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Greek Jews sue Germany for Nazi damages

Last Updated: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 21:45

Athens: The Jewish community of Thessaloniki in Greece on Tuesday said it had sued Germany at the European Court of Human Rights, demanding compensation for a forced ransom paid to Nazi occupation forces.

The announcement comes ahead of a scheduled visit to Greece by German President Joachim Gauck on March 5.

The community said it had paid 2.5 million drachmas to the Nazi commander of Macedonia, Max Merten, in July 1942 to secure the release of thousands of Jewish men submitted to brutal forced labour.

Community chairman David Saltiel said the sum is equivalent, in today`s terms, to 45 million euros ($61 million).
"Some 10,000 Jewish men were transported to labour sites and put to work on road and railway projects," Saltiel said.

In a statement it said the men, aged 18-45, had been made to work up to 12 hour shifts under "inhuman" conditions. 

"The mortality rate in the first 2.5 months was 12 percent," the community said.

To raise the ransom, the community had sold property and sought donations from Jewish organisations in Athens and abroad.
However, most of the victims alongside the majority of the community were later transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp where they perished.

The Thessaloniki Jews originally sought recourse in the Greek courts in 1997. 

The case reached the Supreme Court in 2013, which said it had no jurisdiction to adjudicate and threw it out.

Thessaloniki -- a multi-cultural city that served as a link between the Balkans and the East and had a population of more than 50,000 Jews before World War II -- today is home to only about 1,500 Jews.

In recent years, Greece has said it reserves the right to claim wartime reparations, saying it was forced to accept unfavourable terms during negotiations with Germany in the 1950s.

Germany, which has fronted a large share of the eurozone rescue for Greece, rejects the idea of paying any further reparations.

First Published: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 21:45

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