New Partner in EHRI: The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

University of Thessaloniki
Tuesday, 6 October, 2020

The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki will be part of the Data Identification and Integration Work Package in EHRI and will add new Holocaust-related sources to the EHRI Portal. The university will also host several EHRI fellows.

Thessaloniki was annexed to the Greek State in 1912. As an Ottoman port city its population was a mixture of Jewish, Ottoman and Christian-Greek people, Jews being about 50% of the population at that time. As a result, Aristotle University has been inextricably linked to the Jewish community of Thessaloniki since its founding in 1925. Establishing a University and other educational institutions was an important goal for the Greek administration to assimilate and integrate the ethnically non-Greek population of the city. Despite a considerable delay, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki was finally established in 1925. In the interwar period, its expansion was the main concern.

Destruction of the Jewish Cemetery, 1942

This issue was violently solved during the Axis Occupation when the University expanded against the old Jewish cemetery, which was destroyed by the local authorities in 1942, upon Nazi approval.

The Jewish Studies Chair was established as early as 1929 in order to facilitate the admission of members of the Jewish community. However, the Chair was short-lived since it was cancelled in 1936 and was only re-established in 2015, the same year that Aristotle University built a monument to commemorate the destruction of the cemetery.

Monument to commemorate the destruction of the cemetery, 1985

Since its re-establishment in 2015 the Chair offers various courses on Greek Jews and their history, the history of the Holocaust, the oral history of the Holocaust and hands on seminars on the local and oral history of the deportations. Since 2018, the Chair also offers a course on teaching Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) – Jecky Benmayor teaches both oral and written Ladino – in cooperation with the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki. The Chair has also developed an oral history collection based on the acquisition of three major archives (SFI USC Shoah Foundation, the Fortunoff Archive and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s eye-witness program), in addition to a small scale collection of individual testimonies collected by student projects during the last five years.

In terms of Research, the Chair is part of the Horizon 2020 Repast project as the leading partner in the History Work Package. The Chair works very closely with the Jewish Community into various activities, such as the annual memory walk, the establishment of two annual scholarships and various commemorative activities. The Chair has worked together with the Historical Archives of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki and their chief archivist Mrs. Aliki Arouh, by adding new collections and lists of names. This collaboration was mutually beneficiary as the Chair and researchers also received information derived by the metadata Mrs. Arouh has developed over the years.

Last but not least, the Jewish Studies Chair has developed a series of research projects and educational tools (e.g. walking tours) with the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki and the Archive, such as the project “mapping the memory”, a GIS map of the interwar Jewish students of Thessaloniki.

As part of the EHRI consortium we hope to develop further our interests in digital mapping, databases and oral history collections and provide a fruitful and solid experience to possible incoming fellows. 

Giorgos Antoniou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

Images courtesy of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki