May 27, 2011


Imagine a town where the languages commonly and regularly spoken are old Spanish, much adulterated, Greek, Turkish, Italian, Bulgarian, Serb, Roumanian, and French; where every one has changed his subjection at least once during the last five years, -from Turkish to Greek-, and where before that several thousands of people had all sorts of claims to European nationalities ... (under which one brother in the same family could be "French", another "English", another "Italian"), perhaps without one of them being able to speak a single sentence in the tongue of the nationality he claimed.
These are the words of a western visitor of the city in 1918. Six years had passed since the Greek army had reached the city in the First Balkan War and capture it. Until the city was given to the Greek state with the treaty of Bucharest in 1913 the Jewish community of the city was trying to figure out ways to avoid this event, because the transition to a Greek state seemed for the Jews as one that will harm their interests, one that would put Greek Orthodox Christians in charge of a city where for centuries they were the de facto leaders of it.

One idea that was proposed was the internationalization of the city. In a letter to the Zionist Organization Committee in Berlin, David Florentin, editor of El Avenir and deputy chair of Maccabi, worried that the economic strength of the community would diminish under a Greek state, wrote:
We cannot see any logical reason for a development in public wealth. All the efforts of the government will no doubt be directed toward one end: the Hellenization of the city.
The idea of internationalization of the city soon failed and another one proposed was a sort of Zionism in Salonika - the creation of a Jewish national home but not in Palestine. Some members of the Venizelos government were also favouring this idea. However, the treaty of Bucharest ended such aspirations and as the chief Rabbi said to the King Constantine in the first audience with him:
We tried our best to support the course of Turkish domination in Macedonia, and we Jews would have been willing to sacrifice ourselves to preserve that Turkish domination, should it have been possible. I must report in all candor that I would have taken up arms if that had not been an impossibility, in order to prevent the fate which befell the Turks. We have now adjusted to the realities brought upon us by Greek rule and domination.
And he emphasized that the Jews would be loyal to Greece and Constantine promised that he wouldn't allow the Jews to become target of hostility because of their religion.

All the quotes are taken from Fleming's book, "Greece: A Jewish History".

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