Greek Jews Take Germany to Human Rights Court to Seek Return of Nazi Slave Ransom
The Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, Greece, on Monday said it is suing Germany in the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, for the return of 1.9 billion drachmas — â‚¬50 million ($69 million) today — paid as a ransom to the Nazi regime 70 years ago to free 10,000 slave laborers, who were still sent to death camps.
According to an Associated Press interview, published by Greek newspaper Ekathimerini, community leader David Saltiel said that, in 1942, some 10,000 Jewish men from Thessaloniki were used as slave laborers for the Nazis, building roads and fortifications or repairing railways, after Germany took Greece the year before. The brutal conditions of the workers led to a mortality rate of one-in-eight in the first 10 weeks of the program.
The Jewish community of Thessaloniki raised the “astronomic” ransom by selling its assets and asking for donations from members and around the world to rescue the men, but they were nearly all ultimately sent to die in the Nazi camps.
About 96 percent of Thessaloniki’s 50,000 Jews were murdered in Nazi camps, the AP said.
“What happened is unbelievable,” Saltiel told the AP. “Who could have imagined that (the Germans) would send men to work as forced laborers, that they would free them on payment of ransom and then lead them into the trains going to Auschwitz?”
“There was an organized plan, apart from the physical extermination of the Jews, to wipe them out financially, too,” Saltiel said.
Beginning in 1997, the community has been bringing its claim through the Greek courts, where, after 16 years, in December, Greece’s Supreme Court rejected the claim saying the court lacked the authority to rule on the matter.
Thessaloniki, also known as Salonica, was a major Jewish metropolis for centuries, and was the staging area for failed messiah Sabbatai Zevi, who emigrated to the city after being banned from his own town of neighboring Smyrna, in 1651.