Russia returns Jewish archives looted by Nazi Germany
Russia will return the archives of Greek Jewish communities that were looted by the Nazis during WWII, bringing a trove of objects home after nearly 80 years.
President Vladimir Putin announced the decision on Wednesday, during an meeting in Sochi with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The return of the historical artifacts had been a long-standing goal of Greek Jewish organizations, which greeted the news with celebration.
“A long-term challenging struggle conducted by the Greek diplomacy and the Greek Jewry seems to come to an end thanks to the targeted actions of the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis,” the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece wrote on its website. “It is an achievement of vital significance to our country’s history. We express our thankfulness to the Greek Prime Minister and all those who have worked and continue working for the realization of the return of the pre-War Jewish archives to our country.”
Many of the archive’s books and religious artifacts were plundered by the Nazis from the Greek city of Thessaloniki, when troops commanded by Austrian SS Officer Alois Brunner looted the city’s synagogues and libraries in July, 1942. According to the Board’s website, Thessaloniki’s Jewish community paid a large ransom to Brunner to avoid deportation to concentration camps, but 44,000 of the city’s Jews perished in death camps anyway.
One of the principal architects of the Holocaust, Brunner sent a total of 130,000 Jews to the camps, and became known in Greece as the “butcher of Thessaloniki.”
Nazi forces brought the stolen archives to Berlin, where the Soviet Red Army discovered them when it captured the city in 1945. They were subsequently transferred to Moscow.
“For the Greek Jewry these archives bring light to its historic course, sacred heirlooms of the light of life and the darkness of the looting and the Holocaust,” the Board wrote. “Their restitution would mean justice and would transmit knowledge about a part of the Greek people that contributed to the progress of the country and no longer exists, that of the 60,000 Greek Jews who were deported to and exterminated in the Nazi death camps.”
The archives will be housed in a newly erected Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki.