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Monday, 23 January 2017 11:15

Article in the daily “Kathimerini”, January 15, 2017, by Yiota Myrtsioti: A six storey circular building made of metal and glass will rise to the historic place where the end of the 55,000 Greek Jews of Thessaloniki started; the memorial building will change the skyline of the city's western entrance and the map of Europe Holocaust memorials and museums. After seven decades, the city of Thessaloniki restores the memory, recognizes its mistakes, opens its archives, studies, but above all apologizes for a piece of history that the city buried with its silence and under the foundations of the university campus. The city’s mayor, Yiannis Boutaris, has restored this oblivion three years ago in front of the monument erected in a corner of the university campus to remind that this was the place where the Sephardic Jews of the big community of Salonica were honoring their dead for 500 years. Yannis Boutaris, in his speech delivered at the moment, spoke of the undue delay of the city to break the silence and to begin to mention the gloomy moments of its history. It was one of the slow but steady steps toward the target he had set since he became mayor: that the institution he represents becomes an institution of memory with continuity in time. The culmination of this effort is the establishment of the Museum and Educational Center on the Holocaust in the area of the Old Railway Station, where the Jews of Thessaloniki started their final trip.

This was an idea of the president of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, David Saltiel. The mayor adopted this idea and, in order to promote it, he used its contacts around the world. The Municipality and the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki worked together, methodically, without fanfare, to implement this idea and now, almost three years later, with funding guaranteed, they are setting the project’s timelines.


A six-storey circular building made of metal and glass, about 7,000 sq.m., will rise over the next three years in a symbolic place from, where the death trains departed deporting the 55,000 Greek Jews of Thessaloniki to the extermination camps in Central Europe, bringing an end to a multicultural, multireligious and prosperous city. The foundation stone of the Museum of the Holocaust will be laid at the end of 2017 in a 5 acres area donated by GAIAOSE SA, and lays in a green area of about 15 acres. And if all goes well, by the end of 2019, Thessaloniki will inaugurate a museum that, as it has been noted, will change the map of Holocaust memorials and museums of Europe.

The funding
The project has a budget of about 22 million euros, funded in part by the German Government with 10 million by (5 million in 2017 and 5 million in 2018). The Greek Foundation “Stavros Niarchos” and other sources (Jewish communities and personalities) will secure the other 12 million euros. Already, two architectural cabinets, one based in Tel Aviv and one in Berlin, are working feverishly for the final studies. An International Institute of the Holocaust Museum of Thessaloniki based in Brussels and a non-profit organization in Greece for the construction management and the museum’s opening will soon set up.

What will its museological approach be following the collaboration with the Berlin’s institute? How will it be different from other Holocaust museums around the world? And why do all appreciate that, with the exception of the U.S.H.M. Museum that is equivalent to the size, Thessaloniki’s Museum will be on a par with the Museums of Berlin, Israel and with the Paris Memorial de la Shoah? The Jewish Community of Thessaloniki has from the first moment established a partnering relationship with the latter museum, which will provide its twenty years’ experience and expertise in both the creation and the operation of the Holocaust Museum, particularly in the field of educational programs. What happened in Thessaloniki, during the Holocaust, belong to both local and European History, which we need to teach especially to young people in order to fight anti-Semitism, racism and all forms of discrimination that, unfortunately, are emerging all over the world”, said the director of the Memorial de la Shoah Museum in Paris, Jacues Fredj, when signing the Memorandum of cooperation.

For the president of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, David Saltiel, the museum will not be just the voice of millions of Jews who were deported, humiliated and exterminated. It will be the voice of the Greek Jews, of the long historic course of the Sephardim in Salonica, of their history which is the story of Thessaloniki itself. Beyond its educational character, the Community's intention is to document this history with objects (worshiping objects and other). This kind of objects are stored in the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki, at Agios Minas Street, which will function as a parallel, small museum, in the city center.

For enriching museum’s collections says Mr. Saltiel, we will “look for evidence of Jewish descendants of the Jews of Salonica in diaspora”, especially those who immigrated to Palestine in 1930 –‘31 to work in the ports of Haifa and Jaffa. One can find objects from Thessaloniki in museums in Poland and “Poland’s authorities intent to return these objects to us”. The historical archive of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki (100,000 documents), conserved in Moscow, is of outmost importance. The repatriation of the archive will shed light on the lives of Thessaloniki Sephardic Jews before the Holocaust.

 “The loss of Thessaloniki is a chapter of the Holocaust that remains completely unknown to the rest of the world. We have realized this in the “city diplomacy” contacts, in Australia, England, Paris, Germany, America and elsewhere”, says Yiannis Boutaris, Thessaloniki’s mayor. With the Holocaust Museum, Y. Boutaris believes that Thessaloniki, apart from obvious benefits (promotion and tourism), will also gain a prominent place in the international community, not necessarily only in the Jewish communities -this is not the unique aim- but that will have its place among the world's symbols of tolerance and anti-racism. Therefore, he says, “I insisted in its parallel function as an educational center. It is the only way to achieve greater awareness of what crime means and why it should not be repeated”.

Thessaloniki along with Warsaw and Krakow are very important historical places for Jews everywhere, even more for Sephardim -an aspect of them being unknown and neglected. This dimension is pointed out by George Antoniou, professor of Contemporary History in the newly established chair of Jewish Studies in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

«The Holocaust Museum, beyond the tragedy of Greek Jewry, beyond the tragedy of the Jews of Thessaloniki, will also represent the tragedy of Sephardic Jewry. The difference with the US and Israel museums is that it will be located in the very place where the crime was committed. It will rightfully have its place in the map with the leading museums of the world Jewish history. In scientific terms, despite the memory deletions (destruction of the Jewish cemetery of Thessaloniki) the Holocaust museum will be the umbrella of research and teaching that blooms in recent years in universities and other institutions».

The president of the committee of the Jewish Museum, Vangelis Hekimoglou, sees the Holocaust Museum as a living organism, underlining its political and academic aspect. Twenty years ago, he says, «apart from the generation of survivors, three people were studying the Holocaust: P. Enepekidis, Rena Molcho and Albertos Nar. The progress made over the past seven years in research on the Holocaust (social, political, economic, ideological), is huge. However, fragmentary and individually, the fruits of this research will begin to decline. Only a coordination for the development and promotion of this research can transform it into the educational system for future generations. This is the role that has to play a new Holocaust Museum nowadays”.

Source: Kathimerini, 15.1.2017



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