The Jews of Salonika at the death camps

I wrote here about the rich, unique history of Thessaloniki, Greece. For more than four centuries, this was a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious city on the edge of Europe. Ottomans ran it. Jews, who made up at least half of the population, dominated the economic life. Orthodox Christians rounded things out.

For those interested in learning more, I recommend this post by Neo. She focuses on the Jewish history of Salonika, as the city was known during the centuries when Jews speaking Ladino (Spanish as spoken when the Jews were expelled from Spain) were the leading presence, to the point that the city was nicknamed la madre de Israel (mother of Israel).

Neo also calls attention to Primo Levi’s portrait of the Greek Jews he encountered at Auschwitz. I was not aware of Levi’s grim but fascinating account.

As noted in my post, the Nazis exterminated 96 percent of Thessaloniki’s Jewish population. Most died in transit to death camps or were murdered upon arrival. However, those who survived these stages became, according to Levi, “the most coherent national nucleus. . .and in this respect, the most civilized” in the death camps.

An essay about Levi’s portrait of the Jews of Salonika can be found here.

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