Managing a city’s historical legacy

Managing a city’s historical legacy

Amid the controversy over the remodeling of Eleftherias (Freedom) Square in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, Giorgos Ioannou’s short story “The Elimination of the Jews,” from the collection “Our Own Blood” (Kedros Editions, 1980), is a must. Such works should be studied at schools and book clubs.

Having said that, regardless of what it eventually decides to do about the square, the Municipality of Thessaloniki has been found to be sorely lacking in historical awareness and sensibility. The mayor has said that the square, where thousands of Greek Jewish men were rounded up and humiliated before being sent off to forced labor camps, will be transformed into a public memorial. But his words are barely convincing. And that is because the current state of the square leaves very little hope about the credibility of his pledge (which was, in fact, made under public pressure).

Meanwhile, a great act of hubris is being committed. Even if it is not what they originally intended, the municipal authorities should review their plan in the wake of the public backlash and the strong reaction of former mayor Yannis Boutaris. Eleftherias Square has gone down in the history of the Holocaust as a place of martyrdom. It is completely inappropriate that it should serve as a parking lot – whether temporary or not.

Eleftherias Square’s present status is an insult to the memory of the victims; it is incomprehensible why local officials fail to see this

Its present status is an insult to the memory of the victims; it is incomprehensible why local officials fail to see this. Should the city go ahead with plans to construct an underground parking garage below the square and move the Holocaust memorial from one of its corners to the center it would be an injustice to this historic location. Such a decision would signal a failure to manage the city’s historical legacy and to grasp the significance of civic engagement with the past.

Thessaloniki, a city whose identity has been shaped by multiple layers of history, has a responsibility and an obligation towards those who loved it as their own and to those who will inherit it – the next generations.

It would be a sign of maturity if we could view our cities and the management of memory as a starting point in understanding, honoring, respecting and, most importantly, in thinking outside and beyond our relatively inconsequential existence.

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