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The Jewish Community of Salonika: The End of a Long History Anthony Molho Brown University In memory of Flora Hasson Molho (1875-1969) Una descrizione di Zaira quale è oggi dovrebbe conteneré tutto il passato di Zaira. Ma la città non dice il suo passato, lo contiene come le linee d' una mano, scritto negli spigoli délie vie, nelle griglie délie finestre, neglie scorrimano délie scale, nelle antenne dei parafulmini, nelle äste délie bandiere, ogni segmento rigato a sua volta di graffi, seghettature, intagli, svirgole. ítalo Calvino, Le città invisibili (Torino: Einaudi, 1972), 18-191 Salonika, Greece's second-largest city, does not often attract the world's attention. Neither its scenic setting at the head of a natural bay across which, on clear days, one can discern the outlines ofMount Olympus, nor its numerous and beautiful Byzantine churches, nor even its easy access to attractive seaside resorts seem to offer much incentive to outside visitors. Occasionally, some spectacular event, if only momentarily, focuses the world's attention on the city. This happened in 1948, during the Greek civil war, with the assassination—why and by whom remain unclear—of the American journalist John Polk. Then, in 1963, another murder once again put the city's name in the headlines ofthe international press, when George Lambrakis, a Greek deputy of the Left, was murdered by a gang of rightwing thugs. In the past 25 years, the city, largely ignored by outside observers, has been transformed by modern prosperity. Nearly doubled in size, its population now is about to surpass one million people. Its streets are clogged by constantly chaotic and noisy traffic, and pollution, although not quite at the levels of Athens or Mexico City, has, on occasion, posed a health hazard to the city's inhabitants. A building boom fueled by vast quantities of speculative capital has resulted in the destruction of well over half the city's older buildings and their replacement by modern, tall structures which now dominate its skyline. The surrounding hills, which less than 30 years ago were quiet oases of small pine forests, now look scarred, mutilated by everexpanding residential neighborhoods. This transformation echoes changes experienced by other ancient cities along the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East. In this sense, Salonika 's emergence from an important provincial city to an urban metropo100 The Jewish Community of Salonika lis is far from unique: Athens, Izmir, Alexandria, Tunis, Catania have shared the same experience. In each ofthese cities change was welcomed for the material advantage it brought to vast numbers of people. Yet, at the same time, in all ofthem, the past quarter ofa century has exacted a heavy cultural and psychological toll. In the case of Salonika, perhaps the most far-reaching, if also the most intangible, of these costs has been the loss of its inhabitants' historical memory. The demolition of the very physical structures of the city's older urban landscape stands at once as an expression and a cause of this loss. Today, the past is remembered much less well in Salonika than one might imagine. While it is true that the construction of an attractive archaeological museum to house the spectacular finds of Pella and Vergina has made the city's classical heritage easily accessible, it is no small irony that a much more recent chapter in Salonika's history has been almost entirely obliterated from the collective consciousness. Spanning more than four centuries, from 1492 to its dramatic and painful conclusion in 1943, this chapter was written, above all, by Salonika's Jews. Of course, students of Jewish history have known all along of this city's Jewish community. Not a year goes by without the publication of at least one learned article on some aspect of Salonikan Jewish history. On the whole, this is the fare of specialists. The wider knowledge that large numbers of Jews lived for a long time in that part of the world, that they made substantial contributions to Jewish learning and to the society in whose midst they prospered, that from the end of the fifteenth to the middle of the twentieth centuries Salonika was the Jewish city par excellence...


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