Thousands March in Greek City to Mark Jewish WWII Deportations

Greek city Thessaloniki commemorates 70 years since the first deportation of Jews when German occupying forces invaded Greece; march also aims to send a message to Golden Dawn, Greece's neo-Nazi party.

The city of Thessaloniki commemorated 70 years since the first deportation of Jews to German extermination camps in 1943 on Saturday. The march from the city's Liberty Square to the old railway yards, the first event of its kind in seven decades, took place in wake of the rise of the Neo-Nazi party GoldenDawn.

The Jews of Salonika were a large and prosperous community throughout much of its 2,000-year existence, and for much of its history were a majority in the port town and integral to its economic development. On the eve of World War II, about 53,000 Jews lived there, 90 percent of who would be murdered in the death camps, mainly in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Around 1,500 Jews currently live in Thessaloniki.

Saturday's march was the initiative of the local city council along with the Jewish community and was supported by the World Jewish Congress which, in a show of solidarity with the Jews in Greece, is starting annual meeting of its executive committee in Thessaloniki before moving on to Jerusalem.

About 3,000 people participated in the march, most of them non-Jewish. It was the opening of two days of events commemorating the deportation, and according to city residents is the first time that large-scale memorial events were held honoring the city's murdered Jews.

Yiannis Boutaris, the mayor of Thessaloniki who lead the march, said that "all of us today, Jews, Christians, agnostics and atheists, are fulfilling our duty to remember all of our brothers who built this city and tell the Nazis that Jews and Christians all share the same fate." He made it clear that by Nazis, he was referring also to Golden Dawn, which in the Greek elections last June received seven percent of the vote.

Along the route of the march, Golden Dawn graffiti was highly visible though none of the movement's members tried to disrupt the event. Many of the Greek citizens on the march wore orange stickers with a swastika crossed out and the slogan "Sigamifovitho" ("why should we be afraid"), which has become the rallying call of Greeks opposed to Golden Dawn and the rising popularity of fascist and xenophobic ideology in the country, which is going through economic and social turmoil.

The president of the Jewish community, David Saltiel, said at the march that "along with the Nazis were collaborators, those who helped them in their deeds, and the biggest collaborators, those civilized people who cooperated with their silence. We are here to remind the supporters of fascism and Nazism that we will not allow them to repeat their crimes against humanity."

AP