Holocaust survivor at the 70th anniversary of
Holocaust survivor at the 70th anniversary of Reuters

Greece's biggest Jewish community said Monday it has taken Germany to Europe's top human rights court, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

The community is seeking the return of a huge ransom paid to Nazis more than 70 years ago to free thousands of slave laborers who were still sent subsequently to German death camps, the report said.

The Jewish Community of Thessaloniki said it also wants "moral vindication" in a lawsuit tabled last week at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In 1942, thousands of Thessaloniki's Jewish men aged 18-45 were press-ganged into construction projects across Greece by Nazi forces that had invaded Greece a year earlier.

Current community leader David Saltiel told AP that about 10,000 men were used as slave laborers, building roads and fortifications or repairing railways, and brutal conditions led to 12.5 per cent mortality in the first two-and-a-half months.

Community officials eventually struck a deal with a regional Nazi commander, paying him 1.9 billion drachmas (about 69 million today) for their release. Soon after, however, the city's entire Jewish population was sent to German death camps.

About 96 percent of Thessaloniki's 50,000 Jews were murdered in Nazi camps.

"What happened is unbelievable," Saltiel told AP. "Who could have imagined that (the Germans) would send men to work as forced laborers, that they would free them on payment of ransom and then lead them into the trains going to Auschwitz?"

The report noted that the community launched a legal fight for return of the ransom through Greek courts in 1997. In December, 16 years later, the country's Supreme Court rejected the bid, saying it lacked the authority to rule on the matter.