Holocaust remembered in city where Jews once thrived

THESSALONIKI (AP) – The families of Holocaust survivors paid tribute yesterday to thousands of Greek Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II. «It is our duty to help future generations by promoting values such as respect for human rights, freedom and solidarity and keeping away from hate and intolerance,» said David Saltiel, the president of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki. Nearly 90 percent of Greece’s 80,000 Jews were wiped out during the Holocaust. Most of them had lived in this port city once known as the pearl of Israel. Some 1,500 Greek Jews remain in Thessaloniki today. «It created a dent in the city’s demography, with whole neighborhoods losing their inhabitants,» said Zanet Battinou, director of the Jewish Museum in Athens. «These are communities that will not recover from this.» Many Greek Jews trace their origins back to Sephardic ancestors who took refuge in Thessaloniki after being driven out of Spain in 1492. The Greek government said International Holocaust Day – formally marked on Saturday – should serve as a strong warning against the danger of racism and against similar atrocities ever taking place again. «The right to remember and educate generations to come on the Holocaust is evident and non-negotiable,» Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said Friday. «It constitutes an underlying condition for avoiding similar genocides in the future.» A vigil was held yesterday at the city’s Holocaust monument, followed by speeches by government officials and the head of Thessaloniki’s Jewish community. Battinou said Holocaust remembrance remains important to remind Greeks «there are no solutions so bleak that we cannot do the right thing.» She added, «We must always find the strength to do what is right (as) values such as democracy and freedom can easily slip from our fingers.» Greece was occupied by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944. The Greek national resistance took on the Jewish cause, organizing safety routes up to the mountains and out to the Middle East. January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day, marks the day in 1945 when the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp – where more than 1.5 million people perished, most of them Jewish – was liberated by Soviet troops.

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