Greece: Unused Cakes of Soap
The fashionable phrase in Salonika for a Jew back from deportation is “unused cake of soap.” This brand of Hellenic wit requires a toughness of stomach more common among ancients. But a Salonikan comes up to antique measure in times of crisis, especially when he’s grown quite cozy in an abandoned Jewish home or shop, and the owner returns to life. Soap was an end product at some concentration camps of what was left over from the gas chambers.
There were 45,000 Jews in Salonika, once the most thriving Jewish city of the “Orient.” Now there are less than 2,000. The Germans had persuaded the Chief Rabbi Zwi-Hirsch Koretz to give up the registers of his congregations. This facilitated operations. Names were ticked off batch by batch and with very few exceptions Jews obediently came. The Germans were vague. They talked about colonists for new territories. They were somewhat brutal with colonizers, but they had been brutal for a long time. So the Jews filed into the Baron Hirsch Quarter. The choice of rendezvous was sardonic; the area originally had been built up to relieve Jewish residential congestion. Also it comfortably bordered the North Railway Station. Jews could be loaded into freight cars with a minimum of fuss. As one shipment was emptied out of the Baron Hirsch Quarter another came in through the far gates to be organized and packed. Nordic efficiency never worked so well—from March to May 1943 the Germans sent off 43,000 Jews, their destinations Auschwitz and similar “colonies.”
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