Boutaris breaks si­lence on Thes­sa­loniki’s hid­den shame

Kathimerini English - - Focus - STAVROS TZ­I­MAS

The City of Thes­sa­loniki has of­fered an of­fi­cial apol­ogy for what Mayor Yian­nis Boutaris called the “dark­est mo­ment in its his­tory,” the erad­i­ca­tion of the Jewish com­mu­nity and legacy.

On Sun­day, au­thor­i­ties un­veiled a mon­u­ment in mem­ory of the old Jewish ceme­tery which was de­stroyed in 1942 on the or­der of mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials. Dur­ing a cer­e­mony that was at­tended by state of­fi­cials, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tion­sand univer­sity au­thor­i­ties, the city’s top of­fi­cial cas­ti­gated the city’s col­lec­tive conscience, point­ing his fin­ger at a past that the lo­cal com­mu­nity has for decades tried to keep in the dark.

“The City of Thes­sa­loniki took an un­jus­ti­fi­ably long time to break its si­lence,” Boutaris said. “To­day it can say that it is ashamed of those in Thes­sa­loniki who col­lab­o­rated with the Ger­mans, those who em­bez­zled their for­tunes and those who be­trayed Jews who tried to es­cape,” he said.

Above all, Boutaris said, Thes­sa­loniki is ashamed of the city’s of­fi­cials, “of the mayor and gen­eral gov­er­nor who con­sented with­out protest to mu­nic­i­pal work­ers de­stroy­ing 500 years of mem­ory and turn­ing Europe’s largest Jewish ceme­tery into a des­o­late area overnight,” he said.

Boutaris said there was no point in apol­o­giz­ing for the ac­tions of those of­fi­cials. “Re­spon­si­bil­ity is nei­ther col­lec­tive nor can it be trans­ferred. But we do rec­og­nize that the in­sti­tu­tions we rep­re­sent were not born yes­ter­day. They are ve­hi­cles of mem­ory through time,” he said, adding that the loss of 56,000 Thes­sa­loniki Jews was “a loss for ev­ery­one – Chris­tians, Jews, Mus­lims, athe­ists and ag­nos­tics.”

In 1942 mu­nic­i­pal work­ers – with the full knowl­edge of Max Merten, Thes­sa­loniki’s Ger­man mil­i­tary ad­min­is­tra­tor – de­stroyed the Jewish ceme­tery es­tab­lished in 1493 when Sephardic Jews from Spain first set­tled in the city near what is now the univer­sity cam­pus.

Mar­ble head­stones from the grave­yard were used to pave roads and side­walks through­out Thes­sa­loniki. Some were also used to build swimming pools at the man­sions of wealthy res­i­dents and to pave part of the Church of Aghios Dimitrios.

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