Definitely one of the most important monuments of the city is the one located in Freedom Plaza near the harbor area. It reminds us of all the tragedies and devastating events that Thessaloniki suffered during the 2nd World War.
In these difficult years one of the most important and active communities of the city was almost extinct while losing a huge part of its population. Only a few came back after the end of war in 1945.
German invasion and persecution of Jewish Community
The invasion of the German troops in March 1941 was the beginning of the end for the Sephardic community of Thessaloniki. The persecutions that took place was only the beginning as the creation of ghettos and the forced labor that followed made the situation even worse. In March 1943, the first trains started moving the prisoners to their final destination… the camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.
More than 46.000 Thessalonians were transferred to the concentration camps in this way, under the worst possible conditions. Only around 1950 persons finally managed to return home. A percent equal to 4% of those left.
Having settled in the city of Thessaloniki in 1492 after they were forced to leave Spain, the Sephardi Jews was one of the most important and historic ethnic communities in entire Europe. They significantly contributed into making Thessaloniki an important financial and commercial center while the city was given the honorary title of "Mother of Israel".
Freedom Plaza today
Today, Freedom Plaza in the center of the city is where the monument in memory and honor of the holocaust victims stand. It is the place where thousands were gathered by the Nazi before being sent to the concentration camps. Several architectural competitions along with many interesting proposals have taken place, while discussions are being held concerning the restoration of the old plaza and the design of its new features.
The creation of a monument worth of the tragic events that shocked the Jewish community and the city of Thessaloniki is an issue currently being discussed in many levels. Until today, the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki is the only place where unique information can be found about the Jewish Communities (Sephardic, Romaniotes) of the city along with a deeper look to all the tragic events that followed during the 20th century.
Of course Freedom Plaza is also related to many other important historic events that marked the modern history of Thessaloniki including the New Turks movement, the destructive fire of 1917 that transformed the city center and the fierce struggles of the labor movement a few years later. It is surrounded by architectural treasures like the unique "Stein" tower that counts more than a hundred years of life and other important buildings.