Auschwitz watchtower
Auschwitz watchtoweriStock

Seventy-eight years ago to the day, on March 15, 1943, the Nazis began deporting Greek Jews to Auschwitz.

On March 15, the first 2,800 men, women and children from Greece were transported to the extermination camp where they were murdered in gas chambers.

During WW II Greece was conquered and occupied by Nazi Germany. Nearly 13,000 Greek Jews fought in the Greek Army. Early on in the war, they were able to keep the Italian army at bay but later fell to the overwhelming military strength of the German army. The Nazis had been collecting information on Salonica's prosperous Jewish community since 1937, enabling the Nazis to murder 60 to 70,000 Greek Jews, nearly 80 percent of the country's Jewish population. Only a smaller number were able to seek refuge with their Greek neighbors.

Of the 55,000 Jews from Thessaloniki, Greece who were sent to concentration camps in 1943, less than 5,000 survived. Most of those who returned discovered their former homes being lived in by Greek families. The Greek government offered little assistance with recovering lost property.