We have posted a number of times about efforts to recover Jewish gravestones and their fragments that were uprooted from Jewish cemeteries and used for construction work and other purposes.
Most of our posts have dealt with eastern and central Europe — but PRI (Public Radio International) runs a story about the situation in Thessaloniki, Greece (historic Salonika).
The enormous Jewish cemetery, in which generations of Jews were buried, was totally destroyed by the Nazis, with the active participation of many local Greeks, who pillaged the site and removed most of the gravestones for use as building materials. Today, its former location is occupied by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
The PRI story (which you can read or listen to) notes that “fragments of these headstones can be found all over the city of Thessaloniki, embedded in churches, buildings, even sidewalks.” It does not, however, address the broader issue of what to do with the fragments.
PRI quotes retired businessman Jacky Benmayor, who knows Hebrew, Ladino and Greek.
When he spots one of the old headstones in the city, he calls the government archaeological service to dig it out with shovels and a pickax. (Taking the stones without permission is technically illegal because they’re considered historical property.)
Benmayor helps the architectural service read the inscriptions and then brings the stones to the newer Jewish cemetery, about a 20-minute drive from downtown. Benmayor says he’s transported headstones so many times that he doesn’t feel emotional about it anymore.