Interview with a Young Jew From Salonica
(August 7, 1943)
Correspondence from the American Consulate-General in Istanbul, Turkey, addressed to the Secretary of State, Washington
SUBJECT: Interview with a Young Jewess who left Salonica July 8, 1943.
I have the honor to report an interview with a young Jewess of Turkish nationality, who left Salonica on July 8th and arrived in Istanbul July 15th. This young woman has requested that her name be kept secret. Her report is concerned chiefly with the period March 1st to July 8th and is limited to her personal experience and observations. Since, during the above-mentioned period, she was subjected to the anguish of seeing her husband and friends deported, her interest in matters of a less personal nature was not great. However, certain matters of general interest did come to her attention, and while many details of her account have already reached this office through other channels, there remain certain items which are reported herewith. The account includes a description of mass deportations of Greek Jews as carried out by German S.S. troops, a statement of the number of Greek Jews deported, the measures taken with Jews of foreign nationality, an account of food conditions in Salonica and the work of the International Red Cross, a number of items of possible military interest, a statement regarding German morals, and observations upon the journey from Salonica to Istanbul.
Regarding the mass deportation of Jews of Greek citizenship, the young woman reported that the German troops detailed to carry out this work were not the troops already in Salonica but were units of S.S. troops sent especially for the purpose. These troops arrived in Salonica the end of February. Their attitude toward the Greeks, and particularly toward the Jews, was extremely harsh and a distinct contrast to the relatively benevolent attitude of the regular forces of occupation.
The procedure of deportation was as follows: Every Jew was given a form upon which he was ordered to write a complete inventory of his possessions, stating the value of all objects listed and including items which would ordinarily be considered as of no value-such as pet dogs. The next day, these lists had to be turned in, although the interval of less than 24 hours was in many cases not adequate for collecting all the information required. According to our informant, the Jews could see no reason for the inventories, since the S.S troops paid no attention to those that were submitted, but instead seized every bit of property of all Greek Jews regardless of value. Houses were emptied, the contents carried away in trucks, and the owners were taken to the concentration camp at Baron Hirsch. Articles of value were sent to Germany, while a collection of worthless objects was stored in warehouses.
The wholesale transfer of Greek Jews to the concentration camps began March 2nd and continued for about a month and a half. The concentration camp was completely isolated from the rest of the city. To ensure that there should be no communication between the inmates and the Jews who were still at large, a zone 50 meters wide was established around the camp, which no Jew, whether Greek or of foreign citizenship, could enter upon any pretext whatsoever. Jews who had been living within this area were forced to leave their houses, together with all their possessions, and seek shelter elsewhere. To reinforce the guard of that section of the city, the S.S. troops appointed an auxiliary group of 200 Jewish police. One of these was shot on the spot by an S.S. trooper because he was seen to reply to a question asked by a member of the International Red Cross.
All Greek Jews were taken to the camp, whole families being carried off, regardless of age, sex or physical condition. Inmates of insane asylums and patients from hospitals, including incurable cases, and people suffering from infectious diseases were herded in with the others. All these unfortunate victims were confined for periods of varying length, while they were questioned regarding their property. In case the desired or expected information was not immediately forthcoming, the person questioned was subjected to various forms of torture. The German guards resorted to any expedient which they thought would produce confessions, but a favorite method of persuasion was the burning of finger tips, the procedure being repeated with increasing effectiveness upon each successive application. After this interval of examination, the Jews were sent off in cattle cars, almost without ventilation, 70 to a car. It was believed that their destination was Poland. Forty-five thousand Greek Jews were deported this way.
This figure of 45,000 represents the entire Jewish population of Greek nationality at the time of the deportations. The decrease from the usually accepted estimate of 60,000 was due to the fact that from the time of the German occupation the death rate among the Jews was extremely high--higher than that of the rest of the city-, that many individuals had succeeded in escaping, and also because, beginning with July 1942, groups were sent away almost daily by the occupation authorities to forced labor in Macedonia.
When our informant left Salonica on July 8th, she felt certain that no Jews of any nationality were left in the city. The foreign Jews, numbering about 1000, had been sent according to their nationality to various countries, as listed below:
This list is almost certainly not complete.
When questioned about food conditions in Salonica previous to her departure, our informant reported that for about a year there had been no lack of food in Salonica if one had the money to pay for it. Though the young woman left Salonica less than a month ago, she herself showed no sign of starvation, but she explained that since the birth of her child nine months before she had received special food from the International Red Cross. All nursing mothers and children up to twelve years are provided with powdered milk, semolina and sugar. Bread is the only article which is regularly available to everyone through ration cards. A certain amount of white bread is supplied by the International Red Cross at a price of Drs. 600 the oke. White bread is also available on the black market at Drs. 2300 the oke-a fact which immediately causes one to wonder by what channels white flour reaches the black market. The distribution of food supplies by the International Red Cross was described by this young woman as extremely satisfactory.
The interview supplied the following information of possible military importance. The German Commandatur is in the Valeyannis School on the 4th of August Street, opposite the Cafe Astoria B. During April and May many reinforcements of German troops arrived in Salonica. Our informant said that one was always aware of movements of troops in the city, and the general impression was that considerable forces were continually sent south, but she could not say definitely that there were increased movements at the time of the invasion of Sicily. Parks and streets shaded by trees were full of tanks and military vehicles. Trucks were parked in the Municipal Fair grounds. Communications with Athens were constantly interrupted. In addition to the destruction of the Papadea bridge, there was scarcely a day that the guerrillas were not reported to have caused some damage to the railroad-damage which, however slight, usually necessitated the transfer of freight and passengers by bus at several points on the line. Regarding the air raid over the Sedes airport our informant had heard that there were 600 victims, of whom at least 200 were German killed and wounded. During this raid the Greeks, in their enthusiasm for the Allies, refused to go to their shelters and as a punishment for this the curfew was advanced to 9 P.M. After the Sedes raid the Germans sounded no alert although there were several occasions when bombs were dropped. The young woman reported very few boats in the harbor of Salonica.
German morale in Salonica was low, and suicides were frequent. Typhus is prevalent in the city, but there are not many cases among the Germans. German soldiers are still wearing, as part of their summer uniform, articles of British origin, such as English shorts, shirts, etc.
The departure of the young Jewess from Salonica was arranged by the Turkish consul. She left by train July 8th and changed trains at Gevgeli, where she spent the night. She continued by the usual route, passing through Skoplje, Nish, and spending the nights of July 11th and 12th in Sofia. During one of the nights in Sofia there was an air raid alarm which lasted from midnight to 4 A.M. Between Gevgeli and Skoplje our informant saw five or six trains of German soldiers, going south. From Gevgeli on she saw Bulgarian forces of occupation at fairly frequent intervals. While in Sofia she heard for the first time that Bulgarians would occupy Salonica.
Burton Y. Berry
Source: Documents: The Jews in Greece, 1941-1944: Eyewitness Accounts, by Alexandros Kitroeff, Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, Vol. XII, No. #3, (Fall 1985)