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Book Notes: The Jewish Community of Salonica. History, Memory, Identity, Bea Lewkowicz

John Cooper

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Book Notes The Jewish Community of Salonika. History, Memory, Identity, Bea Lewkowicz (London: Vallentine Mitchell 2006) isbn 85303-580-6, pp. xxii and 266, ?20-00. Until 1923, when there was an influx of Greek refugees from Asia Minor, Jews constituted the majority of the population of the city of Salonica, and still numbered 56,500 persons in 1939. Most were descendants of Sephardim who had fled from Spain in 1492. Before the Second World War the Jews lived in compact neighbourhoods, went to Jewish schools or, if they were wealthy, attended French or Italian secular schools. The men were active in the synagogue and communal life and the women prepared special Sephardi dishes for the Sabbath and festivals. Working-class fami? lies spoke Ladino, a variant of Spanish, while wealthy Jews were more likely to be French or Italian speaking. Few Jews mixed with Greeks. Between 46,000 and 48,000 Jews from Salonica were deported by the Germans in 1943 and 1944 to concentration camps, most of whom perished. Some 3500 Salonican Jews tried to hide in Athens, others fled to Greek islands or nearby villages, still others took to the mountains as parti? sans. Like Mazower in Salonica City of Ghosts (2004), Lewkowicz is not critical enough of the Greek Orthodox Christian inhabitants of the city, who were indifferent to Jews being forced to live in ghettoes and who plun? dered their property. The cooperation of Greeks facilitated the murder of Jews by the Nazis, but Lewkowicz was reluctant to press the elderly Holocaust survivors whom she interviewed on this point. Nor is it suffi? ciently emphasized that it was Greek municipal workers who in 1942 destroyed the ancient Jewish cemetery containing some 350,000 graves. Today the grounds of this important Jewish cultural monument are occu? pied by the University of Thessaloniki and, as Lewkowicz points out, there is no Jewish memorial at the site. At times Lewkowicz's historical narrative can be thin, particularly in her depiction of the Jews in pre-Second World War Salonica. Lewkowicz cites Aleida Assmann to show how the Second World War ruptured the continu? ity of the generations of Salonica's Jews and converted the city into a place of commemoration and memory. Only 1950 Jews registered in the city in 1945, and since then the Jewish population has declined still further. In turn, Jewish identity has become attenuated and there was 'a process which involved a change from being Jewish to merely feeling Jewish'. Although representatives of the Greek state and Church attended Holocaust remem berance services, these remained for a long time communal and private. The attitude of the state is slowly changing, but no awareness of the massive past Jewish presence in the city has been incorporated into the standard city tour. 294</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes The book by Lewkowicz is nevertheless a useful addition to the literature on the Jews of Salonica, bearing in mind some of the criticism expressed above. Jfohn Cooper</page></plain_text>