The Jewish Cemetery of Thessaloniki and the new subway – a proposition
Posted by Abravanel, the Blog στο 06/07/2008
A great source for my posts is often the works of people little fond of the Jews; it always amazing how much dedication they apply in finding news concerning them. In this case a greek-language blogger made a post commenting an article by the german newspaper Sueddeutche Zeitung. In his post he made various allegations like that it would be impossible to have 500.000 tombs etc – in any case he gave me an an opportunity to return to the subject.
As I’ve written in the past, Thessaloniki housed the – maybe – largest jewish cemetery in all of Europe. It contained an estimated 300.000 to 500.000 tombs and covered an area of 320.000 square meters. This cemetery was destroyed by greek collaborators of the nazi germans in 1943. The land was confiscated by the Greek State in 1944 on the grounds that «it’s owners had abandoned it», while at exactly the same time it’s owners were being turned into ashes in the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The tombstones where either looted or sold and were used in construction works in Thessaloniki, including repairs on the Cathedral of St.Demetrious. Until very recently tombstones could still be found in the city.
After the war the place served providing provisional housing to refugees, which were ousted when the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki decided to built there it’s campus, (already it had occupied part of the cemetery and had acquired the land from the Greek State). The area for years was characterized by digs aimed to find the «jewish gold» and an occasional human rest or fragment of a tombstone. The University has categorically denied any kind of commemoration of the cemetery, despite requests of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki and of several professors of the University itself.
Last year the works for a new subway for Thessaloniki commenced and the area of the University became the center of interest as witnesses tell us that jewish tombs were found and the JCT renewed it’s request for some kind of commemoration.
A greek blogger from Thessaloniki, argos, posted twice in April 2007 that the works for the new subway have unearthed jewish tombs. Another greek blogger, oneiros, informs us that local newspapers engaged in «damage control» and systematically avoid mentioning the findings of the destroyed jewish necropolis. Doing some personal research I found out that in a greek forum readers commenting on the metro refer that workers asked in location have confirmed the findings of jewish tombs. The always vigilant niko from AgitProp had already posted photos of tombstones incorporated in constructions and had told the story of him finding a stray tombstone left in abandonment in the courtyard of the art institute Telloglio. AFP claims that community sources have confirmed the findings – so does historian Rena Molho in the interview in the german newspaper.
Amazingly enough I also found out that a jewish tomb is in plain sight inside the University campus. The photo below is depicting the tomb and the credit for it’s discovery goes to another thessalonicean blogger, Panos Zervas.
In the meantime an interview by M.Constantinis, the head of the Central Jewish Board, (which coordinates all of the Jewish Communities in Greece), in Agence France-Presse has resulted in articles in french La Croix and english EJP. Mr.Constantinis said that «The entire area was once a Jewish cemetery. In-depth excavation is certain to hit upon graves and remains,» «We would not want the peace of the dead to be disturbed. In our religion, it is a sin to move the dead after burial.». Although I do not agree with all of mr.Constantinis suggestions, they do seem to confirm that there is a problem and at least the CJB is aware of it.
The article in Sueddeutche Zeitung mentions renown historian Rena Molho describing how the cemetery was destroyed and efforts by George Tsiakalos to convince the University to acknowledge the problem. Unfortunately he has failed until now and the rest of the city still remains silent. I should also add that in an interview in September 2007 the president of political party Synaspismos Alekos Alavanos confirmed that the subway is built upon the dead and bones of jewish greeks are being unearthed; he called for a monument and for this he earns my sincere compliments. Another politician, I.Boutaris, confirms that the University denies any kind of commemoration, in fear of claims.
In January of 2008 I had written again on the subject proposing that the subway station of the university be named «Jewish Cemetery Station». Also, following how archaeological findings were incorporated in Athen’s subway, I had proposed that a permanent and extensive photo exhibition of the Cemetery, together with the findings be housed in the station. I was glad to read in the german newspaper article that I was not crazy to dream about it and Rena Molho had proposed the same thing – that the metro station in the university be named «Old Jewish Cemetery Station». So adapting my idea I repeat again:
Name the station at the university subway station: «Old Jewish Cemetery Station»
I hope whoever is of the opinion that this would be a big step to reconcile Thessaloniki with it’s past, to please do not hesitate to voice his/her agreement directly to the Attiko Metro which is responsible for the construction of the new subway. Hopefully this will also convince the University that the jewish presence in Thessaloniki is an asset to the city and not a threat; thus deciding to finally commemorate in an appropriate manner the sacrifice of the dead who lay or have layed for centuries under it.
The University of Thessaloniki and the city itself are not responsible for the crimes committed by the persons who betrayed the trust of the greek people and collaborated with the germans, like Governor Simeonidis. It is though their responsibility to prove to these people that their efforts of exterminating the Jews of Thessaloniki may have succeeded but they failed to wipe out their memory. An appropriate memorial to the cemetery on University grounds is a moral imperative and all thessaloniceans should make this cause theirs. I want to close this article with exactly the same words i had closed the last one:
Would it be this difficult to accept that the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki is exactly this: of Thessaloniki and make it’s cemetery a part of all Thessalonicean’s past?
Former president of Synaspismos Alekos Alavanos confirms that the subway is built on top of the cemetery and calls for a monument and respect of the dead.
Greek blogger oneiros writes on Thessaloniki’s newspapers avoiding mentioning the subject of the necropolis.
Greek blogger argos posts twice on the findings on April 2007 here (greek) and here (greek).
Articles of EJP (english) and La Croix (french).
The article of Sueddeutche Zeitung (german) and a brief synopsis in greek.
A sefardic blogger also on the same subject (english).
Niko at AgitProp describes his own experience with jewish tombstones (greek).
Α greek commenter in a blog says that a wall belonging to the jewish cemetery was found and destroyed after consulting with the archeaologists.
Thessaloniki’s politician I.Boutaris confirms the University has denied any monument, in fear of accepting any claims.
Recent article in Kathimerini on the destruction of the cemetery and the silence of the Metropolis of Thessaloniki.
My 3 long post series on the cemetery of Thessaloniki with some photos from the past and an approsimate estimate on where the cemetery is today using Google Maps.
1.This photo comes form the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki and depicts and old woman searching for a tomb. I chose it because the name of the photo is “Looking for the tomb” which I felt that was
appropriate and depicting accurately the state that the inhabitants of Thessaloniki, jews and christians alike,
feel towards this issue. Let’s hope they find it… (my words in my last post on the matter)
minor update 11/7/2008: panos wrote also about it and has an interesting conversation going on there; I have written a couple of comments myself so do check it out. Also athinaios mentioned it, let’s hope the Liberal Alliance endorses his views!