The established Memorial March in Thessaloniki, from Eleftherias Square to the Old Railway Station, took place on Sunday 17.3.2024, marking the 81st anniversary of the departure of the first train to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The event was organized by the Municipality of Thessaloniki, the Israelite Community of Thessaloniki, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the University of Macedonia and the International University of Greece.

"Like today, on March 17, 1943, the second train with Jews left Thessaloniki for Auschwitz. Each train carried 2.800 souls who perished." The president of the Central Jewish Council of Greece, the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki and the Holocaust Museum mentioned the sad anniversary David Saltiel during the event at the old railway station, at the point from which 81 years ago the first trains left for the extermination camp.

"Those who left on March 17 were from the settlement Mikro Stathmos (Chiko Station). Two days before, on March 15, 1943, the first train to Auschwitz - Birkenau started from the old railway station. By August all of the city's Jews were loaded onto trains by the Nazis and unfortunately 96% perished. The city was emptied, it was left orphaned by Jews."

The participants of the event arrived at the Old Railway Station by marching in silent Remembrance March from Liberty Square to the Old Railway Station and sent the message "Never Again" by leaving flowers on the carriage symbolizing the "black train".

"There are no words for the magnitude of the crime. In 1943, 50.000 Greek Jews, the Greeks who had gone to Albania and fought, were taken on the trains to Auschwitz, having previously been humiliated, humiliated. They paid a ticket to be able to go to Auschwitz. There were 19 missions, they thought they were going to work and that they would come back and live.
70.000 Jews were lost from Greece, 6.000.000 from Europe" underlined the president of KISE.

"The memorial march is an act of respect towards the memory of those who unfortunately became ashes and at the same time an act of respect for those who survived and returned to this city. It is an act of respect for Thessaloniki, in its history", underlined Mr. Saltiel and emphasized that he believes the mayor of Thessaloniki that this time it will become a Memorial Park.

"This year the foundations are being laid for the creation of the Memorial Park. Together with the Holocaust Museum, the indication of what the city itself embraces becomes clear. Thessaloniki hears the voice of its own innocent children who fled in the Holocaust. Thessaloniki does not forget Black Saturday, it does not forget the wagons, which left full and returned empty. He does not forget those who participated in this crime," he said.

“Let the sight of these tracks, let the sound of every passing train whistle be the occasion to remember our own people who are no longer here. Solidarity and respect for each other is the message of the march of the citizens of Thessaloniki" he noted.

"The road of martyrdom, the road that our fellow citizens walked to get here, to the train station, with the final destination of the death factory of Auschwitz-Birkenau will forever haunt the collective memory of the city. Walking today in their footsteps, we followed the story of the Greek Jewish martyrs of the Holocaust, we listened to their pain and agony, we mentally accompanied them on the journey of no return to the hell of the crematoria", pointed out the mayor of Thessaloniki Stelios Angeloudis. "We are here to shout out loud that our society knows and remembers and pays due respect both to those who did not return to the native land, and to those few who were saved from certain death and returned to the city. A city that brought them face to face with a series of new challenges and difficulties" he added.

"The Holocaust Museum and the Memorial Park that will be auctioned immediately, in the coming weeks, in the new Eleftheria Square are two bright landmarks of memory and responsibility that will forever remind that no one and nothing is forgotten. How we will never allow this horror to happen again. They will be the city's debt of honor to the victims of the Holocaust and at the same time will serve the greatest good of the acquisition of knowledge", stressed the mayor of Thessaloniki.

"Today is a day of commemoration of one of the most important periods of the greatest crime of the 20th century and the history of humanity, the persecution and genocide of tens of thousands of our Jewish fellow citizens. Its sad uniqueness is not only related to the large number of victims, but also to the conception of the idea, its planning and execution", emphasized the representative of the rector of AUTH, vice-rector, George Tzetzis. “It has been 81 years, almost three generations of people since the day the train started from this spot. This temporal distance should not and cannot be changed into mental distance. The role of AUTH is to recall history, to develop critical thinking, intercultural dialogue, to promote the principles of justice and human dignity, contributing to the deconstruction of the ideologies of intolerance and racism", he noted.

"We owe it to Thessaloniki to keep our memory alive for the thousands of fellow citizens who perished so unjustly and so brutally. As the University of Macedonia we join our voices with the voices of thousands of other people to shout "Never Again"" emphasized the representative of the rector of PAMAK, vice-rector Alexandros Hatzigeorgiou.

"Never in the troubled history of mankind has a mechanism been created for the mass murder of so many people. But it is important to understand why what happened happened" said the rector of the International University of Greece, Stamatis Angelopoulos. "We have a duty as university students to teach the Holocaust throughout time. That is why the construction of the Holocaust Museum and the transformation of Freedom Square into a memorial park are particularly important as the city's own response to racism and intolerance," he added.

On May 6 the great March of the Living to Auschwitz

Every year for 11 years we remember with the memorial march the non-returning departure of the first train to Auschwitz, said Benjamin Albalas, president of the European March of the Living Network (EMOTL). 

"This year, however, every event commemorating the Holocaust is marred by the black Saturday of October 7, 2023. Anti-Semitism in its various forms, old and new, existed, exists and will exist, sometimes overt and violent, sometimes hidden and insidious, always dangerous for everyone ", he emphasized. He also mentioned that today's Memorial March with corresponding other national ones are preparing the Great March of the Living which will take place, as every year, on Monday, May 6, at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

"Come let's march together where over a million Jews were murdered, as well as Roma, resistance fighters and homosexuals. It is a debt to their memory, but also a satisfaction to us Holocaust survivors, who were saved thanks to the 365 Greek Gentiles who risked their own lives and the lives of their families for us, their fellow Greek Jews.

"Today we remember one of the darkest periods in the history of the city", said Mr Doron Lebovich deputy chief of mission of the Israeli embassy in Athens, stressing that the alarming rise of anti-Semitism around the world necessitates action. "The flame of memory should not only have a reflection in the past but also illuminate our way to the future," he said.

During the event, the actress, professor of the Theater Department of AUTH Efi Stamoulis read excerpts of letters from Leon Saltiel's book "Don't Forget Me" and followed by a musical part with the participation of Kobi Osrat, an Israeli composer originally from Thessaloniki.

This year's commemoration march was attended by, among others, the vice-president of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas, the consul of Germany in Thessaloniki Sibilla Bendig, the consul of France Jean-Luc Laveau, the rabbi of the ICTH Izak Dayan, father Eusebius the representative of the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki and party representatives.

SOURCE: CNNGreece.gr, 17.3.2024