On the eve of World War II, approximately 77,000 Jews lived in Greece. Some 56,000 of them lived in Thessaloniki. The Jews of Thessaloniki were prominent in the fields of industry, banking and tourism. Many were laborers and artisans, and worked in the ports.
On 6 April 1941, the Germans invaded Greece, and they occupied Thessaloniki on 9 April. The members of the Jewish community council were arrested, Jews' apartments were requisitioned, and the Jewish hospital was taken over by the German Army. Jewish newspapers printed in French and Ladino were closed down, and antisemitic and collaborationist newspapers started appearing. Staff of "Operation Rosenberg" systematically looted literary and cultural treasures from dozens of private and public libraries and synagogues in Thessaloniki, with the help of the Wehrmacht. In the winter of 1941-42, some 600 Jews in Thessaloniki died of hypothermia and disease.
On 11 July 1942, 9,000 Jewish men between the ages of 10-45 were ordered to assemble at Liberty Square in Thessaloniki, where they were humiliated all day in the blazing heat. The event became known as "Black Saturday". After negotiating with the German Army administration in Macedonia, the Jewish community managed to have the young men released, in exchange for a ransom. Some of the money was collected in Thessaloniki and Athens, and the rest was raised by the sale of the 500-year-old Jewish cemetery to the Municipality. The cemetery was destroyed, and the tombstones were used as building materials. Some 2,000 Jewish men who were arrested on Black Saturday were sent to forced labor for the German Army. By October 1942, 250 of them had perished due to the harsh conditions.
In February 1943, the Jews of Thessaloniki were given less than a month to move into a ghetto established in the Baron Hirsch quarter, and almost all their property was confiscated. Deportations began in March, and by August, almost all had been deported and murdered at Auschwitz and Treblinka. Some 54,000 of the approximately 56,000 Jews living in Thessaloniki were murdered in the Holocaust.
Yad Vashem Photo Archives 3290/16