The Jewish Cemetery of Thessaloniki – part 2
Posted by Abravanel, the Blog στο 05/05/2007
-> «Part 1 – The Destruction» can be found here.
Part2 – After the War
Until this point we witnessed the events leading to the destruction of the cemetery. Some argue that we simply deal with a hateful initiative, facilitated by the WW2 conditions. But when referring to this story people usually limit themselves to 1943, the year when the destruction happened. Even limiting the time frame, the responsibilities of the Municipality of Thessaloniki and the General Governor of Macedonia, are simply concealed. One can argue many hours on the length of the german involvement and many more can argue that «this way goes the war». But what cannot be explained and what cannot be justified is the shameful conduct after the war.
The last convoy for Auswitch left Thessaloniki on 10/8/1943 with the last 1.800 jews; Thessaloniki was officially judenfrei. The Greek State swiftly acknowledged the mutated status quo. The Finance Ministry on October 14, 1943 issued an order to seize the entire Jewish Cemetery on the grounds that it had been deserted by its owners. (!!!) This settled once and for all the propriety of the land; if the jews had perished, why shouldn’t one profit from their dead? After WW2 the Greek State in 1946 issued a decree that allowed jews who had returned from the extermination camps to collect the gravestones; of course no mention was made to restitute the graves to the ones who had survived. A decimated Jewish Community, where more than 90% of its members was ashes and only 2.000 had survived, lacked the economic means and the people to take advantage of it; the looting continued. After the war no mention was ever made to restitute the land and even worse there was and is imposed a complete silence over this matter. Attempts, decades later, to contact the University to agree on some kind of commemoration failed again and again and there is a strange silence in greek academic circles over this matter.
The bones of most of the half million Thessaloniceans still lay there. I talked to friends who attended the University in Thessaloniki in the ’60 and ‘70s; they told me stories of how during construction works, bones were found constantly. In one case the workers presumed that probably they were bones of dogs and were marveled on how big these dogs should have been (since human bones are much longer of those of dogs). Other testimonies talk of bones found & discarded, during construction of sewages.
The grave stones were used in construction works of privates, military works, a swimming pool for the german occupying forces, churches or even as new tombstones. In a visit to Thessaloniki in the early ‘90s, I saw myself jewish grave stones used in the courtyard of a church in the suburb of Panorama. I still can’t understand how the local priest accepted looting from the dead while in theory he should be the first one to understand how pure evil this act was.
Today tenths of thousands of young persons are enrolled in the University. They laugh, they fall in love but not even one of them knows that they’re still surrounded by the ghosts of our families. The University avoids all talk on this subject, since it knows that it is morally and legally compromised, both for accepting the land and failing to speak afterwards. The Jewish Community stays silent, since if it ever spoke the racist hawks would claim that this is done only to claim financial recompensation!
So what needs to be done? Certainly not only a commemorative plate which everyone would forget the next day, in my eyes this would seem a further insult. This should only serve as the starting point of a far longer path. The University should accept it’s origins and try by itself to perpetuate the memory of those whose graves has violated. If a grave is a place where the living can come and mourn the ones who left, a way to honor their memory, then the University should become the house of such initiatives. It is unacceptable and insulting that 64 years later there is nothing to remind of our families while their bones still lay there; to have young students protest about jews controlling the world or being behind 9/11, while they sip their coffee on top of the people whose voice still reechoes in our memories! Nice way of controlling the world! Again I feel the need to stress that this isn’t about returning any land or any kind of monetary compensation – only a virulent antisemite would claim this, as to portray jews obsessed with money. This is only about respect about the dead who still lay down there.
After the war the Aristotle University chose to continue building on top of the dead. The Greek Government chose to accept the looting of the land afterwards. The society of Thessaloniki chose to keep using the tombstones without any moral indignation. The University after building its new campus chose to refuse putting a commemorative plaque and chooses today to keep a shameful silence. Even its students today ignore where they lay upon and are happy to attack the jews, whose graves helped building their fine university.
These choices constitute today the second desecration of the dead who still lay there. Even the ones disagreeing on the responsibility of the Thessaloniki Municipality and the Macedonia Governorship conveniently omit referring to the acts of the free Greek State after the war. And if one thinks that it was the war who brought out the worst side of the people, then the choices after the war show that this side had no need of the war to flourish. We may not be able to choose our past or change it, but we can certainly shape the future. The choices Thessaloniki made and makes after the war validated the conduct of it’s leaders during the war and unquestionably compromise it’s moral standing. Each new generation after the war has the same chance as the generations before it had: to deny and forget or to join the dead in their grief for their stolen homes.
The dead may have lost their homes but they still lay down there; hopefully one day the city will decide to listen to their deafening silence.
-> « Part 3 – Photos after the Holocaust« can be found here, there you can also comment.