Greece´s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, commemorated on Sunday the 80th anniversary of the departure of the first train convoy from the Auschwitz camp.
Officials, led by President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, marched from Eleftherias ("Freedom") Square, where members of the city´s Jewish community were rounded up by the German occupying forces, to the city´s Old Train Station, where they laid red carnations on the tracks. Some marchers held a banner reading "Thessaloniki Auschwitz 80 years: Never again" and white balloons carrying the same slogan were released.
The first train carrying Jewish people departed from the station, which is now a freight terminal, on March 15, 1943; the last one, on Aug. 7 that year. Most Jews, more than 48,000 of them, were sent to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau sub-camp, where almost all were immediately gassed. Another 4,000 were sent to Treblinka and a smaller number to Bergen Belsen. About 90% of a once-thriving community, most of them descendants of Sephardic Jews who fled Spain after 1492, perished in the Holocaust.
"Thessaloniki has acknowledged its part of the responsibility" in the fate of the Jewish community, Sakellaropoulou said. Thessaloniki, once part of the Ottoman Empire, was captured by Greece in 1912, and relations between the Greek and Jewish communities were often uneasy. The tension was exacerbated by the arrival, after 1922, of ethnic Greeks fleeing Asia Minor following Greece´s defeat in a three-year war with Turkey. The new impoverished refugees saw Thessaloniki´s Jews, many of them successful professionals, as remnants of the hated Ottoman Empire.