Speech by Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, at the ceremony for laying the foundation stone of the Holocaust Museum at the construction site.
We are here today, together with the President of the State of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, and the political and religious authorities of the city, the representatives of the Greek government, to lay the foundations for the Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki.
The museum is a tribute to the thousands of Greek Jewish people who were exterminated in concentration camps, sent there by the Nazi authorities of the city and their associates.
And this Monument proves that nothing and no one has been forgotten. Neither the criminals nor their victims. And in this regard, we want this Museum to be a constant reminder, a lasting SOS for both today’s and tomorrow’s generations, to where fascism, Nazism, anti-Semitism, racism can lead, as well as the theoretical abominations referring to superior and inferior races, the theories about the purity of the nation, and the practices of violence against anyone considered different and inferior. The theories and practices of hatred and discrimination of any kind.
Friends, the presence of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki has for years adorned the history and culture of this city for centuries.
The Sephardic Jews came to Thessaloniki in the 15th century as refugees. They have been here for more than four hundred years. They have been the protagonists of the city’s economic progress. And with the emergence of the workers’ movement they were, also, the protagonists in radical social movements.
The activeness of the Jewish community was crucial for the progress of the whole city: in economy, trade, culture, progressive ideas born by the changes of the times and the struggles for survival which rose in Thessaloniki.
The Jewish community co-existed with the other two communities of the city, the Christian and the Muslim, composing a multicultural mosaic that was the wealth of Thessaloniki. I might say. For many years, as the previous speakers have stated, it was the Jerusalem of the Balkans, European Jerusalem, and this is because a large and dynamic Jewish community was living and growing here.
This community has left its footprint strong and indelible everywhere in the city.
I have no intention of making any historical assessments. However, we owe it to the truth, to the dead and the living, to say that things were not always idyllic or easy.
Intolerance, usually cultivated and motivated by own interests, always seeks ways to divide people, people who have nothing against each other.
And during the turbulent the interwar period, fascism attempted to consolidate, through incitement of violence and hatred against the Jewish community in Thessaloniki.
There have been sad moments during the interwar period, acts of violence and vandalism against the Jewish people.
At the same time, however, the vast majority of the common people of Thessaloniki, stood opposite to such practices.
Ultimately, what the marginal fascist groups of the 3E – failed to do, the cold and methodical manner of the Nazi machine of death managed. This black spot in the history of human civilization, and especially in the history of Europe, which has fabricated the plan to exterminate millions of people. It industrialized and served it even until the last moment before its total crash.
This plan was implemented in a totalitarian way at the expense of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki, which then constituted almost 40% of the citizens of the city.
Today, we are here in a historic place and the wagons outside, the old wagons, remind us of it, as we are in the old railway station of the city.
From where the last trip of over 50,000 Jewish people began, forced to leave the city they loved, their homes, their fortunes, their lives. Men, women, elderly, little children.
Auschwitz, Dachau, Mauthausen, Bergen-Belsen became the places of martyrdom of the Jewish Greeks of Thessaloniki.
From there they “went up like smoke in the sky”. There they “acquired a grave in the clouds”, as the great poet Paul Howell wrote.
Only 1,950 people returned out of the 50 thousands and more .
The Greek people, who fought with all their strength against fascism and Nazism, hold in their memory this tragic page of history of the mass extermination of the Greek Jews of Thessaloniki.
So the Museum, the Holocaust Museum, fulfills a debt of honor – I would say – of the city, a debt of honor to its citizens who were exterminated, but also to its own history, to its own self. And, at the same time, it is an important weapon in the battle of memory against oblivion. It is a commitment that we will never allow the past to return as a nightmare. That we will not be indifferent to the shadows that, unfortunately, appear again in Europe. For the voices being heard, unfortunately, against tolerance. For the racism that is testing, unfortunately, its powers again. For the monuments that, unfortunately, are again defamed.
It is a commitment towards the right of peoples and the people of the world, to live without fear and without intolerance, in peace and with dignity.
Today, in the presence of the President of the State of Israel, the work on the construction of the Holocaust Museum is underway. We respond to the initiative of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki and its Mayor Yannis Boutaris, who first came to my office about a year ago, and did not believe we could manage to start the bureaucratic processes in order to proceed with the regeneration of the area and the construction of the Museum.
Indeed, the government has issued the Presidential Decree, which defines the use of land and building conditions. The construction work is set to begin in the summer, with the goal of being completed by the end of 2020.
I would like, therefore, once again to thank those who contribute to the creation of the Museum. To thank the German State, with the presence here of the German Ambassador to Greece, whose contribution has a special symbolic value.
I would like to thank the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, as well as all the donors from Greece and abroad, who contributed to such an important project.
And, of course, to thank GAIOSE SA, who willingly offers this place, its property, in order to build the Museum.
And to say that, along with the foundation of the Museum, the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure and GAIOSE will proceed to the utilization of the wider area, of the commercial railway station of Thessaloniki, which is about 200 acres. This is the area that we stand, and is here in front of us.
This area, as a whole, is upgraded in order to become a green hillside, a museum space, for leisure and promenade.
Also, GAIOSE, in an area of about 40 acres, will create a “Park of Memory” for the victims of the Holocaust, and when it is finished, Mayor, it will be given to the Municipality of Thessaloniki and will be unified with the Museum. It will belong to all citizens of Thessaloniki who come to enjoy the graces of the city, the beautiful city of Thessaloniki.
Thousands of trees will be planted in the memory of the victims, with the contribution, of course, of the Jewish Community. And, so, for symbolic reasons today, we thought that the first trees of the thousands to be planted here together by the President of the State of Israel and myself.
These trees are Olives – and the Olive tree is a symbol of peace among peoples – in order to for memory to root in our peoples’ consciousness and to promote tolerance, friendship, solidarity between our peoples and our cultures.
Thank you very much.