Obj. ID: 46549 Holocaust Memorial at the site of the destroyed Old Jewish Cemetery on the grounds of Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, Greece, 2014
What is Commemorated?
Jewish cemetery destroyed in 1942
The memorial is located on the site of the historic Jewish cemetery of Thessaloniki, destroyed in 1942, and now the site of the Aristotle University. The monument is set atop a low hill within the campus, but from a distance the monument is hard to see as it is set within a grove of trees.
One needs to enter the campus by road, passing a security guard. Shortly past the entrance, one sees across a grassy slope a flight of low broad concrete steps to the right off the entrance road. Crossing a grassy area, three wide steps lead to the memorial.
The memorial mixes Jewish symbols and remnants of the former cemetery. The memorial is formed as a rectangular space built as a concrete platform and frame set into the slope and defined by a low concrete retaining wall on the upper sides. In the plan, the platform is divided into five parallel sections. In order of approach from below, the first is paved with dirt and grass and has an inscribed gravestone slab lying flat on the ground, and four white decorated slabs, once part of grave markers, set upright.
The second strip is paved and serves as a path. The third and central strip is wider and constitutes the heart of the memorial. One end is a sculpted metal seven-branch menorah, partly buried in the earth and tilted off center at an unnatural angle. In the center is a typical Sephardic horizontal tomb with a low base and lid. At the other end – opposite the menorah – a bronze Magen David is also set into the ground at a sharp angle. The oblique angles of Menorah and Magen David are meant to recall the disarray of the cemetery during the time of destruction, but also more generally the disequilibrium of the destruction of what was intended to be the resting place of the dead.
The fourth strip is another paved path, and this allows passage to read five large informational signs that look something like gravestones in five languages - Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, French, and English – installed upright in the final strip and set against the retaining wall. Given the multitude of languages, it is clear the text is intended to be read by an international audience, even though access to the monument is difficult.
אנדרטה זו הוקמה לזכור בית הקברות היהודי שהיה
נמקום זה במשיך מאות שנים עד להריסתו בשנת
ש1942 על ידי הכובשים הנאצים ועוזריהם.ד
.יהי זכרם ברוך
הוקמה בשיתוף אוניברסיטת אריסטוטליו בנשיאותו
של יואניס מילופולוס והקהילה היהודית בסלוניקי
.בנשיאותו של דוד שלתיאל
.מקום זה קדוש הוא
הנך דורך בשטח עיר מתים גדולה מקום קבורתם של יהודי סלוניקי
במשך מאות שנים. מקום מנוחים האחרונה של יהודים חזקים
ברוחם ומעודנים בנשמתם בני הקהילה התוססת ביותר באגן הים
התיכון. שטח בית הקברות הגיע עד לגבעות שמסביב. בשנת
כ1943 הגיעו כוחות הרשע להרוס את הישות האנושית ולא הסתפקו
בכך ורצו לבער גם את זכרם כך שבזמן ששלחו את החיים למותם
הרסו את בית הקברות ופיזרו את העצמות. בבית קברות זה מתו
.הנפטרים בפעם השנייה
בסלוניקי היתה נוכחות יהודית מזמן הקמתה. בהמשך מגורשי
ספרד חיפשו ומצאו כאן מקלט והתחברו לקהילה מגוונת של
יושבי המקום. רומאניוט ואחרים שגורשו גם הם ממקום מושבים
ממרכז וממערב אירופה וכך נוצרה אחת הקהילות המפוארות
באירופה. חייה של קהילה זו נקטעו על ידי הכיבוש הנאצי כאשר
במסגרת "הפתרון הסופי" נשלחו מרבית יהודי סלוניקי כ-50,000
לתאי הגזים של אושוויץ - בירקונאוץ בדצמבר 1942 החלו הנצאים
בהריסת מקום קדוש זה בית הקברות כשבו למעלה מ-300,000
קבריםץ שטחו השתרע מרחוב "אגנטייה" ועד לאזור שנקרא
.י"40 אקליסיאס" ועליו בנוי כיום כל הקמפוס הנוכחי
[To be transcribed]
The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
during the rectorship of Ioannis Mylopoloulos
and the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki
during the presidency of David Saltiel
erected this monument to commemorate
the Old Jewish Cemetery located for centuries on
these grounds until its destruction in 1942 by the
Occupation Forces and their collaborators
May the memory of the victims of the Holocaust
You're stepping on sacred ground.
You're stepping on what is left of the largest necropolis of the East.
You're stepping on the place where the Jews of Thessaloniki were buried
Strong spirits and kind souls of the most vibrant community of the
Mediterranean, have found their final rest.
Their graves spread out high on these hills.
Until 1943 when the forces of evil crushed all human substance, but people
were not enough. They wanted to kill the memory too.
And as they were sending the living to their death, they were shattering
the tombs of the dead and scattering their bones.
Those buried here died for a second time.
The Jewish presence in Thessaloniki has been constant since the
foundation of the city. In 1492 the settlement of the Sephardim, the
Jews who were expelled from Spain, as well as of the Jews coming
from Western Europe who sought and found shelter in Thessaloniki,
contributed to the establishment of one of the largest Jewish
communities in Europe. A community whose thread was violently severed
during the German occupation of Thessaloniki and the Holocaust.
Along with the 50,000 Jews of Thessaloniki who were exterminated in the
crematoria of Auschwitz - Birkenau, the Nazis wanted to erase any trace
of Jewish presence in the city. To that end the destruction of the Jewish
cemetery, a sacred place of remembrance with over 300,000 graves that
spread from Egnatia Str to 40 Ekklisies neighborhood and included the
current campus of the Aristotle University, began in December 1942.
[To be transcribed]
[To be transcribed]
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Jewish Community of Thessaloniki
Historian Devin Naar writes:
“At the municipality’s expense, five hundred workers with pickaxes laid waste to the Jewish cemetery of Salonica in December 1942. Marble flooded the market, and its price plummeted. Jewish tombstones were stacked in masons’ yards. With the permission of the director of antiquities of Macedonia and under the supervision of the metropolitan bishop and city officials, they were used to line latrines, pave roads, repair the Church of Saint Demetrius, lay the courtyard of National Theater of Northern Greece, construct the cafeteria of the Yacht Club of Thessaloniki, and, of course, build the university itself, whose medical students used leftover tombstones for their dissection tables."
Renna Melina Elfrink:
“The unveiling of the memorial took place on November 9th, 2014 in the presence of national and regional political authorities, the Ambassador of Israel to Greece, the Mayor of Thessaloniki, the President of the JCT, the Rector of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and the former Rector of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Compared to the unveiling of the Menorah in Flames in 1997, the number of (international) representatives and political figures was much smaller. This already indicates that the aim of this memorial was not strengthen international ties. It could even be argued that the smaller number of people, and the few international representatives, was related to the memorial remembering a part of history about authorities that had collaborated with Nazi Germany. This part of history was something Thessaloniki was not proud of and therefore not something they wanted to highlight.
During the unveiling, several speeches were given. The most noteworthy speeches were by mayor Yiannis Boutaris and the University Rector Pericles Mitkas. In his speech, Boutaris declared that he as mayor and in the name of the city, he felt “ashamed of this unjust and guilty silence” and the stance of the city authorities at the time. He even took responsibility for the history of the municipality and expressed his "shame on those rectors who after the war built a campus next to, and above, the damaged graves without erecting a commemorative plaque." He concluded that the loss of almost the entire Jewish community is a loss for all Thessalonians. This speech made Boutaris the first mayor of Thessaloniki to speak about the city’s guilt and to make an open apology for the destruction of the cemetery. Boutaris did not only reflect upon the past, he also criticized the seventy years of silence regarding the memory of it. Boutaris, therefore, used his speech not only to commemorate the past but also to encourage and provoke spectators to reflect on the process and tradition of commemoration itself.
Contrary to Boutaris’ speech, University Rector, Pericles Mitkas, stated that: "No people should be deprived the evidence of its past. Especially when the loss is done by the enemy in the form of looting and destruction, it is a national disaster.” Mitkas’ speech, like the text written on the tombstones, gave the impression that the destruction of the cemetery was done exclusively by the enemy: Nazi Germany. At the end of his speech, he even took some comfort in the University having been built on the grounds of the cemetery: “that on this holy land a temple of knowledge and life was built, will offer a slight consolation. As a consequence of the misinformation given in this speech and the text written on the memorial, international newspapers reported the destruction remembered as committed by the ‘Nazi perpetrator’. For example, the progressive Jewish newspaper Ha’aretz stated ‘During the Nazi occupation, the Germans destroyed the cemetery using the grave markers for construction material’ This assigns a different story, with other perpetrators, to this part of history. This is problematic given the fact that the Greek city authorities were responsible for the destruction of the cemetery.”
[Elfrink, 2021, p. 71-73]
Elfrink goes on to write that the text “mentions the word ‘collaborators’, indicating the destruction was not only committed by Nazi Germany but with the help of others. It remains unclear however who these collaborators were exactly. Reading the second paragraph, the perpetrators are described as “the forces of evil”, which obviously refers to Nazi Germany, especially when reading the last paragraph, which states: “the Nazis wanted to erase any trace of Jewish presence in the city.” Despite the vague term ‘collaborators’ being used in the text, an impression remains of the destruction of the cemetery was done exclusively by the Nazis... As shown in the historical context, the destruction of the cemetery was in fact initiated and later also implemented by Thessaloniki authorities. The Nazis had only given their consent. The memorial thus gives a dubious representation of Thessaloniki’s wartime history.” [Elfrink, 2021, p. 69-70]
In November 2016, someone tried to pull the branches off the monument’s menorah and damaged the accompanying plaques.
In July 2018, vandals spray-painted Christian graffiti and knocked down slabs of marble that comprised pieces of the monument.
Vandals smashed the memorial to the Jewish cemetery on the campus of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in northern Greece on January 25, 2019 — days before the city is set to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day.
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Elfrink, Renna Melina. Breaking the Silence: Memorialization of the Holocaust in Thessaloniki, MA Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Universiteit van Amsterdam, July 2021., https://www.academia.edu/59899587/Breaking_the_silence_Memorialization_of_the_Holocaust_in_Thessaloniki (accessed January 29, 2023)
Hesse, Carla and Laqueur, Thomas W., “Bodies Visible and Invisible: The Erasure of the Jewish Cemetery in the Life of Modern Thessaloniki” in The Holocaust in Greece in G. Antoniou & A. Moses (Eds.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).
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Naar, Devin, “Memory and Desecration in Salonica,” Jewish Review of Books, Winter 2017
Pappas, Gregory, “Vandals Smash Thessaloniki’s Memorial to Jewish Cemetery,” Pappas Post, January 25, 2019., https://pappaspost.com/vandals-smash-thessalonikis-memorial-to-jewish-cemetery/ (accessed January 29, 2023)
Saltiel, Leon, “Dehumanizing the Dead: the Destruction of Thessaloniki’s Jewish Cemetery in the Light of New Sources,” Yad Vashem Studies 42 (1): 1–35., https://www.academia.edu/8343279/Dehumanizing_the_Dead_The_Destruction_of_Thessaloniki_s_Jewish_Cemetery_in_the_Light_of_New_Sources (accessed January 29, 2023)
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“Greek university unveils memorial on site of destroyed Jewish cemetery,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, November 10, 2014. , https://www.jta.org/2014/11/10/global/greek-university-unveils-memorial-on-site-of-destroyed-jewish-cemetery (accessed January 29, 2023)
“Jewish cemetery memorial in Thessaloniki vandalized,” Kathimerini, July 10, 2018., https://www.ekathimerini.com/news/230541/jewish-cemetery-memorial-in-thessaloniki-vandalized/ (accessed January 29, 2023)