ATHENS, Greece (JTA) — Aristotle University of Thessaloniki plans to reestablish its Jewish studies program, 80 years after it was abolished by Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas.
“The establishment of a chair of Jewish Studies at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki has a special significance in a city whose history is directly linked to Jewish culture,” the university said in a statement.
The decision was taken in collaboration with the city’s Jewish community, which will fund the program for its first year, the university said.
Before the Second World War, the Jewish community of Thessaloniki had been a vital center of Sephardic Jewry for 450 years following the expulsion from Spain. Known as the “Flower of the Balkans,” the city was the center of Ladino culture in the region.
The university had a Jewish studies program between 1930 and 1935 before it was abolished.
The Jewish community was largely destroyed in the Holocaust. Most of the city’s 55,000 Jews were deported to death camps and fewer than 2,000 survived.
Following the deportations, Jewish property was looted, synagogues were destroyed, priceless Ladino libraries were shipped to Germany and Jewish cemetery headstones were used as construction materials.
Parts of the Aristotle university campus now sit on a former Jewish cemetery that was destroyed by the Nazis.
“Our aim is to restore the historical memory … in the fields of Jewish history and culture,” the university said.
The program will begin in the 2014-2015 academic year and offer undergraduate and graduate studies.