Greek Jews Commemorate Anniversary of Deportation to Auschwitz
Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki, on Saturday commemorated the 70th anniversary of the first deportation of its Jews to the Auschwitz concentration camp, AFP reported.
Around one thousand people walked in a silent march to the old railway station where the first train left Greece's northern city for the notorious death camp on March 15, 1943, the report said.
Flowers were thrown onto the rails after the march, and the Thessaloniki Jewish Community Choir gave a performance.
Among the people taking part in the solemn walk was Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis. Ronald S. Lauder, who heads the World Jewish Congress, and Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, are also attending this weekend's anniversary events.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to address a commemoration ceremony on Sunday, reported AFP.
Thessaloniki, a multi-cultural city that served as a link between the Balkans and the East and which counted more than 50,000 Jews before World War II, today has a Jewish population of only about 1,000.
"The Jewish community is very small now and nobody believes it will be as big as it was," Thessaloniki mayor Yiannis Boutaris told AFP.
"What we try to do is bring out the heritage... and not only the heritage of the Jews, but also of the Turks and the Greeks that have been living together here in peaceful coexistence," he added.
Amid worry about the rise of Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, Jewish leaders from around the world have arrived in Thessaloniki to commemorate an event that decimated the Jewish population of the so-called "Jerusalem of the Balkans."
"Greek Jews are currently 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," the World Jewish Congress said in a press release quoted by AFP.
For the first time in Greek political history, the party elected 18 deputies to the country's 300-seat parliament after elections in June.
"The Golden Dawn are suing me because I have said it is a shame to have a Nazi party in parliament," Boutaris told AFP.
"The case is pending. But it is true that they don't respect democracy, they don't respect human beings and they don't have any place in society," he added.
The leader of the neo-Nazi party has claimed that Nazi concentration camps did not use ovens and gas chambers to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust.
Greece's Jewish community expressed alarm following the election of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party to parliament and warned their fellow citizens to oppose the return of fascism.