Thessaloniki march held to mark anniversary of first Auschwitz deportation

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 composd 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.

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