Date 27 August 2019
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The historic “Vienna Hotel” in Thessaloniki is brought back to life

One of the most emblematic buildings in the center of Thessaloniki, with reference to the German Occupation, was purchased by a group of Israeli businessmen, to become a luxury hotel. This building is the historic hotel “Vienna”, located on Egnatia street 2-4, in the Vardari area (known today as Republic Square), which was commandeered by the German authorities, which established departments of their services in its premises.

The owner told K that in the basement of the building, investigations were carried out by the Germans and that he found anti-aircraft guns and German sirens, which were used for the warning of allied air attacks, in the roof of the building.

The agreement for  “Vienna”, which now houses a private college, has already been signed, while there is, also, in progress an Israeli interest in the purchase of another building with a heavy historical burden related to the Holocaust of the neoclassical former Ionian Bank (now Alpha) in Liberty Square, which during the Occupation period housed the “heart” of German power in Thessaloniki, the Wehrmacht Guard.

In this building, located in Liberty Square, the Germans took the first mass action against the Jewish Community, namely the registration of its members that were sent to forced labor and Auschwitz’s crematoriums.

“In front of the Guard, in the open Liberty square, the Jews were summoned on July 11, 1942, for the selection of men for forced labor, which, due to the cruelty and torture they suffered, was called “Black Sabbath’. This tormenting gathering in the extreme heat of July foreshadowed the extermination of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki by the Nazis”, says author and historian Mr. Christos Zafiris.

Built in the late 1920s, “Vienna hotel”,  was, during the Interwar Period, a pole of attraction and gathering of personalities in politics, business, art and intellect, and with the occupation of the city in 1941 by the Germans, it was  requisitioned, among other buildings, to accommodate the command and control mechanisms, and upon the liberation, housed the Greek police headquarters in Thessaloniki for several months. Mr Thanasis Mandas, who bought the hotel from the owners after the war, narrated to K.

“The hotel was requisitioned and departments of Kommandantur were settled here by the Germans. In the basement, there were high security prisons, where both German Christians and Jews were held and interrogated. Some of the survivors came and found me at the hotel and talked to me, but they no longer live.”

Currently, it appears that the Israeli business interest in Thessaloniki does not focus only on the rescue and enhancement of places associated with the presence and, most importantly, the extermination of the city’s Hebraism. Nevertheless, there are plenty of symbolisms, given the city’s high position in the collective Jewish consciousness.

 Lawyer Mr. Thanos Charistos, who represents Israeli interest groups, says that his clients’ motive includes the logic of “saving as much as possible” on historic real estate, and, especially, the ones related to the Jewish presence in the city, but the business motivation prevails.

“There is a great deal of mobility by international enterprise groups in the real estate market. Investors are interested in operating small-scale hotel units that will provide basic services to the customers and affordable rates.”

Information indicates that, in addition to the Vienna hotel, Israelis have bought many other buildings in the city center.

The Chairman of the Central Israeli Council of Greece and the Israeli Community of Thessaloniki, Mr. David Saltiel, refers to the increased interest of Israeli investors in the Greek real estate market and explains the additional reasons why Thessaloniki is attractive to them.

“The real estate market in Israel is unprecedented, the prices resemble those of New York. For example, while in Israel for 1.000.000 euros you can purchase an apartment, in Greece you can purchase a whole apartment building. The Israelis are known to love Greece, which is an attraction for them, and, now, that real estate prices are affordable, the entrepreneurs buy.

 They invest in hotels, apartments, and plots in Athens and elsewhere, but Thessaloniki means more to them. It is a historic destination for Israelis, due to the age-old Jewish presence, and this serves as an additional incentive to invest their funds. The Israelis are the first in number foreign visitors to Thessaloniki. Only 150.000 came last year and with the construction of the Holocaust Museum, it is estimated that Jewish visitors from all over the world will exceed 1.500.000. All of these are potential customers in their hotel units. It goes without saying, that they expect the continuous upgrading of Thessaloniki’s role in the wider region, so as to serve as a springboard for their business interest in the Balkans as well.”

Article by journalist Mr. Stavros Tzimas, 19.08.2019 at Kathimerini. gr