Greek Jews remember

THESSALONIKI – Holocaust survivors from Greek Jewish communities marked the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation yesterday in this port city once known as the «Pearl of Israel» before Nazis decimated its Jewish community. A memorial was held at Thessaloniki’s Holocaust monument yesterday, and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was expected to attend a second ceremony in the evening. More than 65,000 Greek Jews – nearly 90 percent of the Jewish population at the time – were killed during World War II, many of them at Auschwitz, according to records kept by Jewish groups. Most of the Greek victims – 50,000 people – came from Thessaloniki, which saw 96 percent of its Jewish population wiped out. Thessaloniki, whose Jewish community now numbers about 1,100, was once a vibrant hub of Jewish culture and known as the «Pearl of Israel.» «Sixty years have gone by since the greatest crime in the history of humanity,» said David Saltiel, head of Thessaloniki’s Jewish community. «We must honor the Holocaust and not grow complacent because some people continue to question whether it took place.» He spoke at Thessaloniki’s Holocaust monument at the first of two main events planned in the northern port city. It took the Greek State more than 50 years to honor its Jewish citizens with a memorial unveiled in 1997. Last year, Parliament voted unanimously to make Jan. 27 an annual day of remembrance. A visiting Israeli Cabinet minister said those who helped the Jews deserved to be honored as well. «In the darkness of Nazism, there were shining examples in Thessaloniki where many risked their lives to save their fellow citizens,» Israeli Transport Minister Meir Shetreet said. Fischer warned earlier this week against complacency in fighting anti-Semitism, calling the Holocaust the «ultimate crime against humanity in the 20th century.» In recent years, Thessaloniki’s Holocaust memorial and numerous other Jewish sites and cemeteries have been desecrated. Saltiel, the Jewish community leader, welcomed Fischer’s remarks, calling him a «fighter for fairness.» Greek Holocaust survivor Benjamin Capon said he also appreciated Fischer’s gesture. «I believe that for him to say (the Holocaust) is a disgrace will make the events more difficult to forget,» he said. Capon, taken to Auschwitz with his family when he was 16, said it was impossible for him to forget what happened. His mother was murdered, but he, his father and two sisters escaped death. «I have mixed feelings,» Capon said. «Some can forgive, and some cannot. I can forgive, but with a cold heart.» About 1.5 million people were killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp, which was liberated by the Soviet army. Greek Jews now number fewer than 5,000.