‘Black Sabbath’ for the Jews of Salonika

One of a series of images taken by German journalists in Salonika on 11th July 1942.

The Jewish men were forced to adopt squatting positions and beaten if they fell over.

The whole episode was watched by a crowd, mainly composed of members of the German armed forces.

When the Germans invaded Greece in 1941 the city of Salonika had the largest population of Jews in the country, 54,000 people, around two thirds of the Jews living in Greece. They were an old community, having been established in the 15th century when the Jews were expelled from Spain.

The Nazi persecution began immediately with the forcible ‘confiscation’ of all radios, pianos and many other valuable goods which were shipped back to Germany – but the community was not forced into ghettoes immediately.

On the 11th July 1942 the men in the community were summoned to Plateia Eleftheria, Liberty Square , Salonika for ‘registration for labour schemes’. Seven thousand men arrived in the square, where they were humiliated and beaten.

Itzchak Nechama was one of those there. He gave testimony about his experiences during the trial of Adolf Eichman in 1961:

Question: And what happened at the Square?

Witness Nechama: Yes.
I shall tell you. I had hardly managed to get there – I was wearing my Sabbath clothes – when they started beating us, at once, at once, at once.

Question: Who were they?

Witness Nechama: Yes.
They must have been the SS.

State Attorney Bar-Or:
I now show you a photograph of a man having water poured over him from a bucket. Maybe you can remember and tell the Court what this is?

Witness Nechama: Yes.

I shall tell you. They dealt out so many blows that people fainted, so then they would lift them up, pour water over them and start again.

An order had been given to form lines without moving, and the sun was very strong and the Jews were not able to stand in the sun for a long time; but they were so slow making their arrangements, that many could not stand it.

They also wanted to have fun, they did it for laughs. When they were in a certain row, an SS policeman would come and push them away and start hitting and fooling around. And at the windows there were Germans taking photos of them and applauding.

State Attorney Bar-Or:

Finally, Mr Nechama, I show you a picture exercising at the orders of a soldier – Army or SS, it is impossible to specify this here – who is standing in front of him. Do you recognise this picture?

Witness Nechama: Yes.
It is me.

Presiding Judge:
Is this you with your knees bent?

Witness Nechama: Yes.

That is me. If you could have seen me on Saturday at 2.30, the state I was in after these exercises, the blows I got, why – I do not know. I did not do anything to them, I did not owe them anything and in the end they gave me a bloody thrashing. And not only me, but my family also.

Question:
Who took these pictures, Mr Nachama?

Witness Nechama: Yes.
It could be that the German girls up on the balconies, that they photographed such things. There were girls standing there and every time there was a beating or something like that they applauded gleefully.

State Attorney Bar-Or:
Mr Nechama, what happened after these gymnastics?

Witness Nechama: Yes.
I will tell you, they took me and beat me and organised all kinds of exercises and after that there were more beatings and more. And then I was taken to a doctor. If I were in Salonika now I could bring the doctor; he is alive and well, it is Doctor Kopers.

The doctor was fetched and he treated me. I was sick for two weeks; for four days I was unconscious. After three weeks, when I was beginning to recuperate, there appeared a notice in the newspaper that numbers so and so had to report for work immediately. The notice was from Mueller.

Question:
How did you know that you had to go to work?

Witness Nechama: Yes.
On the document I had there was a number, and if I am not mistaken, my number was 190, and in the newspaper this number was also listed.

For the full transcript see Holocaust Research Project.

Ghettoes were not established in Salonika until 1943, when deportations to the death camps began. The largest single Jewish community in Europe, outside Poland, was decimated – around 98% were killed.

The most brutal aspects of the episode were not photographed – or the photographs have not survived.

This type of public humiliation had been a feature of the early stages of persecution in other countries – particularly Poland.

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