Persecution of Thessaloniki Jews
Thessaloniki's 54,000 Jews were shipped to the Nazi extermination camps. More than 90% of the total Jewish population of the city were murdered during the war. Only the Polish Jews experienced a greater level of destruction.
The first German armed columns entered Thessaloniki on April 9, 1941. In the summer of 1942, orders were issued for all adult male Jews between the ages of 18 to 45 to present themselves at Liberty Square to be enrolled for forced labour. At the appointed day, 6,000-7,000 of them were packed together under the boiling sun, until the afternoon, surrounded by companies of soldiers armed with machine guns. Many were sent off immediately to malaria stricken areas with very little food. Within ten weeks, 12% of those taken had died.
In December 1942, the ancient cemetery, containing nearly 500,000 graves and dating back certainly to the 15th century, was expropriated and thus became a quarry for the entire city. Tombstones of inestimable historic value were removed regardless of age and could still be seen all over the city as paving stones until some time ago.
On February 6, 1943 a commission headed by Dieter Wisliceny and Alois Brunner arrived in Thessaloniki to put the racial laws into operation. Two days later an order was issued forcing all Jews to wear the yellow Magen David; their shops and offices had to be similarly marked. A number of areas were marked off in those districts that were largely inhabited by Jews. It was the first time in almost 2.000 years that the Jews of Thessaloniki were forced to live in ghettos. Any Jew who changed his residence without permission was treated as a deserter and shot outright. No Jew was allowed on streets after nightfall; no Jew was allowed to use the telephone; no Jew could ride on the trams.