JERUSALEM – Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, has honored Dr. Leon Saltiel of the World Jewish Congress for his work chronicling the last days of the once-vibrant Jewish community in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Dr. Saltiel, the WJC representative in Geneva to the United Nations and UNESCO and the coordinator on countering antisemitism, on Thursday was awarded Yad Vashem’s prestigious 2021 International Book Prize for Holocaust Research, for his work “The Holocaust in Thessaloniki Reactions to the Anti-Jewish Persecution, 1942–1943,” published in 2020 by Routledge History.
The book narrates the Nazi persecution of Thessaloniki’s Jewish community – more than 90 percent of 50,000 people were deported – and maps the reactions of the authorities, the Church and civil society as these events unfolded. Dr. Saltiel’s research continues to resonate, both in Greece and across Europe.
At the Yad Vashem ceremony, he said that Greece has recently seen “a reversal of public attitudes vis-à-vis its Jewish community, and the legacy of the Holocaust.”
“Although antisemitism regrettably remains a problem in public perceptions, the Jewish history slowly comes to the fore, where the government, local authorities, the media and educational institutions openly speak about the past, and even recognize some of these injustices,” Dr. Saltiel added. “I am hopeful that this willingness to study and commemorate this dark past will continue for decades to come.”
Dr. Saltiel, who is from Thessaloniki, said his archival research in 10 countries uncovered historical information not openly discussed. “Growing up in this city, as a third generation [removed] from the Holocaust, this silence was palpable,” he said.
Dr. John McNeill, a professor of history at Georgetown University, said of the work, “Saltiel’s book is one of the few to take the reader insider both the bureaucratic maze and the human experience of the Holocaust. Based on explorations in archives on four continents and a vast literature in several languages, the book explains how the leading figures of institutions in Thessaloniki, Christian and Jewish alike, responded to the German occupation of the city, and the subsequent roundup of almost all of its 56,000 Jews.”
Dr. Saltiel holds a doctorate in contemporary Greek history from the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki. He also is the author of “Do Not Forget Me: Three Jewish Mothers Write to Their Sons from the Thessaloniki Ghetto,” published in 2021 by Berghahn Books.
He shares the Yad Vashem prize with Dr. Eliyana Adler, who was honored at the virtual ceremony for “Survival on the Margins: Polish Jewish Refugees in the Wartime Soviet Union.”
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