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Russia Will Return Greek-Jewish Thessaloniki Archives Stolen by Nazis

December 20, 2021

MOSCOW – Some 79 years after they were looted by the Nazis during the occupation of Greece in World War II, a cache of documents from the country’s Jewish community are being sent back from Russia, which held them since 1945.

In a report, The Times of Israel said that it was engineered in a diplomatic process backed by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, celebrated by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS.)

The group earlier announced the return of the manuscripts and other possessions stolen by the Nazis, who especially targeted the large Jewish community in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city.

The goods were taken on July 11, 1942 from what was the one of the most active Jewish communities in Europe as the Nazis plundered the city and community and wiped out much of the Jewish population.

The Soviet Union came into possession of the archive after their capture of the city on April 23, 1945. They took them to Moscow where they remained to be inherited by the Russian federation, after the USSR’s dissolution in 1991.

“Our history returns home!” the Board wrote in the statement. “Greek Jews with immense emotion welcome the decision of the Russian President Putin that Russia returns the pre-War archives of the Greek Jewish Communities, and especially the archive of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki.”

According to KIS, the archives include books and religious artifacts from 30 synagogues, libraries, and communal institutions in Thessaloniki.

Before the Holocaust, Thessaloniki was one of the most Jewish cities in Europe with a Jewish majority or plurality for much of the 19th Century, the newspaper’s report cited.

The city’s Jewish community was primarily Sephardic, though it also included a small community of Romaniotes, Judeo-Greek speakers from Greece and Turkey who predated the Sephardic migration to the area after their expulsions from Spain in 1492.

During the spring and summer months of 1943, almost all of Thessaloniki’s Jews were deported to Auschwitz, where most died, the city to this day losing the heritage of the community.

“For Greek Jewry, these archives bring light to its historic course, sacred heirlooms of the light of life and the darkness of the looting and the Holocaust,” KIS said.

“Their restitution would mean justice and would transmit knowledge about a part of the Greek people that contributed to the progress of the country and no longer exists, that of the 60,000 Greek Jews who were deported to and exterminated in the Nazi death camps.”

 

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