The Thessaloniki Holocaust Museum will express the international message of “Never Again,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during an event to lay the museum’s foundation stone, an event jointly attended by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Rivlin said that the Holocaust “is not just a Jewish issue – it is a global issue, and here in Greece it is a Greek issue as well, a national issue.” The museum that will be built here will provide a podium for the expression of the rich, varied and unique history of Greek Jews, especially those of Thessaloniki, the Israeli president said. “”t ought to become a witness of our obligation to build a world that will truly shout, Never Again!,” he noted.
The Israeli president referred to the Jewish community’s history in the city and thanked the Greek state leaders, the German government, and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for their contribution to the museum’s creation.
The museum will be built on the old railroad grounds, from where the train carriages transported Greek Jews to the Nazi concentration camps. Of the 50,000 Jews deported, only 1,950 returned after WWII.
In his address, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that “nobody has been forgotten – neither the criminals, nor the victims” and that the museum will express “a constant reminder to the present and future generations as to the lengths that fascism, Nazism, anti-Semitism and racism” can go and the theories they can promulgate about separating human beings amond “higher and lower races” and promoting “ethnic purity”.
The premier referred to the Jewish community’s history, saying that Sephardic Jews arrived in Thessaloniki in the 15th century as refugees and lived there for over 400 years, contributing to the city history as pioneers of economic progress and radical social movements when the labour movement began, he said, adding that construction work for the museum will begin in the summer of 2018 and be completed by 2020.
Tsipras and Rivlin also planted two olive trees, symbols of peace and peaceful coexistence among peoples.
The event was attended by several ministers, academics, and church representatives among others.
Following the event, the Israeli president lay a wreath at the Holocaust Monument at Eleftherias Square in the city, where Jews were killed by the Nazis in WWII.
In his comments, the city’s mayor Yiannis Boutaris said the Holocaust Museum will highlight the historic contribution of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki, once known as “the Jerusalem of the Balkans”.
Following the laying of the foundation stone, Boutaris said, “This museum will showcase the history of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki, not just the last 500 years, but from its very appearance in the city, in 30 AD.”
President of the Jewish community David Saltiel said that the museum “will provide a global reference point in the fight against racism; it will change the landscape of the western entry into the city and will become a reference point in the maps of monuments and museums devoted to the Holocaust.”
Saltiel referred to the community’s pre-WWII archives and heirlooms that “despite (our) continuous and untiring efforts for the last 25 years” have not been returned to Thessaloniki. He expressed the hope this occurs after the museum is built.
The presence of the Israeli president, and the recent visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “confirms once again the respect accorded by Jews to the Jews of Thessaloniki and Greece,” he added, thanking all state and private authorities for the project.