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Holocaust Museum of Thessaloniki Finally Gets Building Approval

Holocaust Museum of Thessaloniki
The project consists of an octagonal tower, a low ring-shaped building and a public plaza. Credit: Holocaust Education Center

The municipality of Thessaloniki finally approved the construction of the Holocaust Museum, a decade after the project was conceived. It took a legislative regulation and two Presidential Decrees to resolve a series of issues, from ownership to land uses in the area.

Work in the area of Thessaloniki Rail Cargo Station is expected to begin next year, the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki announced on Wednesday.

The project is slated for completion in 2026.

“The issuance of the building permit paves the way for the construction of the Holocaust Museum, which is expected to be completed in 2.5 years,” the community said, adding that the museum will be built with funding from the Greek government, Germany, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, through the Genesis Prize Foundation.

Symbolic location for the Holocaust Museum of Thessaloniki

The location of the Holocaust Museum near the rail station is symbolic as nearly 50,000 Jews were sent from there to their deaths in German concentration camps during World War II.

Some 46,000 Thessaloniki Jews were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau between March and August 1943, said the president of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki David Saltiel. Just 1,950 returned, he said.

“The community lost 97 percent of its members, around 50,000 people,” he added, noting that Jews comprised a fifth of Thessaloniki’s population at the time.

Before the deportations started, the Jewish community in the city, which mainly comprised Sephardic Jews whose ancestors had been chased out of Spain in 1492, had flourished to the point where it had earned the nickname “The Jerusalem of the Balkans.”

But then came the horrors of 1943, when virtually all of the town’s Jews were deported. To carry out this operation, the Nazi authorities dispatched two specialists in the field, Alois Brunner and Dieter Wisliceny, who arrived on February 6, 1943.

They immediately applied the Nuremberg laws in all their rigor, imposing the display of the yellow badge and drastically restricting the Jews’ freedom of movement.

Impressive octagonal tower

The project consists of an octagonal tower, a low ring-shaped building, and a public plaza. The 32-meter high energy-efficient tower is a museum and a cultural center containing a permanent exhibition hall, a temporary exhibition hall, an auditorium for 300 seats, study rooms for lectures and seminars, multipurpose space for events and ceremonies, offices, reception, and café.

In 2018, the then-PM Alexis Tsipras and visiting Israeli President Reuven Rivlin laid the foundation stone for the Museum.

“Thessaloniki’s Holocaust Museum is a tribute to the thousands of Greek Jews exterminated in concentration camps,” Tsipras said at the time.

“It emphasizes that nothing and no one was forgotten. A constant reminder of the dangers of fascism, Nazism, anti-Semitism and racism, for generations to come.”

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