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Nehama, Joseph


NEHAMA, JOSEPH (ca. 1880–1971), Greek educator and historian. Nehama was born in Salonika, the son of the reformist rabbi Judah Nehama, and studied at the Ecole Normale Orientale, the teacher training school of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Paris. In his capacity as teacher and school principal of the local Alliance Israélite Universelle, Nehama devoted his life to educating several generations of Salonikan youth.

For a number of periods, Nehama was a member of the Committee of the Jewish Community of Salonika representing the non-Zionist general stream of the Jewish community. As a historian he made a major pioneering effort in tracing the Salonikan Jewish community's roots in his seven-volume work, Histoire des Israélites de Salonique. Another noteworthy work was La Ville Convaitée under the pen name P. Risal.

As a writer Nehama's literary ability was demonstrated in the dozens of essays he contributed to such French literary publications as Mercure de France. He wrote numerous studies and articles in Judeo-Spanish on Jewish history, health codes, and commerce which appeared in the press of Salonika and Paris. Nehama made a great contribution to the propagation and research of the Judeo-Spanish language by writing a comprehensive Judeo-Spanish-French dictionary. The work, entitled Dictionnaire du Judéo-Espagnol, was published in 1977 several years after his death.

Nehama was a prominent banker in his capacity as president of the Banque Union. During the Holocaust, Nehama managed to escape the Germans in Salonika by fleeing to Athens. However he was caught by the Nazis and deported on March 25, 1944, to Bergen-Belsen. He was liberated by the American army in the last days of the war.

The Holocaust not only was a personal tragedy for Nehama, but a changing point in his attitude toward Zionism. Previously he had little belief in the potential of political Zionism and its ability to create a viable and prosperous homeland for the Jews. He had been one of the key community leaders in the 1930s who encouraged Jews to stay in Salonika and not immigrate to Palestine. After the Holocaust Nehama was greatly saddened that the prosperous Diaspora center of Salonika had come to an end and regretted his earlier stand against emigration. He was joint author (with Michael Molho) of The Destruction of Greek Jewry 19411944 (Hebrew, 1965). In 1973, the Jewish community of Salonika put out a French version of the book.

[Yitzchak Kerem (2nd ed.)]

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