ATHENS, Greece (JTA) -- The Jewish community of Thessaloniki in northern Greece will hold a series of events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the first deportations of the city’s Jews to Auschwitz.
On March 15, 1943, the Nazis sent the first convoy of some 4,000 Jews from Thessaloniki to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. By August, 49,000 out of the city’s pre-war population of 55,000 Jews had been deported. Fewer than 2,000 survived.
The events will include a march on March 16 from the city’s Liberty Square to the Old Railway Station where a memorial ceremony will be held. That will be followed by the main commemoration ceremony on March 17 at Thessaloniki’s Monastiriotes Synagogue, where Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to speak.
The Jewish community will also inaugurate a photographic exhibit about the deportations and hold a concert at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, which was constructed on the site of a destroyed Jewish cemetery.
The Jewish community of Thessaloniki was one of the most important centers of Sephardic Jewry for 450 years following the expulsion from Spain. Known as the Flower of the Balkans, it was the center of Ladino culture in the region.
Following the deportations, Jewish property was looted, synagogues were destroyed, priceless Ladino libraries were shipped to Germany and Jewish cemetery headstones were used as construction materials.
Also March 17, the World Jewish Congress will hold a special meeting in Thessaloniki, headed by Ronald Lauder, as part of the commemorations. The gathering is part of the organization's efforts to support vulnerable Jewish communities, the World Jewish Congress said in a statement
Today, about 1,000 Jews live in the city and they are “adversely affected by the country’s deep economic problems and by the rise of the extremist Golden Dawn, a movement whose leaders openly deny the Holocaust,” according to the World Jewish Congress.