President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS), David Saltiel, gave an interview to the online portal GR Times where he talked about the future Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki, his links to the city, and the relations between Greece and Israel.
–Mr. Saltiel, when do you estimate that it will be possible to announce the tender by the Israeli Community of Thessaloniki for the construction of the Holocaust Museum; Do you think that the issuance of the building permit for this flagship project will be achieved within 2023 and when is it expected to be completed? Are there any outstanding state or local government issues that you are concerned about?
The efforts of the Israelite Community of Thessaloniki, all involved entities, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Genesis Prize Foundation, which has an active role in honor of Dr. Albert Burla, who has granted the one million dollar prize of the Genesis Prize 2022 in favor of the Museum, the Municipality of Thessaloniki and the Greek government, in the medium term the common and ultimate goal is the issuance of the building permit. We hope that this will be achieved within 2023 so that it is possible to start the construction of the building that will house the emblematic Holocaust Museum of Greece as soon as possible.
With this in mind, the parties involved work closely together so that we can effectively deal with any unforeseen developments that arise. The data from the project manager’s point of view shows us, with the most recent development of the issuance of the pre-approval of the building permit in February by the competent Building Service and the completion of the final study soon, that the schedule will be implemented as determined and that we will have the possibility of reaching the issuance of the license in the coming months. After the issuance of the building permit, the selection procedures of the contractor company will be completed.
– The Municipality of Thessaloniki is also promoting, as has become known, the creation of a Metropolitan Park around the Museum , as well as a pedestrian walkway that will connect the Museum with Eleftherias Square and the old railway station, consequently the whole area is being radically upgraded. What do you estimate will be the Museum’s contribution to the city and the local economy, beyond its obvious and indisputable historical and cultural value?
We estimate that the Museum will attract up to 500,000 visitors to the city. Of course, the primary purpose of its creation is the foundation of historical knowledge and memory, but also the fight against anti-Semitism. But beyond that it is clear that its operation will have a beneficial impact on the local economy and especially on the development of the wider area of the western entrance. As noted by important market players who participated in January at a special day organized in our city precisely for this topic, the development of the Holocaust Museum is already attracting potential investors for other large industrial properties in the same area (such as VILKA), but also for undeveloped plots that are within a city plan and have a high building factor. In the same context it was even emphasized,
It is therefore noticeable that this project, even before we get to the start of the work, changes the development data of the Western Entrance of the city, with real estate values increasing by 30% and the returns on real estate investments being in the area of 7.5%-8.5%.
At the same time, the Museum is expected to contribute to the even greater development of the tourism sector in Thessaloniki, as an even greater influx of visitors from Israel and other countries is expected.
– In recent years, a number of investments by Israeli capital have been realized in real estate in the historic center of Thessaloniki, especially in the area of Ano Ladadiki and further up and west to the Old Railway Station, which are being radically renovated and are generally used for exploitation. Do you have some overall data-image for the value of these investments and you estimate that similar placements and investments will be made in other sectors in the Thessaloniki market, e.g. processing-production of goods, trade, etc.,?
It is a fact that Israeli investors in recent years have recognized Thessaloniki as an excellent opportunity to place their funds. As the Israelite Community of Thessaloniki, we do not have data on such activities to be able to estimate their total amount. However, the feeling we have is that there is a lively interest, which is not decreasing.
Relatively recent data that anyone can glean from the press and other sources show that bilateral economic relations in particular are flourishing. Israeli exports to Greece increased from $442.6 million in 2019 to $670.3 million in 2022, while imports from Greece increased from $321.2 million in 2019 to $587 million in 2022. Media in this climate, investment opportunities are increasing, at a time when companies and individuals from Israel are emerging as a leading investment force in the Greek tourism and real estate sector.
Within this climate, the creation of the Holocaust Museum will play a significantly positive role and will be another strong development factor for the city.
Regarding the extension of this interest to other sectors – and I am not referring exclusively to economic sectors – the fact that Greece-Israel relations are currently at an excellent level, as we are now talking about two countries that have developed and maintain a strategic relationship, clearly shows how this can emerge and thrive.
– It is known that you are in love with Thessaloniki , in which, if I am not mistaken, you have lived since the age of 13 and it has been the seat of your brilliant business journey. How do you see the future of the city?
I was born and spent the first years of my life in Athens. My parents returned to Thessaloniki – where they left to escape Nazi persecution and survive by living in hiding – some years after the end of the war. I spent most of my childhood and student years in Thessaloniki. As a young man and later as an entrepreneur I had the opportunity to travel to many countries of the world. To get to know different cities, cultures, people, today my daughter, her husband and my grandchildren live in Athens, while for my business activities and because of my position as President of the Central Jewish Council of Greece, I am almost half the year in the capital.
But if I want to be honest, my city is Thessaloniki. I am Greek, Jewish in religion and, to be more precise, Sephardic from Thessaloniki. That is, the ancestors of my family were among those tens of thousands who, after the persecutions and exile from Spain in the 15th century, found a loving asylum in this city.
When I discuss this topic I remember the famous writer and philosopher Edgar Morin who draws his origin from Thessaloniki. So wrote Edgar Morin, capturing the odyssey of Vidal’s father, that for the Jews who lived in this city there is a special bond. As Vidal noted, although “… he lived an East-West multi-identity fully satisfying for him…” he was “… Thessalonian first, Thessalonian first, a child of Thessaloniki, a small but real homeland…”, a bond that remains just as strong for us today.
I love this place. It is my place, my Homeland, and I want to see it progress. I have complete faith in his abilities. And I’m not the only one. See the example of Thessalonica – our Community member – President and CEO of Pfizer
Dr. Albert Burla. He created the Pfizer Digital Innovation Center in our city, part of the digital network of a global giant. He could have chosen any city in the world and yet he chose Greece and especially Thessaloniki. Why; Because he understands and appreciates the skills and talent of the people of Thessaloniki.
With the same reasoning, our Community implements a series of actions that always have as their central axis the extroversion and the achievement of synergies that result in multiple and long-term benefits for the city. I should mention, for example, the creation of the Chair of Jewish Studies at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki a few years ago. The implementation of the IOSIPOS program for the creation of the digital repository of historical memory and culture of the Israeli Communities of Greece, through which a result will be produced which will be available to researchers from all over the world and of course the Holocaust Museum of Greece. These are all initiatives that express this very way of thinking.
If I have to summarize this logic I would say that it is necessary to dare, not to be afraid and to put our city first.
– Also, how do you see the prospects for expanding the Greek-Israeli economic cooperation (trade, investments) from now on and what would you like to propose to possibly improve this prospect?
I spoke to you earlier about Greece-Israel relations. It is the factor that contributes to the creation of the conditions that lead to the formation and effectiveness of partnerships of all kinds.
For example, the defense ministers of the two countries hold regular meetings, while the armed forces of Greece and Israel implement joint programs.
This cooperation is not limited to the field of National Defense. In addition to the economy, investments, start-ups, tourism, real estate, the continuous two-way communication for the transfer of knowledge and good practices extends to areas such as cyber-security, climate change issues, actions in the field of civil protection and other.
Let’s not forget that, a few months ago, coordinated and effective actions by the competent services of the two countries prevented a terrorist attack and led to the parallel arrest and dismantling of a core of terrorists in our country. Human lives were thus saved.
And we cannot center this event only around the protection of Jewish life or visitors from Israel.
The methodical cooperation of the two countries protected both our societies from the most tragic consequences of terrorist attacks. Those related to the human factor – the loss of life, the psychological problems, but also from the medium-long term impact that every society experiences, after such incidents, in the economy, tourism, security and elsewhere.
Our perspective remains unchanged. Hellenic Jewry emphasized and emphasizes that the association and cooperation between Greece and Israel must be a permanent strategic choice. Today this reality brings multiple benefits for both countries.