Jacky Benmayor stoops down to get a better look at an old tombstone at the newer Jewish cemetery.  (Renee Gross)

Jacky Benmayor stoops down to get a better look at an old tombstone at the newer Jewish cemetery.  (Renee Gross)

The rescued Jewish tombstones of Thessaloniki

Featured on PRI'S The World 

Iosif Vaena, a Greek pharmacist who regularly works 13-hour days, has a sideline. When he gets a break, he heads to the back and opens up a door to reveal an ancient Jewish tombstone by the bathroom sink.  

The stone is about a foot tall and a foot wide, with faint Hebrew scripture on it.

When Vaena found it loose among some steps, he picked it up and brought it to the pharmacy to safely stow until he gets the chance to deliver it to a Jewish cemetery.

“I think it's a bit more dignified than having people step on it,” he says. 

Fragments of these headstones can be found all over the city of Thessaloniki, embedded in churches, buildings, even sidewalks. They all come from the old Jewish cemetery that used to be in the center of town. Rena Molho, a historian who studies the Jewish history in Thessaloniki, says the old cemetery was huge. 

“It had 350,000 square meters, and it had close to 350,000 graves,” she says.

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