The multinational character of the Ottoman Empire and its relative tolerance for the people of the Bible helped to settle the Jews. Thessaloniki received Jews from the countries of Western and Central Europe who were expelled from Spain. In the census of 1519, Thessaloniki had 29,220 inhabitants, of whom 53.8% were Jews, 23.5% Muslims and 22.7% Christians. The different religious communities lived in different neighborhoods. At the beginning of the 17th century there were 56 Jewish neighborhoods, 48 ​​Muslim and 16 Christian. The Jews were the dominant element of the city, both demographically and economically.

When the Greek army liberated Thessaloniki in 1912, King George of Greece declared that Jews and other minorities will have the same rights as the rest of the Greek population. In 1917 a large fire destroyed most of Thessaloniki, leaving about 50,000 Jews homeless. The Greek government was willing to compensate Jews whose homes had been destroyed, but refused to allow them to return to certain parts of the city, forcing many to leave the country. In 1922, a law was passed, which obliged all the inhabitants of Thessaloniki not to work on Sunday, a fact that caused another wave of immigration of the Jews who wanted to keep Saturday as a public holiday.

In 1935 about 60,000 Jews lived in Thessaloniki and despite the decline of the Jewish population since the beginning of the century, they strengthened their position in the economic activity of the city and integrated into Greek society, while maintaining their traditions and language. Unfortunately, this prosperity would not last long.

Two days after the entry of the Germans in Thessaloniki, the operation of "Messagero", the only Spanish-Jewish daily newspaper that operated until then, was suspended. A large number of houses and public buildings were commandeered, including the Jewish hospital founded by Baron de Hirs and named after him. On April 15, the entire Board of Directors of the Community was arrested and its offices raided. The Germans appointed a new president for the community to carry out their orders.

In the summer of 1942, all Jewish men aged 18 to 45 were ordered to appear in Freedom Square to be recruited for forced labor. 6,000-7,000 of them gathered under the hot sun until the afternoon, surrounded by soldiers with automatic weapons. Many were immediately sent to malaria-infested areas, where they worked ten hours a day with very little food. Within ten weeks, 12% of those taken there had died. After lengthy negotiations with the Israeli Community of Thessaloniki, the Germans finally agreed to release the Jews from forced labor in exchange for two and a half billion drachmas, an outrageous amount for the time, which the community had collected really difficult. Seizures of Jewish businesses, warehouses and property continue in the coming months. In December 1942, the ancient Jewish cemetery, which contained 300,000 tombs and probably dates from the 15th century, was expropriated and became a quarry for the entire city.

On the morning of March 14, residents of Baron Hirs district were ordered to gather at their local synagogue, where they were informed by Rabbi Koretz that they will be relocated to Poland. The rabbi told them that they would find a new home there, among their own people. The next morning, the residents of the settlement gathered and were taken to the station. The wagons were overloaded, sealed and taken to Poland. On March 17, another train left north, in the same conditions as the previous one. From that day on, these scenes were repeated until the last train left on August 7, 1943. All these trains headed to the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. A total of 43,850 Jews, or 95% of the Jewish population, were deported from Thessaloniki during these months. Almost all of them were sent straight to Poland, where they were killed. Very few Jews from Thessaloniki found refuge in the surrounding countryside, joining the resistance or Athens.

In October 1944, Thessaloniki was recaptured by Greek forces. Very few Jews returned to the city. They found their homes destroyed or occupied, their property looted, most synagogues destroyed and their cemetery still used as a quarry. The bad memories and the difficult economic situation in Greece forced many of the Jewish survivors to emigrate to Israel and the United States. The rest started their lives over from the beginning.

Settlement during the Ottoman Empire

The multinational character of the Ottoman Empire and its relative tolerance for the people of the Bible helped to settle the Jews. Thessaloniki received Jews from the countries of Western and Central Europe who were expelled from Spain. In the census of 1519, Thessaloniki had 29,220 inhabitants, of whom 53.8% were Jews, 23.5% Muslims and 22.7% Christians. The different religious communities lived in different neighborhoods. At the beginning of the 17th century there were 56 Jewish neighborhoods, 48 ​​Muslim and 16 Christian. The Jews were the dominant element of the city, both demographically and economically.

Reduction of the Jewish population of Thessaloniki

When the Greek army liberated Thessaloniki in 1912, King George of Greece declared that Jews and other minorities will have the same rights as the rest of the Greek population. In 1917 a large fire destroyed most of Thessaloniki, leaving about 50,000 Jews homeless. The Greek government was willing to compensate Jews whose homes had been destroyed, but refused to allow them to return to certain parts of the city, forcing many to leave the country. In 1922, a law was passed, which obliged all the inhabitants of Thessaloniki not to work on Sunday, a fact that caused another wave of immigration of the Jews who wanted to keep Saturday as a public holiday.

Integration in Greek society

In 1935 about 60,000 Jews lived in Thessaloniki and despite the decline of the Jewish population since the beginning of the century, they strengthened their position in the economic activity of the city and integrated into Greek society, while maintaining their traditions and language. Unfortunately, this prosperity would not last long.

Entry of the Germans in Thessaloniki (09-04-1941)

Two days after the entry of the Germans in Thessaloniki, the operation of “Messagero”, the only Spanish-Jewish daily newspaper that operated until then, was suspended. A large number of houses and public buildings were commandeered, including the Jewish hospital founded by Baron de Hirs and named after him. On April 15, the entire Board of Directors of the Community was arrested and its offices raided. The Germans appointed a new president for the community to carry out their orders.

Torture, seizures and destruction of cemetery

In the summer of 1942, all Jewish men aged 18 to 45 were ordered to appear in Freedom Square to be recruited for forced labor. 6,000-7,000 of them gathered under the hot sun until the afternoon, surrounded by soldiers with automatic weapons. Many were immediately sent to malaria-infested areas, where they worked ten hours a day with very little food. Within ten weeks, 12% of those taken there had died. After lengthy negotiations with the Israeli Community of Thessaloniki, the Germans finally agreed to release the Jews from forced labor in exchange for two and a half billion drachmas, an outrageous amount for the time, which the community had collected really difficult. Seizures of Jewish businesses, warehouses and property continue in the coming months. In December 1942, the ancient Jewish cemetery, which contained 300,000 tombs and probably dates from the 15th century, was expropriated and became a quarry for the entire city.

The Holocaust

On the morning of March 14, residents of Baron Hirs district were ordered to gather at their local synagogue, where they were informed by Rabbi Koretz that they will be relocated to Poland. The rabbi told them that they would find a new home there, among their own people. The next morning, the residents of the settlement gathered and were taken to the station. The wagons were overloaded, sealed and taken to Poland. On March 17, another train left north, in the same conditions as the previous one. From that day on, these scenes were repeated until the last train left on August 7, 1943. All these trains headed to the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. A total of 43,850 Jews, or 95% of the Jewish population, were deported from Thessaloniki during these months. Almost all of them were sent straight to Poland, where they were killed. Very few Jews from Thessaloniki found refuge in the surrounding countryside, joining the resistance or Athens.

Post-war period

In October 1944, Thessaloniki was recaptured by Greek forces. Very few Jews returned to the city. They found their homes destroyed or occupied, their property looted, most synagogues destroyed and their cemetery still used as a quarry. The bad memories and the difficult economic situation in Greece forced many of the Jewish survivors to emigrate to Israel and the United States. The rest started their lives over from the beginning.

Today there is an organized Jewish community in Thessaloniki with two synagogues. Religious services are held daily and during the Great Feasts. The children of the community start their school life in the Jewish kindergarten and elementary school. This is followed by their secondary education in Greek schools, however there is a provision for Jewish education with the help of teachers from Israel. There are two youth centers, a sports club (Maccabi), a community center for all ages and a Jewish Nursing Home.

Thessaloniki preserves several monuments and sights of Jewish history such as:

  • The Holocaust Memorial in Eleftherias Square
  • The monument of the old cemetery located in the Universities
  • The monument in the new cemetery that symbolizes the collection of marbles that were moved from the old Jewish cemetery.
  • The Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki
  • The synagogue of Monastiriotes
  • The Yad Lezikaron Synagogue
  • The old train station from which the wagons for Auschwitz and Birkenau started
  • Villa Allatini
  • Casa Bianca
  • Villa Modiano
  • The Modiano Market

Elite Transfer Services

Elite Transfer transport you to the historical monuments and sights of Jewish history. Our vehicles (Mercedes-Benz) are state-of-the-art, spacious, air-conditioned and with comfortable seats, so that your transports in the city are comfortable. Our staff has many years of experience, is always willing to serve you and guarantees you safety.

Useful information

  • A tour guide will give you more information about Jewish history
  • If you wish you can see sights of Thessaloniki that are not related to Jewish history
  • There can be stops for rest and coffee
  • Four hours is usually an ideal time to see several of the sights and not get tired