Thessaloniki, like Warsaw and Krakow, is considered an important historical place for Jews everywhere, but much more so for Sephardic Jews, a once-large community which was obliterated by the Nazis during World War Two and largely forgotten since.
It took Thessaloniki seven decades to admit this important part of its history and to apologize for building the city’s university over the former Jewish cemetery. Three years ago, Yiannis Boutaris, the city’s mayor, took the first step towards making amends by symbolically erecting a monument in a corner of the campus as a reminder that this was the spot where, for 451 years, the city’s Sephardic Jews buried their dead. Now funding has been secured for the realization of an idea that Boutaris adopted from David Saltiel, the president of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki – to create a Holocaust Museum and Educational Center.
A six-floor circular building, dominated by metal and glass and spread across 7,000 square meters, will soon begin to rise at the spot where railway wagons began transporting 55,000 Greek Jews from Thessaloniki to the Nazi death camps, decimating a multicultural, multi religious and prosperous city. “What happened in Thessaloniki is a chapter of the Holocaust which is completely unknown to the world,” said Boutaris, who believes that the museum can become a symbol to promote tolerance and fight racism. That is why he insisted on the parallel operation of an educational center. “Only in this way will we be able to have a greater awareness of what this crime means and why it should not be repeated.”
The foundation stone for the Holocaust Museum will be laid at the end of 2017 in 0,5 hectares supplied by GaiaOSE, a subsidiary of Hellenic Railways that utilizes the group’s properties. If all goes well, Thessaloniki will inaugurate its new museum before the end of 2019. As Giorgos Antoniou, professor of contemporary history on the newly established Jewish studies course at the city’s Aristotle University, put it, Thessaloniki “will rightfully be put on the map with the world’s leading Jewish history museums.”
*Source: Kathimerini newspaper
“What happened in Thessaloniki is a chapter of the Holocaust which is completely unknown to the world,” said Boutaris, who believes that the museum can become a symbol to promote tolerance and fight racism.