Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Wednesday that Russia will hand over to Greece the Jewish Holocaust archives that were moved to Moscow after the end of World War II.
The announcement was made during a joint press conference with visiting PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Mitsotakis thanked Putin for the interest he showed in the archives of the Jewish communities which will eventually return to Greece after almost eight decades.
The largest part of the archives relates to the once-thriving Jewish community in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city.
During their ascendency and subsequent occupation of much of Europe, the Nazis plundered the documents and cultural treasures of Jewish organizations as well as other groups and individuals they deemed to be enemies of the Reich.
When the Nazis were crushed, many of these looted collections, as well as records of Nazi state agencies that persecuted and murdered Jews, were discovered by the Soviet Army, then transferred to Moscow and held for decades in closed, secret archives.
Jewish Holocaust archives reveal Nazi crimes
According to official figures, on July 11, 1942, the Nazis, led by the Austrian head of the SS Alois Brunner, surrounded the Jews of Thessaloniki in order to deport them to concentration camps.
The community paid 2.5 billion drachmas for the freedom that they had been told would be given to them, but they only managed to delay the deportation until March 1943.
More than 44,000 Thessaloniki Jews perished in the Nazi death camps. Most were sent to Auschwitz. The few Greek survivors who returned to the country in the early 1950s found most of their sixty synagogues and schools destroyed, their cemeteries looted and their own homes occupied by other people.
Brunner was the right-hand man of Adolf Eichman, one of the architects of the Jewish Holocaust. The SS officer sent a total of 128,500 Jews to death camps. He is responsible for the deaths of 47,000 Jews in Austria, 44,000 in Greece, 23,500 in France, and 14,000 in Slovakia. In Greece, he became known as the “butcher of Thessaloniki.”
The Holocaust of the Greek Jews was the darkest episode of the Nazi occupation of the country.
Once part of thriving communities in several Greek cities, approximately 59,000 Greek Jews were victims of the Holocaust — at least 83 percent of the total number living in Greece at the time of World War II and the German Occupation.