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Thessaloniki to Build Holocaust Museum

Thessaloniki Holocaust Museum

In a recent article in the Greek daily Ekathimerini, reporter Giota Mirtsioti writes about the projected 2019 completion dare of a Holocaust museum at Thessaloniki’s old railroad station, where 97% of Thessaloniki’s Jews embarked for the death camps in central Europe, never to return.

Mirtsioti says the following: “It took Thessaloniki seven decades to restore its memories, recognize its mistakes, and, above all, to apologize for a piece of its history that was silently buried under the foundations of its university. Three years ago, the city’s mayor, Yiannis Boutaris, erected a monument in a corner of the campus as a reminder that this was the spot where, for 500 years, the city’s once-large community of Sephardic Jews honored their dead...

“It was one of the slow but steady steps toward the target set by the mayor’s office. The culmination of it all is the creation of the Holocaust Museum and Educational Center in the area of the old railway station, where the beginning of the end was written for the Jewish population of Thessaloniki.

“The move came from an idea belonging to the president of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki (JCT), David Saltiel. Boutaris adopted it and used his international contacts to promote it...

“A six-floor circular building dominated by metal and glass and spread across 7,000 square meters will rise over the next three years, standing symbolically in the place where the death trains began transporting 55,000 Greek Jews from Thessaloniki, decimating a multicultural, multi-religious and prosperous city. The foundation stone of the Holocaust Museum will be laid at the end of 2017 in 5 acres supplied by Gaiaose SA. If all goes well, Thessaloniki will inaugurate its new museum before the end of 2019.

“The project has a budget of approximately 22 million euros, 10 million of which will come from the German government (5 million in 2017 and 5 million in 2018). The rest will be covered by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and other bodies (Jewish communities and figures)… “What happened in Thessaloniki during the Holocaust is part of both local and European history, which we need to teach to young people especially to combat anti-Semitism, racism and all forms of discrimination that unfortunately are once again rising to the surface around the world,” said the director of the Shoah Memorial in Paris, Jacques Fredj, at the signing of the agreement in January 2016…

“What happened in Thessaloniki is a chapter of the Holocaust which is completely unknown to the world,” says Mayor Boutaris. With the Holocaust Museum, he believes that Thessaloniki, apart from the obvious benefits of tourism and raising the city’s profile, will become a symbol to promote tolerance and fight racism...

“Thessaloniki, like Warsaw and Krakow, is seen as an important historical place for Jews everywhere, but much more so for Sephardic Jews, a largely unknown and neglected community. This dimension is also noted by Giorgos Antoniou, professor of contemporary history on the newly established Jewish Studies course at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

“The Holocaust Museum, beyond the tragedy of the Greek Jews, beyond the tragedy of Thessaloniki’s Jews, represents the tragedy of the Sephardic Jews. The difference between this museum and those in the US and Israel is that it is located in the place where the crime was committed. It will rightfully be put on the map with the world’s leading Jewish history museums. In educational terms it will act as the umbrella for the research and teaching that has blossomed in recent years at universities and other institutions.”