SALONIKA (Thessaloniki ), port located in N.E. Greece. Although historical evidence is scarce, it is believed that the Alexandrian Jews who arrived in ca. 140 b.c.e. were among the first Jews to settle in Salonika. Several sources give evidence of the existence and growth of the Jewish community during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. It is known that the apostle Paul preached for three consecutive Sabbaths in the synagogue of Salonika and that afterward he was forced to leave the town. The Romans granted autonomy to the community, whose members lived in a neighborhood near the port; therefore, the Jews had the opportunity to develop strong commercial ties with many parts of the world. The Jews of Salonika during the Roman and Byzantine periods had Greek names and spoke Greek.
After the splitting up of the Roman empire in 395 c.e., Salonika became the second most important city – after Constantinople – in the *Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine emperors in their efforts to "Christianize" their subjects were hostile to the Jewish communities in their territory and especially to the Jews of Salonika. Constantine the Great (306–37) and Theodosius ii (408–50) enforced anti-Jewish laws. Justinian i (527–65) and Heraclius (610–42) prohibited public fulfillment of the mitzvot. Basil i (866–86), the Macedonian, and Leo iii (717–41), the Philosopher, forced the Jews to convert or leave the country. One of the very few emperors who acted favorably toward the Jews was Alexius i Comnenus, who during the First Crusade alleviated the taxes imposed upon them. During the same period, in 1096, the messianic movement that had started in Germany as a result of the persecutions in Mainz and had spread throughout Europe also reached Salonika. In 1169 Benjamin of Tudela visited Salonika and mentions that at that time there were about 500 Jews in the city. The sufferings of the Jews continued during the Latin Empire, which was established by the Crusaders (1204–61), as well as under Theodore Ducas Angelus, the despot of Epirus, who ruled the kingdom of Salonika from 1223 or 1224 to 1230.
During the second half of the 14th century Salonika attracted Jews, among the first being Hungarian Jews in 1376. Refugees from the 1391 riots in the Iberian Peninsula, mostly from Catalonia, found refuge in Salonika. In 1394, Jews migrated to the city from Provence. Like the Ashkenazim, the immigrants from the latter two regions formed their own synagogues. In 1423, Andromachos, the governor of Salonika, sold the city to the Venetians. The Venetians imposed heavy taxes on the Jews, who sent a special delegation to Venice to convince them to alleviate the burden. In spite of the hardships they suffered during the Byzantine period, the Jewish community of Salonika flourished: most of the Jews were merchants, engaging especially in the silk trade. Jews from Sicily, Venice, and other Italian cities migrated to Salonika and formed the synagogues Sicilia Yashan and Italia Yashan. There was also a veteran Romaniot community in the city. It is to be noted that the oldest synagogues of Salonika – Etz ha-Hayyim (which existed until the 1917 fire) and Etz ha-Da'at–date as early as 142 b.c.e., and until the arrival of the Iberian expulsees in 1492, they observed the Romaniot prayer rite and customs. Nevertheless, it is impossible to affirm the continuity of the community.
Turkish Conquest – Sephardi Immigration (15th–16th Centuries)
In 1430 Salonika was occupied by the Turks. At approximately the same time waves of Jewish immigrants started arriving in the town. In 1470 Bavarian Jews arrived in Salonika and formed the Ashkenazi community near the existing Romaniot community. The two communities differed in every aspect: clothing, eating habits, religious rites, prayer books, etc. The Ashkenazi community continued to exist until the beginning of the 20th century and the members were not assimilated into the other Jewish groups in Salonika. During the 15th and 16th centuries many Jewish expellees from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Sicily, and France, and refugees from North Africa, settled in Salonika. The largest numbers came in 1492–3 and 1536. Once in Salonika they founded separate synagogues ("congregations," kahal kadosh). These synagogues were named after their native countries or towns: Sicily, Calabria, Majorca, Lisbon, etc. Salonika also received Marranos who were expelled from Portugal. In 1514 the rabbinical triumvirate of Salonika issued a special haskamah regarding the Marranos as Jews as far as marriage and divorce were concerned, i.e., they practically regarded the Marranos as Jews in every respect. Additionally, in 1555, when the Marranos from Ancona were persecuted by Pope Paul iv, the Jewish merchants of Salonika decided to boycott Ancona and incited the Jewish merchants all over the *Ottoman Empire to follow them in their act. Nevertheless, as a result of political and economic reasons, the boycott did not succeed. There was some emigration from Salonika, but not to a great extent. The reasons for the emigration were plagues and fires that ravaged the town in 1543, 1545, and 1548. It is estimated that by 1553 there were 20,000 Jews in Salonika: the location of the city and the fact of being a port – constituting a key point on the international trade route between the East and the West – helped attract settlers. Merchandise from the East came to Salonika and from there was transferred to the West and vice versa. The Jewish immigrants maintained their relations with their coreligionists and colleagues in their countries of origin – France, Flanders, Egypt, and especially with the Italian ports, above all Venice. They therefore had a relative advantage in international trade, Salonika's location helping to exploit this advantage to the maximum. Troubles, of course, were not lacking, coming in the form of pirates and highwaymen. The Jews of Salonika also engaged in the crafts, and the city was famous for its Jewish weavers and silk and wool dyers. Nearby there were gold and silver mines in Siderokastro and many of the miners were Jews. Another craft was the manufacture of jewelry.
There were three main concentrations of Jews in Salonika: a quarter next to the city wall at the port, i.e., very close to the main artery of trade; the Francomahalla, i.e., the quarter of the "Francos" (foreigners from Europe), which presumably consisted of the elite of the Jewish inhabitants; and the quarter near the hippodrome, which was primarily Greek. Thus, the Jews did not live near the Turks, the rulers of the town. The organization of Jewish life in Salonika was of a special character. There were about 30 independent congregations who sometimes associated themselves as a voluntary body that took care of the common interests of the congregations. The takkanot issued by this body had to be accepted by every congregation to be valid for it. They included women's rights, ethical matters, religious matters, etc. These takkanot were based on the takkanot of Toledo (1305), Aragon (1335), and Castile (1432). The heads of each community were called parnasim, memunim, nivrarim, and anshei ma'amad, and were elected by all the members of each congregation. A committee elected by the parnasim of each congregation decided what proportion of taxes each congregation had to pay to the Turkish authorities, according to the number of members and their financial state. Women, orphans, and the poor were exempt from taxes. Each congregation had the following communal organizations: Ḥevra kaddisha, which was also called Ḥevrat kevarim; gemilut ḥasadim ("philanthropic organization"); bikkur ḥolim (sick wards); yeshivah; and bet din. The religious head of each kahal kadosh was the marbiẓ torah or ḥakham shalem, who was elected for a limited period of time and usually came from the town or country of origin of the kahal kadosh. The marbiẓ torah taught at the yeshivah of the congregation, was usually also the dayyan of the congregation, and delivered sermons on Sabbaths and holidays. Jews were forbidden by the halakhah to go to the Turkish authorities for matters pertaining to inheritance and ketubbot. The Talmud Torah Hagadol was formed in 1520 as a communal solution to education, since maintaining a school for each of the more than 30 kahalim became an insurmountable burden. It was a very large institution of 200 teachers, serving more than 10,000 students, and was not only a school but also had a communal treasury, library, printing press, a fabric industry, and its own prayer congregation. Salonika became a center of Torah learning and attracted many students from abroad. During the 16th century there were numerous important rabbis whose influence spread beyond the borders of Salonika and even the Ottoman Empire. Among the most prominent were: Joseph *Caro, the famous rabbinic decisor who lived in Salonika during the years 1532–34 and continued to work there on his monumental Bet Yosef; Solomon *Alkabetz, the author of Lekhah Dodi; Isaac *Adarbi, the author of Divrei Rivot and Divrei Shalom; Moses *Almosnino, the author of many important works including Regimiento de la Vide and inventor of an astrolabe; Moses de Boton (d. 1570) and his son Abraham de *Boton (d. 1592), the author of the responsa Leḥem Rav and Leḥem Mishneh, a commentary on Moses *Maimonides' 12th-century code of Jewish law, Mishneh Torah; and Samuel di *Medina ("RaSHdaM"), who left over 1,000 responsa and is considered among those halakhic authorities whose decisions both in halakhah and in practice can be relied upon. Salonika was also renowned as a center of Kabbalah. In addition to the rabbinical schools in Salonika in the 16th century, there was a bet midrash for piyyutim and singing, as well as a bet midrash for secular studies where medicine, natural sciences, astronomy, and other subjects were taught. Saadia Longo was a noted local poet, and Israel *Najara of Damascus, who was of Salonikan familial origin, spent time there. The physician *Amatus Lusitanus, who wrote treatises on circulation, taught in that above school of medicine when he settled in Salonika in 1558.
From 1515 the Jewish weavers of Salonika provided the Ottomans with cloth for army uniforms. Later the community could pay the mandatory poll tax (the jizya) as a protected minority religious group through this service. Thus, the Jewish community was recognized as "Musselemlik," recipient of "a freedom letter" which exempted it from other taxes and made it an autonomous administrative body directly under the Sublime Porte.
At the beginning of the 17th century the city once again suffered from plagues and fires (1604, 1609, 1610, 1618, 1620, 1630, 1636, 1640, 1648), causing emigration; nevertheless, by the middle of the century there were about 30,000 Jews, or half of the total population of the town. Trade continued to flourish in spite of the drop in Venetian trade, which resulted from the loss of Crete to the Turks in 1669 and the riots caused by the janissaries at the same time. The Jews continued to export grain, cotton, wool, silk, and textiles. Many Jewish women worked in growing tobacco and its industry. At the same time fewer and fewer Jews worked in the crafts. Toward the end of the century a decline in commercial activities took place as a result of the decline of the Ottoman Empire, which had entered a state of continuous war with various countries and peoples. In spite of all these troubles Salonika remained a center of religious studies and halakhah. The famous halakhic authority R. Hayyim Shabbetai (1556–1647), author of the Torat ha-Hayyim and Teshuvot Rav Ḥayyim Shabbetai, lived in the city during the first half of the 17th century; other important religious authorities included Aaron Cohen Perahiyah, the author of Parah Matteh Aharon, David *Conforte, author of Kore ha-Dorot., Eliya Judah Kovo, av bet din from 1670 and author of Shenei Me'orot ha-Gedolim, and the great talmudic scholar Aaron Ḥayyim ha-Kohen (1648–1698), author of the two-volume Matteh Aharon.
While in theory, the 1568 edict provided Salonikan Jewry protection from the whims of the local authorities, in practice local governors and government officials in the capital often ignored it. Dozens of firmans provide testimony as to how local authorities extorted additional sums from Salonikan Jewry for the poll tax. In 1636 the sultan ordered the execution of Rabbi Judah Covo when he underestimated the amount and quality of the cloth transmitted for tax payment from the Jews of Salonika to the authorities. Frequently, the Jews had to finance the sultan's wars by paying a special tax (avarish), and in 1646 a firman was issued for the rabbinical court judges of Salonika to issue a special tax to finance the war against Crete. The Jews, like other non-Muslims, were also frequently tormented by the Janissaries serving in the city.
The most influential event for the Jewish community in the 17th century was the appearance of the pseudo-messiah *Shabbetai Ẓevi. Expelled from *Izmir ca. 1651–54, he arrived in Salonika sometime afterward. In the beginning he was very well treated, and he preached in the Shalom synagogue; but later, when he married a Torah scroll, he was expelled after a decision made by the most important rabbis of the town. In 1666, after it was declared that he was the true messiah, he was arrested and given the choice by the sultan between death or conversion, he converted to Islam, and seven years after his death, in 1683, a group of believers – some 300 Jewish families – also converted to Islam. This sect was called the *Doenmeh (in Turkish "apostates") and their religious center was in Salonika, from which they spread to Constantinople and other places. *Shabbetai Ẓevi's passage from Salonika and the conversion in 1666 that ensued caused turmoil among the Jews in Salonika; the community consequently felt the need to unite. In 1680 the 30 congregations merged into one, with a supreme council composed of three rabbis and seven dignitaries. The three rabbis were elected for life and could not be replaced unless all three died. The first triumvirate was composed of Moses b. Hayyim Shabbetai, Abraham di Boton, and Elijah Kovo. Another important step was the reorganization of all the rabbinical courts into three bodies along the following lines: matrimonial; rents, possessions (Ḥazakot); and ritual matters (issur ve-hetter). Each bet din was composed of three rabbis who were elected by the triumvirate; they were known for their justness, and many Muslims and Greeks preferred to try the cases they had with Jews in these courts instead of the Turkish ones.
As the Ottoman Empire declined, the community's financial situation in Salonika worsened, and French merchants began to gain control of business interests. In 1720–30, Portuguese Marranos, called "Francos," immigrated to Salonika. Most of them were well-educated, and among them were merchants and bankers, who had been established in Italy and in particular in Livorno.
They did not pay taxes to the sultan since they were considered as interpreters of the consuls. In the beginning they also refused to pay the relevant taxes to the Jewish community, but after a decision by the central committee of the community, they acceded to the community's demands. The Jewish population at that time was between 25,000 and 30,000. Nevertheless, both religious and secular studies declined, and only study of the *Kabbalah still flourished.
Leading rabbis of the 18th century were Asher Ben Emanuel Salem, author of Responsa Asher (1748), Moses ben Solomon Amararillo, who wrote the 3-vol. Responsa Devar Moshe (1742, 1743, 1750), and Joseph ben David, author of Responsa Bet David (1740).
End of 19th–Beginning of 20th Centuries
Toward the second half of the 19th century the Turkish governors of the city initiated a further expansion of the town. A new port was built in 1889, which helped to develop trade. European culture and technology also began to flow into Salonika, and signs of this "Westernization" became apparent among the Jewish inhabitants as well. In 1873 the *Alliance Israélite Universelle established a school, and additional schools along Western standards were also built. By the end of the 19th century, the Alliance educational system in Salonika and other locations had produced a new generation of European-educated entrepreneurs; prepared students to learn medicine, pharmacy, law, and education; created secular literacy; and enticed its graduates to pursue journalism, theatrical performance, and even the publication of novels, historical works, and short stories. Physicians who had studied in Europe helped to eliminate epidemics.
In 1864, Juda Nehama printed El Lunar, the first Judeo-Spanish newspaper in Salonika. Though it was short-lived, it was a new format of communication. He brought to the attention of the public items about science, translations from noted rabbinic works, stories, historical pieces, folkloric stories, commercial issues, and the like.
The main Judeo-Spanish newspaper of Salonika, La Epoca, was founded in 1875 by Saadi Halevi Ashkenazi, who was an active publisher in Salonika and was a scion of a family that published many exegeses from Sephardi ḥakhamim in Salonika and elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire. This commercial and literary newspaper appeared twice a week until the summer of 1898, when it appeared also every Friday. The Halevis struggled financially to print the newspaper and keep it running, and it closed in 1912.
Parallel to Yiddish theater in the Ashkenazi world, the Sephardim of the Balkans had an active Judeo-Spanish theater. The Judeo-Spanish theater was the most active in Istanbul in the last quarter of the 19th century, but by the end of the 19th century it would be surpassed by the Salonikan stage. The first plays took place at the time of the opening of the local Alliance schools. The play Saul by Vittorio Alfieri was adapted into Judeo-Spanish by Joseph Errera, a local poet and train station manager who coordinated the dramatic productions of the organization. In 1882, El Tiempo, a translation of Racine's Esther, was also performed in Salonika, and in 1884, David Hassid adapted L'Avare of Molière into Judeo-Spanish for the local Salonikan stage. In the 20th century in Salonika, ideological movements like the Socialist Labor Federation, which essentially was a Jewish movement with 6,000 Sephardi Judeo-Spanish speaking members Jews, or Zionist movements and organizations like Betar, B'nai Mizrachi, Maccabi, Tiferet Israel, B'nai Zion, Cercle Max Nordau, and Po'alei Zion organized Judeo-Spanish theatrical productions. In 1914, the drama group of the Socialist Federation produced both Molière's Garonudo and the comedy El hastron. In 1919 the above group performed Tolstoy's Resureccion.
Some of the Judeo-Spanish plays performed by the religious Westernization helped in the development of trade. In Istanbul and Izmir, the Jews could not compete against the Greek-Orthodox and Armenian merchants, as the latter were much more numerous and powerful, but in Salonika, where the Jews were a majority, they attained great wealth, developed the city industrially, and controlled the port, the commerce, banking, the tobacco trade, and the artisan professions. As a result of their European education, Salonikan Jews represented big European firms as maritime, commercial, insurance, and tobacco agents. As Salonika became connected to Mitrovitsa (1871), Belgrade (1880), Vienna (1888), Monastir (1893), and Istanbul (1895) by rail, exports from the city increased greatly, but the local Jews also developed industrial infrastructures, with small factories supplying Macedonia and Ottoman markets with flannel, knitted goods, and wool and cotton products. Nevertheless, the export of cotton, hides, silkworms, and wool continued to represent an important part of its activity. The volume of the Salonikan port rose from one to two million tons between the years 1880 and 1912.
As a result of this Westernization, liberalism became paramount among the Jews of Salonika. Nevertheless, this did not undermine the traditional ways of the community, and many new yeshivot were established. The Ḥevrat Kadimah – for the spreading of the Hebrew language – was founded in 1899, and the well-known teacher Isaac *Epstein was brought to Salonika to teach Hebrew. In 1887 the rabbinical triumvirate was dismissed, and Jacob Kovo was appointed to the post of *ḥakham bashi (chief rabbi). In 1900 there were approximately 80,000 Jews in Salonika (out of a total population of 173,000). In 1908, when the Young Turks rose against the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid ii, Jews were among their numbers. One of the first actions of the Young Turks when they came to power was the recruiting of all non-Muslims into the Turkish army. As a result, many young Jews left Salonika and emigrated to the U.S. in order to avoid serving in the Turkish army.
The Jews and the Doenmeh in Salonika, in particular, and Jews in other parts of the Ottoman Empire were active in the Young Turk Movement, the Committee for Union and Progress. The religious minorities led by Muslim reformists united, and were optimistic that they could induce change and play a more integral part in the political life of the Ottoman Empire. Some Salonikan Jews like Emmanuel Carasso, Moise Cohen (who was born in Serres and later changed his name to Tekinalp to assert his patriotism to Turkey), the attorney Emmanuel Salem, Nissim Mazliah (initially from Izmir), and Sam Levy were active and were somewhat prominent in cup, but their influence has been questioned by scholars. During the demonstration in Salonika at Freedom Square ushering in the Young Turk Revolution and declaring a constitution, Carasso was one of the four speakers. In 1908 Carasso was one of four Ottoman Jews elected to the Ottoman Parliament. He refused the appointment of minister of public works in 1910, but was elected to the Senate in 1912 (along with two other Jews).
Since the Jews believed that the new government was more liberal and tolerant than the former one, they openly organized socialist and syndicalist movements. Avraham Benaroya of Plovdiv, an active Bulgarian socialist and former student of Bochor Azaria, moved to Salonika in 1907 to try the challenge of organizing a socialist movement. The Socialist Labor Federation of Salonika became primarily a Jewish socialist movement of some 6,000 workers. Benaroya was ultimately exiled and imprisoned by both the Young Turk government and the Greek authorities after Salonika became part of Greece in 1912.
At the same time, the first Zionist organizations, Agudath Bnei Zion and Maccabee, appeared in Salonika. By the eve of World War ii there were more than 20 Zionist organizations. The Young Turk revolution marked a new "golden" era for the Jews of Salonika, and they could be found in every profession: merchants, tobacco workers, lawyers, physicians, teachers, while the Jewish stevedores of Salonika were famous. On Sabbaths the town and the port came to a standstill since the Jews did not work.
When the Greek army entered the town in 1912, King George declared that Jews and all other minorities were to have the same rights as the Greek population. After the Balkan Wars (1912–13), Salonika could no longer be used as the port for the Balkan states. Nevertheless, trade continued to flourish during World War i since Salonika became a center for Allied soldiers. In 1917 a great fire destroyed most of the town, leaving some 55,000 Jews homeless. The Greek government, which followed a policy of Hellenizing the town, was ready to compensate the Jews whose houses had been destroyed, but it refused to let the Jews return to certain parts of the town, causing many of them to leave the country and emigrate to the U.S., France, Italy, and Alexandria. In 1923, a separate electoral college was set up for the Jews of Salonika (as well as for the Muslims in Thrace). While this enabled several Jews to be elected to parliament, they could not participate in national elections for the prime minister. This discriminatory system, which the Salonikan Jews unsuccessfully tried to fight internationally, continued until after the 1933 elections. In 1924 a law (no. 236) was enacted which forced all the inhabitants of Salonika to refrain from working on Sundays, thus causing another wave of emigration. Some went to Palestine, while most immigrated to Paris, where they founded an important community. In the 1931 Campbell riots, which accompanied the elections and were antisemitic in tone, an entire Jewish neighborhood was burned to the ground by hooligans of the eee (Greek National Front) student movement and Asia Minor refugees, and most of the Jews who lived in the Campbell neighborhood emigrated afterward to Palestine. In the 1930s, 15,000–18,000 Salonikan Jews immigrated to Ereẓ Israel, and some 15,000 emigrated to France, mostly to Paris, but also to Marseilles and Lyons. In 1935 there were nearly 60,000 Jews in Salonika, and in spite of the drop in Jewish population from the turn of the century and all the riots and fires, the Jews continued to maintain their status in the economic activity of the town. The coup d'etat of Metaxas (1936) brought a change for the better in the lives of the Jews of Salonika.
[Jacov Ben-Mayor /
Yitzchak Kerem (2nd ed.)]
The Salonikan Jewish community, which was the most prolific Sephardi cultural and religious center in the world and which dominated the city as a plurality or majority throughout most of 450 years since the Spanish expulsion, suffered greatly in the Holocaust. Its pre-World War ii population of 56,000 was almost totally annihilated in the Holocaust – 98 percent of its Jewish community, 54,000 Sephardi Jews, died in Auschwitz-Birkenau, or during the long, exhausting Death March from January to May 1945. Salonika, the heart of the Sephardi world, was thus destroyed, and everyday Sephardi life in a natural setting would never return. By the time of the Holocaust, whether in Turkey, Jerusalem, the Americas, or elsewhere, Sephardi communities had assimilated into local cultures to such an extent that Judeo-Spanish Sephardi culture had nearly vanished as a vital and dominant force. Only in Salonika, where the community had an active Judeo-Spanish theater, a thriving Judeo-Spanish press, a vast secular and religious literature, and a wide array of Sephardi musical performers, ensembles, and choirs, was the Sephardi Judeo-Spanish culture an all-inclusive and self-perpetuating phenomenon.
World War ii began for Greece and Greek Jewry on October 28, 1940, when Greek dictator Metaxas refused to surrender to Mussolini, and Italy attacked Greece from Albania. Greece fought valiantly to push back the Italians but finally capitulated on April 26, 1941. The Jews had a very active role in fighting for the Greek army, with 12,898 Jews conscripted for this special war effort. Four-thousand Jews fought on the front line in the Albanian campaign and in Macedonia, and 513 fought against the Germans. A total of 613 Jews were killed on both fronts, and at least 174 were from Salonika. Other Jewish casualties included 3,743 wounded, 1,412 of them severely. The Greek Macedonian Brigade 50 that fought in Albania was nicknamed the "Cohen Battalion," as it included many Jews from Salonika and other parts of Macedonia.
At first the German rule in Salonika was relatively quiet. The Jewish newspapers were closed, including El Mesagero, the last Judeo-Spanish newspaper to be published in traditional script. New pro-Nazi Greek newspapers, Nea Evropi and Apoyevmatini, appeared and spread vehement antisemitic sentiment. Jews were forced to guard train lines against sabotage by the resistance, and Jews had to give rooms in their homes to German soldiers. There was little terror against the Jews and very few restrictions. As the Germans neglected the Greek economy, there was mass starvation in 1941–42, with as many as 60 Jews dying each day in Salonika. The Rosenberg Commission entered Salonika in mid-June 1941 and confiscated massive amounts of Jewish books, documents, Torah scrolls, and religious artifacts, taking them back to the Nazi Institute for Jewish Research in Frankfurt. In the early 1990s, some of the communal documents from Salonika and Athens appeared as part of confiscated German documents in the Osobyi Archives in Moscow.
On July 11, 1942, the Germans assembled 9,000 Jewish males between the ages of 18 and 45 for forced labor. Waiting on the Sabbath in their holiday clothes, they were compelled to do humiliating calisthenics and many were beaten. Some 4,000 Jews were recruited for grueling road work from August to December 1942. The Jews were released from forced labor after paying an exorbitant ransom, but the Germans ordered the destruction of the 500-year-old Sephardi cemetery with its half-million graves.
From the beginning of German occupation in Salonika on April 9, 1941, until the end of the deportations of Salonikan Jewry to Birkenau from March 15, 1943, to August 1943, as many as 3,000–5,000 Jews fled Salonika, mostly by train, to the temporarily "safe" Italian zone below the Platona line (below Katerini and to the north of Larisa in the Thessaly region) and sought refuge in Athens. While most Salonikan Jewish families hesitated to leave their familiar surroundings and appear not to have known what was happening under German occupation in northern Europe, there were many Jews who were politically astute and succeeded in finding a way to flee.
At least 800 Salonikan Jews went to the mountains of Macedonia in early 1943 to join the elas Communist-leaning resistance movement. Some were organized Communists, but most just went to save themselves and became motivated to fight against the Germans. More would have gone if the large nuclear traditional Salonikan Sephardi families would have agreed to split up, and others were hesitant due to the rugged life in the mountains or due to the association of elas with the militant Communist movement. While elas opened its ranks to Jewish men and women as fighting soldiers or in the services, and harbored entire Jewish families in its village and mountain strongholds, the rightist royalist movement generally did not admit Jews, and there were only four known cases of Jews serving in that movement, which was most active in western Greece in Epirus. The Italian diplomats were lenient in consenting to protect Italian Jewish nationals, those of Italian descent, or others whom they could save by registering their applications to begin the citizenship process. They actively saved some 800 Jews in such a manner and transported them by car or Italian military train to the free Italian zone. They arrived in Athens and remained safe there until the Germans replaced Italian rule in September 1943. The local Spanish diplomats with their status of a neutral country tried to delay deportation for their nationals, but on August 2, 1943, a group of 367 Jews was deported to Bergen-Belsen. They stayed there under preferential conditions until they were transferred in February 1944 to Barcelona, and then on to Morocco and to Ereẓ Israel. Some 144 Jewish Spanish nationals had escaped to Athens.
At the end of January 1943, the Nazis created three distinct neighborhood ghettos where there were large concentrations of Jews: Kalamaria (encompassing almost half the city to the east and where most of the Jews lived), Singrou (west of the White Tower) in the central area of the city, and Vardar/Agia Paraskevi (near the old train station in the western part of the city). Jews living outside these neighborhood ghettos were transferred in, and several families had to occupy a given residence. From these ghettos, Jews were transferred to the Baron Hirsch transit camp, where they arrived at least a day before deportation and often several weeks before, and waited for the transport which took them mainly to Birkenau (Auschwitz ii). The crowded and dark cattle cars departing every few days took on anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 Jews at a time, but most of the trains carried 2,200 to 2,800 Jews. The Salonikan Jewish population was so large that the deportations took several months. One deportation was sent to Treblinka, and there might have been one to Sobibor in view of the presence of a group of Salonikan Jews there.
At least 37,000 Salonikan Jews were gassed upon their arrival in Auschwitz-Birkenau, but the figure may be several thousand higher. There was a large Salonikan contingent of some 2,000 men in Buna (Auschwitz iii) who worked in the I.G. Farben factory laying cables and digging. The Salonikan middleweight boxing champion Jacko *Razon organized boxing matches in the camp for Sunday's half-rest day entertainment, and as a boxer worked in the kitchen and daily smuggled out a 25-liter soup barrel, which served as an extra ration at night for fellow Salonikans and other Jewish inmates. In Auschwitz, the Salonikan Jews were a main part of the work force throughout 1943 and 1944 since they numbered some 11,000. Jacko *Maestro, a crafty young Salonikan Sephardi youth who spoke German, became Arbeitsdienst coordinator in Auschwitz, assigning the daily work schedule to some 16,000 camp inmates and saving numerous lives by finding easier work places for the weak and the sick.
As a large part of the work force in Birkenau, the Salonikan Jews were also a large part of the *Sonderkommando, the work group that labored by the gas chambers and pulled out the dead bodies and burned them in the crematorium. Since the prisoners in this kommando were witnesses to the German death process, they were executed after working three months in the gas chambers. When a general camp revolt was canceled, the Greek Sonderkommando Jews decided to revolt themselves, joined by the French and Hungarian Jews as well as by 19 Russian Jewish soldiers. Isaac Kabelli estimated that 135 Greek Jews participated in the revolt in Crematoria iii and iv, which started at about 2:15–2:20 p.m. on October 7, 1944. After attacking two German guards in Crematorium iv and taking their weapons, a group of 25 Greek prisoners ran to Crematorium iii. During the furious battle there, numerous German guards were killed when the Germans from outside shot at the prisoners inside. Historian Steven Bowman noted that some 20 guards were killed. Isaac Baruch, a Salonikan Jew of Skopjian familial descent, placed a bomb in the furnace of Crematorium iii. The explosion demolished the building. Before the Germans killed all of the prisoners in the crematorium, the prisoners sang a tune from the Greek partisans and finally the Greek national anthem. The Sonderkommando in Crematorium ii did not revolt, since at the beginning of the uprising the Germans acted quickly and locked up all of them in a crowded room for the day.
Auschwitz Salonikan Jewish prisoners, as foreigners who were unfamiliar with Polish Jewry and Warsaw, were sent to clean up the destroyed Warsaw Ghetto and establish a forced labor camp there. The Salonikan Jews were the first group sent from Auschwitz to Warsaw in August 1943 and physically built the camp. A second group of Salonikans was sent in October 1943. Together, the Salonikan Jews numbered over 1,000, and they were the largest group of any origin in the Genshovka camp. A Salonikan Jew, Shaul Senor, who had previously made aliyah to Ereẓ Israel and returned to Salonika to organize further immigration under the pioneering Heḥalutz movement, tried to escape from Warsaw, was caught, and executed a month later on June 25, 1944, in front of all the Salonikan and other Jewish prisoners. His death inspired his Sephardi brethren not to give up hope and continue their struggle to survive despite the typhus, meager food, and terrible conditions. Most of the Salonikan and other Jewish prisoners were cleared out of Warsaw by foot at the end of July 1944 and headed toward Germany.
The Greek Jews – particularly the Salonikans but not exclusively – were victims of medical experiments in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of 400 known experiments, the Greek Jews constituted about a quarter of the victims. Pregnant and single women had cancers implanted in their uterus, men had testicles removed, most twins did not survive, and others were frozen or victims of other heinous Nazi war crimes. The pregnant Salonikan Aliza Sarfati Baruch survived her two operations, was assisted in the infamous Auschwitz Bloc 10 by a Jewish doctor named Dr. Shmuel who later mysteriously disappeared, and miraculously bore children in Israel after the war; but most women, if they survived, never were able to conceive.
The deportations in Salonika, protested by Greek Archbishop Damaskinos and heads of national professional unions, signaled to most other Greek Jewish communities that the same terrible fate awaited them.
[Yitzchak Kerem (2nd ed.)]
After the war, survivors of the Salonikan community, together with remnants of smaller communities, concentrated in Salonika. As the Jews of the other communities spoke Greek, Ladino has all but disappeared as a spoken language in the community. The number of Jews fell from about 2,000 in 1946 to about 1,500 in 1971 as a result of emigration to Israel and, to a lesser degree, other countries. In 1971 there was an organized community, but only two synagogues were in use. Religious services took place on festivals, and there was a minyan for Sabbath services only. The children of the community studied in Greek schools, but provisions were made for Jewish education, which was handled mostly by teachers from Israel. In addition, there was a youth club and the *Maccabi organization. In the 1980s, the population of the community was around 800, but by the early 21st century it had grown to 1,100 due to increased family size. In the 1980s, the synagogue on Irakleon Street was renovated, and a Jewish study center and library was set up on an upper floor of the same office building. In the mid-1990s, Andreas Sephiha became community president and placed emphasis on cultural proliferation, Jewish religious continuity, and education. Rabbi Dayan was brought over from Israel and later replaced by the Athenian-born and Israeli-educated Mordechai Frizis. In 2005 the Jewish community had an active youth center and pedagogical resource staff and center, and employed two full-time rabbis. The elderly were cared for at the Modiano Old Age Home, and the community also ran a nursery school, elementary school with six grades, and a summer camp for all the Jewish youth of Greece. A new Jewish museum was founded at the turn of the century.
The major collections of archival material on the community of Salonika are located in Jerusalem, at the Central Archives of the Jewish People and Ben-Zvi Institute, and in the Instituto Arias Montano in Madrid. Until Greece took over the city in 1912, the great majority of the community's documents were written in Ladino in Oriental script; later, Greek became the language of use.
The Jews of Salonika constituted an important source of aliyah, particularly after World War i. They were active among the Sephardi community in Palestine, and played an important role in the construction of Tel Aviv. Among the notable families from Salonika were the Florentin, *Recanati, Molcho, and Uzziel families. Leon Recanati founded the Israel Discount Bank, which later developed into one of the most important banks in the country, and the Florentin quarter of Tel Aviv is a manifestation of the initiative of immigrants from Salonika.
Salonikan Jews made a unique contribution to the penetration of Jews into seamanship in Erez Israel. As early as 1914, Izhak *Ben-Zvi was sent to Salonika to encourage Jewish seamen to settle in Erez Israel, but the outbreak of World War i destroyed the plan. In 1924 a group of more than 40 fishermen immigrated to Palestine. They initially settled in Acre, but the group dispersed after the Arab riots in 1929, principally in Haifa and Tel Aviv. As a result of Abba *Khoushi's visit to Salonika in 1933, 300 seamen, stevedores, and porters and their families immigrated to Palestine and settled in Haifa. It was thanks to them that Jewish labor penetrated into the port of Haifa. Over the years other families from Salonika joined them. In 1936 some of them moved to Tel Aviv and laid the foundations of the port there. A moshav ovedim of Greek settlers, some of them from Salonika, was established at Zur Moshe in the Sharon Plain in 1937.
[Chaim Yahil /
Yitzchak Kerem (2nd ed.)]
Early in the 16th century (c. 1512), Don Judah *Gedaliah and his son (Moses) and daughter arrived in Salonika after fleeing from Portugal. Gedaliah had previously managed the printing press of Eliezer Toledano in *Lisbon; he brought at least some of the latter's typographical material with him, and later he had some new types cut. Many of his productions, in the main liturgical works, have been lost, but some important items have survived: a Pentateuch with Onkelos and Rashi (1513); the first edition of Jacob ibn Ḥabib's Ein Ya'akov (1515–23); parts of Hagiographa with Rashi (1515); the tractate Yoma; Tur, Orah Ḥayyim; a Pentateuch with Rashi's and Nahmanides' commentaries (1520); Yalkut Shimoni on Prophets and Hagiographa (1521); and Solomon *Molcho's sermons (1529). In 1525, Moses *Soncino left Rimini (Italy) for Salonika, and in 1526 he issued the Yalkut on the Pentateuch and a maḥzor of the Catalonian rite in 1527. His kinsmen Gershom and Eliezer arrived – also from Rimini – in 1526 and printed David Kimḥi's Sefer ha-Shorashim, together with Abraham Bedersi's dictionary of biblical synonyms, Ḥotam Tokhnit (1527), and a maḥzor of the Aragonian rite (1529), before moving on to Constantinople.
The Italian Soncino printing house of Rabbi Gershon Soncino established a branch in Salonika in 1527 and later in Istanbul in 1530. The famous dictionary Sefer Shoreshim of Rabbi David Kimḥi was published in Salonika, but due to epidemics and fires, the printing house closed.
Beginning in 1543 with Spanish refugees Solomon and Joseph *Jabez, a great variety of Hebrew books were printed in Salonika, among them a maḥzor of the Ashkenazi rite (1551–55). For a time, the enterprise had to be transferred to *Adrianople (1555). Eventually Solomon Jabez went to Constantinople, whereas Joseph returned to Salonika in about 1560 and until about 1572 printed many works, notably a series of Talmud tractates based on the Bomberg and Giustiniani editions; works by Moses *Almosnino; and translations into Judeo-Spanish and Provencal of parts of the Bible and prayer books. When he left, his typographical material was bought by David b. Abraham Azubib, who was active in printing from 1578 to 1588.
Shabbethai Mattathias *Basevi (d. 1601) acquired the Jabez press, and he and his son issued various works until 1605, including a Midrash Rabbah (1594), an Ein Ya'akov, and a Shulḥan Arukh Oraḥ Ḥayyim (1595). The Salonika talmud torah administration printed a maḥzor of the Catalonian rite in 1695, and some Talmud tractates in 1707. This press passed through various hands in the 18th century when many works were printed. During the time of Sultan Mustafa, the printing house of Raphael Yehuda Kalay and Mordecai Naḥman printed Rabbi David Pardo's Le-Menaẓe'aḥ le-David and Minḥah le-David, as well as Rabbi Eliyahu Mizraḥi and Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Ḥayyim's Mayim Amukim (1805), and more. Between 1814 and 1941, eight more Hebrew printers worked in Salonika, among them the presses of Isaac Jahon; the Gemilut Hasadim Society, which was founded about 1870 and printed selections from the Zohar; and the Etz ha-Ḥayyim Society, which was founded about 1875 and printed maḥzorim.
Bezalel Halevi Ashkenazi came from Amsterdam to Salonika (ca. 1738) and continued his family's tradition of printing. In his printing press, he published many books of responsa, derushim, and exegeses in Hebrew and Ladino. His descendants continued his printing activities. Saadi Halevi Ashkenazi (1820–1903) published the Judeo-Spanish newspaper La Epoca (1876–1912) in Judeo-Spanish Rashi script, but also coplas (a type of Judeo-Spanish balladry for holidays), and other ballads and piyyutim in Judeo-Spanish and Hebrew. The printing house existed until it was destroyed in the 1917 fire.
Leah Bornstein Makovetski noted the existence of 31 works of rabbinic derashot published in Salonika between 1750 and 1900. The last known publication of Hebrew rabbinic exegesis in Salonika was Rabbi Jacob Hanania Kovo's Kokhavme-Ya'akov in 1935.
J. Nehama, Histoire des Israélites de Salonique, 5 vols. (1935–59); M. Molho and J. Nehama, In Memoriam; Hommage aux victimes Juives des Nazis en Grèce, 3 vols. (1948–53); idem, Sho'at Yehudei Yavan 1941–1944 (1965); T.B. Ashkenazi, Saloniki ha-Yehudit, Ḥissulah shel Ir va-Em be-Yisrael, 1 (1960); Saloniki Ir va-Em be-Yisrael (1967); I.S. Emmanuel, Histoire des Israélites de Salonique (1936); idem, Gedolei Saloniki le-Dorotam (1936); idem, Histoirede l'Industrie des Tissus des Israélites de Salonique (1935); idem, Matzevot Saloniki, 2 vols. (1936–68); Rosanes, Togarmah; F. Doelger, in: Joshua Starr Memorial Volume (1953), 129–33; C. Roth, in: Yalkut ha-Mizraḥ ha-Tikhon, 2 (1950), 114–8; idem, in: Commentary, 10 (1950), 49–55; M. Molho, in: Sefarad, 9 (1949), 107–30; idem, in: Sinai, 28 (1951), 296–314; idem, in: Homenaje a Millás-Vallicrosa, 2 (1956), 73–107; I.R. Molho, Tor ha-Zahav be-Toledot Saloniki ba-Dorot ha-Aḥaronim (1948); idem, in: Zion, 11 (1946), 150ff.; I.R. Molho and A. Amarijlio, in: Sefunot, 2 (1958), 26–60; Scholem, Shabbetai Sevi, index; idem, in: D.J. Silver (ed.), In the Time of Harvest (1963), 368–86; R. Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews (1961), 442–8; A.E. Bakalopoulos, History of Thessalonika (1963); David ben Avraham Pipano, Hagor ha-Efod (1925). hebrew printing: Ḥ.D. Friedberg, Toledot ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Italyah… (19562), 130–42; A. Elmaleh, in: Ha-Tor, 4 (1923–4), nos. 12ff; also as: Le-Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Saloniki (1924); M.J. Covo, Etudes Saloniciennes (1928); J. Rivkind, in: ks, 1 (1924), 294–302; 3 (1926), 171–3; 6 (1930), 383–5; A. Yaari, ibid., 7 (1931), 290–308; 16 (1940), 374–81. add. bibliography: D. Benvenisti, Yehudei Salonika be-Dorot ha-Aḥaronim (1973); R. Atal, Yahadut Yavan, mi-Gerush Sefarad ve-ad Yameinu, Bibliografiyah (1984), with later supplement; Y. Kerem and B. Rivlin, "Salonika," in: Pinkas ha-Kehillot Yavan (1999), 217–299; A. Matkovski, A History of the Jews in Macedonia (1982), 58; M. Ben-Sasson et al. (eds.), Studies in a Rabbinic Family, the de Botons (1998); A. Nar, "Social Organization and Activity of the Jewish Community in Thessaloniki," in: I.K. Hassiotis (ed.), Queen of the Worthy, Thessaloniki, History, and Culture (1997), 266–295; Y. Kerem, "The Deunme: From Catholicism to Judaism to Islam," in: C. Meyers and N. Simms (eds.), Troubled Souls, Conversos, Crypto-Jews, and Other Confused Jewish Intellectuals from the Fourteenth through the Eighteenth Century (2001), 150–63; A. Nar, "The Jews of Thessaloniki March through Time," in: Justice (Spring 1999), 9–13; E. Benbassa and A. Rodrigue, Sephardi Jewry, A History of the Judeo-Spanish Community, 14th–20th Centuries, 81; S. Salem, "Portraits of Famous Jewish Lawyers and Jurists in Greece," in: Justice (Spring 1999), 14–21; Y. Kerem, "The Talmud Tora of Salonika; A Multi-faceted Changing Institution from the 16th Century Traditionalism until Modern Political Zionism," in: Aviva Doron (ed.), The Culture of Spanish Jewry, Proceedings of the First International Congress, Tel Aviv, 1–4 July 1991 (1994), 159–68; L. Bornstein-Makovestky, "Halakhic Literature in Salonika between 1750–1900," in: Ladinarii (2001), 15–35 (Hebrew); Y. Kerem, "Forgotten Heroes: Greek Jewry in the Holocaust," in: M. Mor (ed.), Crisis and Reaction: The Hero in Jewish History (1995), 229–38; J.M. Landau, Tekinalp, Turkish Patriot (1984), index; M. Mazower, Salonica… 1430–1950 (2004); R.Lewkowicz, The Jewish Community of Salonika (2006).