Mar 18, 2011


Yehuda Poliker is a popular Israeli singer of Sephardic decent. His parents were born and lived in Thessaloniki until they were deported to Auschwitz - they survived the Holocaust and Poliker was born in Israel. This song is called "Wait for me, Saloniki" and in the second part Poliker sings in Greek. He calls the city "my sweet Saloniki" and laments his exile from his home - Θεσσαλονίκη μου γλυκιά, πατρίδα δοξασμένη/ ως που ξανάρθει ο καιρός να ζούμε ενωμένοι (My sweet Saloniki, glorious homeland, until the time comes to be reunited - or something like that, his Greek are not very clear in the end). I had found all the lyrics in another youtube video but the video was brought down due to copyright violations - a thing that is becoming really annoying in youtube lately and I hope it doesn't happen with this video also since there are only one or two videos for this song. Unfortunately, I can't find the English translation of the lyrics anywhere on the internet right now. But I will ask an Israeli friend to translate them and soon I will post them here.

When I first read about the Jews of Thessaloniki a few years back, it was really interesting for me to find out that not only Greeks consider Thessaloniki as their homeland. Apart from the Romaniotes Jews who according to historians live in the Balkan peninsula since the first century AD (others also suggest that they migrated in the last centuries BC), the Sephardi Jews came in massive numbers in the Ottoman Empire (and mainly Thessaloniki) in the end of the 15th and the beginning of 16th century, expelled from countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy and France. Through the centuries they established a flourishing community in the city and at times they were the majority of the city's population. Naturally, they came to consider Thessaloniki as their homeland. As Fleming says in her book "Greece: A Jewish history", when the ideas of Zionism started to spread and talks about a sovereign Jewish state were emerging, Thessaloniki was already a sort of Zion for many inhabitants of the city: "What is this Palestine you are telling us about now? This is Palestine". Knowing about those things gives me a different feeling even walking in the city. I think of the different multicultural past of the city that has been lost in the process of Hellenization that started after Thessaloniki was captured by the Greek army in the First Balkan War. And I am not saying that in a romantic way, like "Oh, what a glorious past and look at the present, how sad". It just offers me insight, understanding and makes me doubt things that we were taught as natural and we took them for granted.

Moreover, in the case of Poliker I found really interesting that aside the fact that he is an Israeli artist who fuses in his art genres such as rock, Greek and Mediterranean music and also plays many different instruments (like guitar, bouzouki and baglama), he sings obviously with real nostalgia about Thessaloniki, like the city is his home, though he wasn't born or lived in the city. That made me think of what we were discussing in the other class about Bourdieu, the Habitus concept and the internalization and embodiment of history and culture that become our second nature and our memories. People like Poliker (and I am not talking only about Thessaloniki now) have probably heard from relatives and others and read in books many tales about lost homelands and have internalized this memory as their own when in reality it isn't their own - in the sense that they didn't live in that lost homeland. Probably when they visit that place for the first time they might even feel awe, knowing that they are standing on the ground of that sweet homeland were their ancestors lived and flourished. Heck, they don't even need to have relatives from a place to feel that - and now I am thinking of Greeks going to Istanbul and feeling that they are returning to the lost homeland of Constantinople. All I am saying is that all these feelings, imaginations and symbols are in fact really powerful in the minds of people.

One more borderline, one more eternity
Wait for me, Saloniki
Long is the way to Greece
Wait for me, Saloniki

The heart is wandering, the blood is frozen
In the snow of Germany
I lost them all, all of them, there
In the crematorium in Poland

Paled faces, remainders of life
Refugees of the death walk
Full of patches, they are coming
To cry in your streets

The freedom is arriving, a new spring
I am close to you
As a faded shadow in a weak body
I will come at your gates

(thanx to Eyal for the lyrics)

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