribable humiliations, they are registered
and taken away for forced labor. The Community had to pay the huge
sum of 2.5 billion drachmas to the Germans, in order to set them
free. By the end of the same year, the Germans will confiscate the
thriving Jewish enterprises and desecrate and destroy the immense,
2,000-year old Jewish cemetery of the city.
On February 6, 1943, an SD committee (Sicherheitsdienst-security
service of the German Reich) arrived in Thessaloniki. It was headed
by SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Dieter Wisliceny and SS-Obersturmfuehrer
Alois Brunner (SS captain and first lieutenant respectively).
This delegation put in motion the mechanism for the final annihilation
of the Jews : they were forced to wear the yellow star of David,
according to the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, and to live only in designated
neighborhoods (ghettos). The use of public telephones and transportation
was prohibited. Disguising their true intentions, and using Chief
Rabbi Koretz as their instrument by appointing him president of
the Community, the Germans claim that their end goal is the restructuring
of the Community into a self administered entity, located in an
autonomous area within the city, with its own mayor and Chamber
of Commerce. They also appoint a Jewish Militia (Juden Ordnungspolizei),
and Jewish citizens are ordered to fill out detailed questionnaires
about their assets.
March 6, 1943, the German occupying authorities prohibit the exit
of the Jews from the Ghetto confines, while at the Baron Hirsch
neighborhood (thereafter a transit camp), the stage for the final
act of the tragedy is being set. It is there that the human herds
will be lead, ready to be delivered for slaughter. The first rail
convoy departs on March 15 for the extermination camp of Auschwitz
/ Birkenau. Consecutive convoys, a few days apart from each other,
will carry in a few weeks time, the Jews of Thessaloniki, piled
in cattle rail cars, to their place of extermination.
this point, we should stress the admirable stance of those non-Jewish
compatriots, who, at the risk of their own lives, offered sanctuary
to many Jews. The Church, the National Resistance movement, and
the State Police set the example, followed by ordinary people offering
help and shelter whenever possible, revolting in horror to the crime
being committed, even though, at that time, nobody - not even its
very victims - could grasp its actual magnitude. One cannot forget
the repeated initiatives of the head of the Metropolitan See of
Thessaloniki, Gennadios, against the deportations, and most of all,
the official letter of protest signed in Athens on March 23, 1943,
by Archbishop Damaskinos, along with 27 prominent leaders of cultural,
academic and professional organizations. The document, written in
a very sharp language, refers to unbreakable bonds between Christian
Orthodox and Jews, identifying them jointly as Greeks, without differentiation.
It is noteworthy that such a document is unique in the whole of
occupied Europe, in character, content and purpose.
of the 46,091 Jews that were deported to the extermination camps,
only 1950 returned alive, i.e. approximately 4%.
The first post-war years were particularly harsh: the survivors
encountered readjustment problems, mainly with respect to health
care and the coverage of their basic economic needs. Quite a few
emigrated to the USA and to Israel. The rest tried to build a new
life on the ruins of the Holocaust. Today, half a century after
the irrevocable disaster, Thessaloniki numbers no more than 1,200
The Community maintains two synagogues, a communal
center hosting recreational, religious, literary and artistic events,
a primary school, an old-age home, a museum, and a summer youth
camp. The Community is still prominent in the financial, social
and cultural life of the city. Furthermore, the Community financed
on its own the construction and dedication of the "Hellenic
House" at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a project for
which it was honored with an award by the Academy of Athens. The
Municipality of Thessaloniki rewarded the Community for its wide-ranging
and long-standing contribution to the city, by dedicating, in 1986,
a city square to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
Thus, the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki managed
to emerge from the horor of the Holocaust, however decimated, and
to keep on constituting an important element of the cultural and
economic life of the city, setting an example of vitality, tenacity,
and intellectual strength.