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February 25, 2014 11:55 am

Greek Jews Take Germany to Human Rights Court to Seek Return of Nazi Slave Ransom

avatar by Joshua Levitt

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An archival image of the Jews of Thessaloniki being lined up and registered in Eleftherias Square, by Nazis, in July, 1942. Photo: German Federal Archive / WikiCommons.

An archival image of the Jews of Thessaloniki being lined up and registered in Eleftherias Square, by Nazis, in July, 1942. Photo: German Federal Archive / WikiCommons.

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 — €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.

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  • Brittney Herson

    Mr. Levitt,

    Do you know where I could access the legal documents of the case? Does the European Court have an online version of any of these documents? Does the case have an official name yet i.e. Thessaloniki Jews v. Germany?

    Thank you for any help!

  • Linda Sobel

    Jews all over the world must never forget not just what happened but how it happened. We can never be the people who bury their heads and think history cant repeat itself…because it can. Bits of history are already here. The world respects the strong and the clever who stand up to protect themselves, their people, family, community and assets. YOU BET the Greek Jews should take this all the way to a successful conclusion so the world can see, we will NOW always stand up for ourselves and fight…legally, physically and do whatever it takes. Never again must be NEVER AGAIN.

    • Avram

      “Never Again” lol only Jewish thing,, I guess that won’t apply to the 1.5 million Christian Armenians butchered by Turkey that Israel has a problem with recognition?!

  • samuel

    My mother’s three uncles were taken to a camp on the Austrian/German border. They were Armenians and unmarried. Two of them made it back. One of them liberated by Allies troops. One is still alive today. Ugly memories.

    • samuel

      Oops! They were from Saloniki like these Jewish men.

  • Drchicago

    How sad that Jew2s are still suing over events of 70 years ago. When is it time to MOVE ON?

    • Shmuel Mendelsohn

      Pardon me? What about the American civil rights movement for people of color who were enslaved by the land of the free and the home of the brave 150 years ago?

      • Avram

        Pardon me? What about the 3.5 million Christian Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks butchered?

    • James Crozier

      Any time you allow repression and abuse to go unexamined all of us humans are lesser for it.
      The correct venue is the courts.

    • margo

      There can never be a “move on”. Regarding that money- that huge sum was the property of the Jewish people. In Germany Jews have the right to claim back the property that was taken from them, the same should be done in that case, with interest of course.

    • Mattika Rosenthal

      In response to your question,when is it time to move on?
      The time to move on in this case, that of the Jews of the Thessaloniki,
      is when the lawsuit orders the repayment of the
      ransom monies. Pay it back to the Jewish communities of Greece.
      My mother was from Volos, where the majority of Greek Jews were
      saved by going up into the mountains with the partisani. They fought the Nazis.
      To arrest Jewish civilians, to press them into hard labor, and then murder
      them, after the community sold off all their assets to ransom these men,
      is unconscionable. But that was what the Nazis were good at. So it will be
      time to move on when the monies have been returned. That’s when.

  • Joy

    If Israel was not a living fact these Jews would not even attempt to fight for the return of that money. Many people take Israel for granted – and this includes Israelis – under the present circumstances of growing Islamic influence worldwide and with anti semitism yet again in history raising it’s devish head. Israel cannot be taken for granted and all must be done to protect her existence – for all Jews and all people who appreciate humanity.

  • racy we

    Go for it. Make a case ASAP. The bastards organized this plan meticulously, as they were accustomed. They took
    the money and marched the Jews into the gas chambers.
    It could happen again, today, with the widespread
    anti-Semitism in Europe. Antizionism is just another
    word for anti-Semitism. Antisemitism is spreading like
    a contagious disease. We must be vigilant and prepared,
    not bury our heads in the sand saying,”Don’t worry….
    it’s all talk….nothing will happen….the government
    will not let it happen.” We must learn from history
    or it will repeat itself

    • Lef

      The way of the World is to respect the one who is strong and stands up. The appeasers are invariably cowards who are fearful to say and face the truth.

      Jews and Israel must stand up and state their full case to uphold their full rights to the whole land of Israel. Anything less emboldens our detractors and enemies.

      Am Israel Hai.

      • Mel

        Is that a nice way to speak of Team Obama?