The beginning of the end for Jews of Salonika took place in the ironically named Liberty Square (Platiaes Eleftherias). It was here that one scorching Shabbat in July 1942, 9,000 starving Jewish men aged 18-45 from the Greek city’s ghettos were forced at gunpoint to perform calisthenics to the delight of their Nazi guard onlookers.
Many died that day, and hundreds more in the weeks that followed from excruciating forced labor on brutal road construction in areas rife with malaria.
Today, that central Liberty Square houses Salonika’s sole Holocaust monument — recognition of the pivotal historical nature of this site for the once thriving Jewish community. Soon, though, that may change.
“There is no other Jewish monument in Salonika. There is no other place in Salonika more important and symbolic than Eleftherias Square. This square represents for Salonika’s Jews the Ground Zero area. That place is where everything started and finished,” Ilias Pessah, a young physician and political activist from Salonika, told The Times of Israel.
But the Salonika municipality recently announced a town renovation plan which would, according to the few remaining members of the Jewish community, effectively remove the Holocaust memorial, which is currently located next to a parking lot in the decrepit square. Say community leaders, the plan proposes to create one universal monument which would highlight important historic dates throughout the year, such as the massive 1917 fire that razed half the city, as well as the Holocaust…