Russia to return pre-war Jewish archives to Greece

Jews of Thessalo

Local Jewish council says among plundered items by Nazis are books and religious artifacts from 30 synagogues, libraries and communal institutions in Thessaloniki alone, which was home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe

ATHENS, Greece — Russia will return to Greece the prewar archives of Jewish communities that were stolen by Nazi forces, the Mediterranean country’s Jewish council said Thursday.

“Our history returns home,” the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KISE) said in a statement.

KISE said Nazi forces in July 1942 had plundered archives, books and religious artifacts from 30 synagogues, libraries and communal institutions in Thessaloniki, which at the time was home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe.

They were transferred to Moscow after the Red Army took Berlin in May 1945.

“Their restitution would mean justice and would transmit knowledge about a part of the Greek people that contributed to the progress of the country and no longer exists, that of the 60,000 Greek Jews who were deported to and exterminated in the Nazi death camps,” the board said.

The arrangement was announced Wednesday during a visit to Moscow by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

No date for the return was given.

The archives had until now been stored among Russian military files and Greece had sought their return for decades, the prime minister’s office said.

At the turn of the last century, some 90,000 Jews lived in Thessaloniki, a key trading port in the Ottoman Empire, making up some 60 per cent of the population.

A Jewish family from Thessaloniki, Greece seen in 1917. (Wikimedia Commons)

But by the eve of World War II, faced with poverty, tensions with the Greeks who took control over the city in 1912, and a devastating fire that left 55,000 homeless in 1917, the community had dwindled to some 55,000.

The Nazis entered the city in April 1941, but it was not until two years later that they began implementing the Final Solution for Greek Jewry.

On March 15, 1943, the Nazis began deporting the Jews of Thessaloniki. Some 4,000 people were loaded onto cattle cars and shipped off to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, the longest journey of all the train transports of the Holocaust

Eighteen more convoys followed. By August, 49,000 out of the city’s prewar population of 55,000 Jews had been deported. Fewer than 2,000 survived.