“Never Again’ March in Thessaloniki marked anniversary of first deportation to Auschwitz Print
Thursday, 21 March 2019 10:19

THE TIMES OF ISRAEL, March 18, 2019, by Vassilis Kyriakoulis: Two thousand people held a silent march in Thessaloniki, marking the anniversary of the departure in 1943 of the first train taking members of its Jewish community to Auschwitz. Participants held white balloons bearing the message “Never Again.” They gathered at the city’s old railway station where that train pulled out on March 15, 1943. Among those present for the 76th anniversary commemoration was Jurgen Haus, grandson of a German soldier, who expressed his “deep regret” for the actions of his Nazi forebears. “I am here to break the silence… I love Israel, I cannot remain silent in the face of antisemitism,” he said in a speech. 

Holocaust survivors Heinz Kounio and Achileas Koukovinos were honoured during the commemorations. Thessaloniki had a population of more than 50,000 Jews before World War II, some 46,000 of whom were deported and killed in German Nazi death camps. 

Before the deportations started, the community in the city, which was composed mainly of Sephardic Jews chased out of Spain in 1492, had developed to the point where it earned the nickname the “Jerusalem of the Balkans.”

In recent years, Thessaloniki has held commemorations in mid-March instigated by Mayor Yannis Boutaris to remember the first of the convoys of Jews rounded up and sent off to the camps from Thessaloniki’s railway station. Sunday’s turnout was the biggest yet.

It was only in 2004 that teaching about the Shoah became compulsory in Greece and 10 years later that a monument was erected at the site of the former Jewish cemetery which the Germans razed and where the city university now stands.

Last year, President Reuven Rivlin visited Thessaloniki to lay the first stone of the city’s 7,000 square meter (75,000 square feet) Holocaust Museum, financed by Germany and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which is due to open in 2020. However anti-Semitism showed its ugly face again in January, when the Jewish Memorial Cemetery in Thessaloniki was vandalized two days before Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Jewish Memorial Cemetery was constructed on the site of an old Jewish cemetery that was destroyed by the German Nazis forces occupying Greece during World War Two.