Greek Jews commemorate 70th anniversary of Auschwitz deportation

Greece's second largest city Thessaloniki has begun commemorating the 70th anniversary of the first deportation of its Jews to Auschwitz, with a series of events running to Sunday.

Amid worry about the rise of Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, Jewish leaders from around the world arrived in the northern city to commemorate an event that decimated the Jewish population of the so-called "Jerusalem of the Balkans."

Events to mark the anniversary include a silent march on Saturday to the old railway station where the first train departed for the Auschwitz concentration camp on March 15, 1943.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to address a commemoration ceremony on Sunday.

"Greek Jews are currently adversely affected by the country's deep economic problems and by the rise of the extremist Golden Dawn, a movement whose leaders openly deny the Holocaust," the World Jewish Congress said in a press release.

For the first time in Greek political history, the party elected 18 deputies to the country's 300-seat parliament after elections in June.

Robert S. Lauder, who heads the WJC, and Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, are among those attending the anniversary events.

Thessaloniki, a multi-cultural city that served as a link between the Balkans and the East and which counted more than 50,000 Jews before World War II, today has a Jewish population of only about 1,000.

More than one million people, mostly European Jews, perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau, operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland from 1940 to 1945.