Some 2,000 Greek Jews on Sunday commemorated the 72nd anniversary of the first forced deportations to Auschwitz from Thessaloniki.
Among them were more than 200 supporters of Syriza, Greece’s new radical left ruling party that wants to revive claims for war reparations amid fraught negotiations over Athens’ debt crisis with EU paymaster Germany and other creditors.
They took part in a memory march to the train station of Greece’s second city, leaving flowers at a steam locomotive and carriages dating from the wartime era.
More than 53,000 members of the Thessaloniki Jewish community — out of a total of 56,000 — were murdered at Auschwitz.
“The first train to Auschwitz-Birkenau set off on March 15, 1943,” said Thessaloniki Jewish community leader David Saltiel.
“Part of such a locomotive is here today as a reminder of the dark moments and feelings of Thessaloniki residents targeted by the Nazis simply because they were Jews,” he said.
“It was a terrible day, even the sky was weeping,” said Auschwitz camp survivor Heinz Kounio.
“Ninety-five percent of the community was killed. All I can do is to loudly shout ‘never again’,” he said.
AFP / Sakis Mitrolidis
A woman and her child place a flower on a wagon’s door at the old railway station in Thessaloniki on March 15, 2015 during commemoration ceremony marking the departure of the first train from Greece’s northern city to the Auschwitz concentration camp
Berlin argues that the issue of reparations to Greece was settled in 1960 as part of an agreement with several European governments.
A working group set up by the then Greek government in 2013 estimated that the total amount due in reparations to Greece was 162 billion euros.
The new government says harsh austerity measures imposed under its 240 billion euro bailout plunged the country into poverty and should be relaxed.