Jewish gravestones discovered after 70 years

Greece Jewish Graves

Hundreds of marble headstone and other fragments from Jewish graves destroyed during the Nazi occupation have been discovered after a decades-long search, Greek police announced last week.

Some 668 fragments were found buried in a plot of land in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city.

The discovery comes after a 70-year search for the remains of graves smashed when the city’s massive Jewish cemetery was destroyed during World War II, according to the Associated Press.

Most of the gravestones found date from the mid-1800s up to World War II, said David Saltiel, the head of Thessaloniki Jewish community.

“This is our history,” said Saltiel, who is head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. “Apart from the names, the (gravestones) also include the person’s occupation. So this is a historic record.”

The Jewish community in Greece, most of which was concentrated in Thessaloniki, was all but annihilated in the Holocaust.

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Hitler had answer to Poles’ ‘Jewish Question’

Reading Daniel Mendelsohn’s bestseller “The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million,” about his quest to learn the fate – 60 years later – of six members of his extended family who had remained in Poland during World War II, one is reminded briefly of Roman statesman, philosopher and orator Cicero’s adage “As you have sown so shall you reap.”

Mendelsohn takes just a very small part of his book to describe what life was like in Poland before Germany invaded it in September 1939: 

… by 1939, the anti-Semitic Polish government then in power had enacted restrictions on Jewish businesses that were severe, though not of course on par with those enacted across the border by the anti-Semitic German government. Indeed, after 1935, when the autocratic but (relatively) moderate leader Josef Pilsudski died, the government of Poland veered sharply to the right; admiring of Hitler, who of course would soon destroy Poland altogether, the country’s right-wing leaders were quite clear and open about their aims to reduce drastically what was perceived as Jewish influence on the faltering economy – even as the Polish political elite, with its lofty sense of the refinement of Polish civilization, denounced actual violence against Jews. “We have too high an idea of our civilization,” one 1937 government proclamation stated, “and we respect too strongly the order and peace which every state needs, to approve brutal anti-Semitic acts …. At the same time, it is understandable that the country should posses the instinct compelling it to defend its culture, and it is natural that Polish society should seek economic self sufficiency.” This kinder, gentler anti-Semitism was reflected in the call by Prime Minister Slawoj-Skladkowski for “economic struggle” against the Jews “by all means – but without force.”

Indeed, on the eve of World War II, many typical Polish Christians believed that there were far too many Jews in the country. Despite worsening relations with Hitler’s Germany, there was little effort seen in the way of reconciliation with Poland’s Jewish population.

Some politicians were actually in favor of mass Jewish emigration from Poland. As a result, the Polish government became increasingly concerned with the “Jewish Question.”

The Germans, of course, took care of that problem in short time as persecution of Polish Jews began immediately after Nazi occupation in September 1939.

Initially, the Germans mostly limited themselves to stripping the Jews of their property and herding them into ghettoes and putting them into forced labor in war-related industries.

After the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, however, special extermination squads were organised to kill Jews in the areas of eastern Poland which had been annexed by the Soviets in 1939.

By 1942 the Germans had begun the systematic killing of the Jews. Extermination camps at Auschwitz, Belzec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibór and Treblinka were established and the mass murder of millions of Jews from Poland and other countries was carried out between 1942 and 1944.

Of Poland’s prewar Jewish population of 3 million, only about 50,000 survived the war. Another three million non-Jewish Poles died in the conflict, as well.