Two testimonies on Thessalonican Jews


At dusk on November 7, 1911, Ben-Gurion's ship entered the calm waters of Salonika's harbor. The town -- really an overgrown village -- housed a unique Jewish community whose members were laborers and craftsmen engaged in all trades. Since most of Salonika's port workers and sailors were Jews, the port was closed on Saturday, a fact which, the legend went, had given the port its nickname, "the Jewish Port". Ben-Gurion assorted that it was there he realized that Jews were capable of all types of work, describing it as "a Hebrew labor town, the only one in the world". The throbbing of his heart as he watched the burly laboring Jews found no verbal expression, for he understood not one word of their Ladino tongue. In fact, his ten months in Salonika were among the quietest of his life, because his inability to communicate made him feel "as if in prison". He did not learn Ladino because he was determined to devote all his time and energy to his studies. His isolation was made worse by his feeling of strangeness as the only Ashkenazi Jew in town. Some of his neighbors turned on their heels when they saw him; others stared openly. Only at the end of his stay there did he find out that among Salonika's Jews it was common knowledge that all Askenazim earned their living as pimps or white slavers.



[From Shabtai Teveth's "Ben-Gurion, The Burning Ground, 1886-1948", p. 78; Ben-Gurion, later to become Israel's first prime minister, learned Turkish in Salonika in order to study law in Constantinople]




Next to us there is a group of Greeks, those admirable and terrible Jews of Salonika, tenacious, thieving, wise, ferocious and united, so determined to live, such pitiless opponents in the struggle for life; those Greeks who have conquered in the kitchens and in the yards, and whom even the Germans respect and the Poles fear. They are in their third year of camp, and nobody knows better than them what the camp means. They now stand closely in a circle, shoulder to shoulder, and sing one of their interminable chants.

Felicio the Greek knows me. `L'annee prochaine a la maison` he shouts at me, and adds: `a la maison par la Cheminee!` Felicio has been at Birkenau. And they continue to sing and beat their feet in time and grow drunk on songs.



[From Primo Levi's "Survival In Auschwitz", p. 71; more than 90% of Salonika's Jews perished during the Holocaust, and the city's Jewish cemetery was razed, giving way to Aristotle University and the International Fair]




Egnatia Street, August 6/19 1917: a postcard scene from the "Great Fire" that largely destroyed Jewish Salonika






Twenty five and half years later, Thessalonican Jews were marched to exile and death in Germany through the same street



ISRAEL, poem by Zoe Karelli lamenting the deportations of Thessalonican Jews

GHOST HOUSE, story by Lefteris Pissalidis about memories of war in a deserted Jewish home in Thessaloniki (in Greek)

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