Where was the Talmud Torah school in the oldest synagogue of Thessaloniki’s Jewish community? Where were the districts of Baron Hirsch and Rogos with its Las Incantadas monuments ( Spanish for enchanted), where are the synagogues and the old Jewish cemetery? Where is the place where the Jews were forced to gather before being sent to the Nazi death camps and what is the quickest way to the Monastir synagogue, one of 30 rescued from destruction?
Up until recently, even Thessalonians struggled to identify public and private buildings that formed the architectural heritage of the once thriving Jewish community and the landmarks connected to the Holocaust.
Now, there is a special smartphone application that sheds light on the city’s timeless Jewish presence, using interactive maps. This is the “Salonica Jewish Legacy” app – an initiative of the Embassy of Canada and the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, that was brought to fruition thanks to the collaboration of the Jewish Museum in Thessaloniki with a specialized team of the Stavros Niarchos foundation for Hellenic Studies – The New Media Lab of the University of Simon Fraser in Vancouver.
The project also received the backing of the General Consulate of the Federal Republic of Germany in Thessaloniki and the Embassy of Israel.
The app groups together points of interest in one of six routes and lets users know when they are near. More than 78 articles, photos, maps and brief texts with historical events in English and Greek (Hebrew and German will be added soon ) guide the user through the city’s Jewish architectural heritage– both visible and hidden – that was destroyed by the fire of 1917 and the Holocaust, or has been lost over time.
“The application does not replace the classic tourist guides. It is a companion for visitors who want to trace the footsteps of Thessaloniki’s Jews from the 15th century to the present day,” explains Konstantinos Kontos, who conducts the technical supervision of the application.
This is the second application of a wider program tracing the presence of Jews in Greek cities. The first was for Ioannina, while a similar app is being developed for Hania.
The electronic guide is also intended to complement the “Thessaloniki Jews” guide by Christos Zafiris, due for release soon. It is one of many works pioneered by the Thessaloniki municipality to preserve and strengthen the legacy of the city’s once vibrant Jewish community.
An agreement was recently signed between the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki and the Holocaust Memorial organization in Paris (Memorial de la Shoah) for the design of a Holocaust Museum and Educational Center for Human Rights at the railway station of Thessaloniki. Its completion will further the municipality’s attempts to illuminate historical issues of the city’s recent past that have lain hidden for so many years.