THESSALONIKI – Dozens of Israeli soldiers visited this northern port city yesterday to pay homage to Greek Jews who died fighting in the Greek armed forces in World War II and those who perished at Nazi concentration camps. The visit by 185 Israeli military officers was part of an annual Israeli army program called Uniformed Martyrs, which includes a visit to Auschwitz and a trip to a European city with an historic Jewish presence. Thessaloniki was chosen this year for the first time. More than 12,000 Jews fought for Greece’s armed forces on the Albanian front, and 513 of them were killed in combat. More than 90 percent of Greece’s 80,000 Jews perished at Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps. «We salute the sacrifice of Greek Jews who fought the Germans, and on the Albanian front,» said Brig. Gen. Dan Ganot, who headed the Israeli delegation. After laying a wreath at the Memorial of the Fallen Greek Jews at the Jewish Cemetery of Thessaloniki, Ganot said «Greece and Israel are two countries of common principles and values. The principle of freedom is the basis of our cooperation.» The ceremony was also attended by officers of the Greek army and members of the city’s small Jewish community. Ganot said the Israeli unit had just visited Auschwitz to remember the 1.5 million people who died there before it was liberated by the Soviet army. Thessaloniki, which saw 96 percent of its Jewish population killed during the war, was once a vibrant hub of Jewish culture and called the «Pearl of Israel.» Greek Jews now number fewer than 5,000, with about 1,100 in Thessaloniki. Half a century after the end of the war, Greece honored its Jewish citizens with a memorial unveiled in Thessaloniki in 1997. Last year, Parliament voted unanimously to make Jan. 27 – the day Auschwitz was liberated – an annual day of remembrance for the country’s Jews killed during the Holocaust.