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Thessaloniki

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I didn't write anything yesterday because it was fairly boring. The day included a walk though an archeological museum with long talks by a very knowledgeable archeologist. Maybe boring is not the best choice of words, but it sure would have been if I had told you what I remembered. 

 

Today was different. We were in Thessaloniki, which is the second largest city in Greece and also a region in the Northeast corner of the mainland. Before I say more about our main activity for the day, I want to just mention something our guide said, about how difficult it is to build a metro subway system in Thessaloniki. They have been trying for years. But there is a lot of history around these parts. Digging a subway can and does yield finds of remnants of several civilizations dating back up to 3,000 years. Once something significant is found, which is often, construction stops until knowledgeable people can examine what was found, catalogue the findings, decide where to put them, and decide how to proceed to make sure further finds are not lost. Delays are many and long. 

 

OK, on to the the real story. 

This area of the country is what the guide called the melting pot of Greece, close to Turkey, Bulgaria, and North Macedonia. The latter country used to be part of Yugoslavia, when that country existed. Bottom line is that their are a lot of people from different countries. And there used to be a large Jewish population. Many had arrived from the north, from countries such as Poland. There was also a large group from Spain that arrived shortly after 1492 when the Jews in Spain were told to convert or leave the country. The powers-that-be in Thessaloniki at the time let it be known that they would like the Spanish Jews to settle here. They knew that many of the Jews from Spain had the professional skills that would benefit Thessaloniki, such as physicians and architects. So many made the trip. 

Thessaloniki is one of the reasons that Greeks are know to be somewhat of a laidback society. Thessaloniki, being a melting pot, had Muslim, Jewish, and Christian people, all living together. Muslims had, as a day off of work, Friday. For the Jews, it was Saturday, and the Christians observed Sunday. The Greeks did them all; three days off every week. The best of all possible worlds.

The tour today was primarily dealing with Jewish history in the area, including a visit to the Jewish museum, one of the two synagogues remaining in Thessaloniki, and history about the Holocaust. 

There used to be several thousand Jews in the area, a significant part of the city. And they were fully integrated. Our guide said that, before 1941, there were no predominantly Jewish areas and no neighborhoods she would call a ghetto.

 

Today, as the result of the German occupation of Greece, the local Jewish population is down to 800. 97% of the Jewish population of Thessaloniki did not make it back after the war. Two synagogues remain. The pictures above were taken in the Jewish museum and represent some of the religious items that survived those years. 

Also, like many other places in Europe, there is a monument to record names of local people lost during the Holocaust. The thousands on this list represent about 60% of the total. It's all the names they were able to recover. I took a picture of this part of the list since in included names that might have been my surname before my father immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s.

From the museum, our next stop was the larger of the two remaining synagogues.

And the last stop was at the old train station in town.  The station no longer operates. The only remains were a few of the train cars that were used to transport the Jewish people to German camps. About 80 to 100 people were placed in each car, originally designed to hold 8 horses. The trip to Auschwitz took about 7 days.

Perspective.

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