The central question in the history of Greek Jews is whether they are part of the country and its heritage or historical flotsam that arrived on Greece's shores. Until recently, historians ignored Greek Jews and treated the Holocaust in Greece as of little concern to Greek history. Although popular and official opinion in Greece rejects the notion that the Jews are truly Greek, the books under review are part of a growing literature that incorporates the Jews into Greek history.
The focus of this research is Salonika (Thessaloniki). For most of its modern history, the city had a distinctly Jewish character derived from the longstanding presence of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. Public life in Salonika, for example, ran on a Jewish calendar, with economic activity largely suspended during Jewish holidays; Judeo-Spanish was in fact the main language. In October 1912, Greek troops captured this Jewish majority city and its Orthodox Christian hinterland. The resulting tension between the Greek government, which was unsure of its grip on Salonika and Macedonia, and the Salonika Jews is a theme of these three books. An important aspect of the political struggle for Salonika was anti-Semitism among the Greek Christians, an issue that both Orly Meron and Rena Molho confront directly but which many historians have avoided.
Meron's book is an original and exhaustive examination of how Jewish enterprises responded to the upheavals that began in 1912. The Balkan Wars and World War I interrupted the dramatic economic and industrial growth that had begun in Salonika during the late Ottoman era. The flourishing Jewish economy lost its markets and faced hostility from the Greek government and from sectors of the Greek Christian population. Salonika went from being the second most important port in the Ottoman Empire to being the second most important port in Greece after Piraeus. Salonika's Jewish-dominated [End Page 593] economy lost markets to the north and east because, among other reasons, firms were unable to collect from debtors who were now on the other side of new international borders.
Although the presence of the Allied armies during World War I (including this author's great-grandfather) provided a temporary respite, Greek rule, according to Meron, restructured the Jewish economy. The Greek government reneged on its promise to allow the Jews to work on Sunday so that they could close on Saturday and observe the Sabbath. Many Jews turned to self-employment in order to avoid unemployment. The Jewish economy became less comprehensive, encompassing fewer activities. Meron uses bank records to argue that Christians ousted Jews from the tobacco business, for example. Similarly, Jews became less involved in energy and public utilities, such as electricity, gas, water, and petrol, as well as in construction because official connections were required. Jews also left subsectors of the economy that were under Christian control: Christian-owned firms took control of the grain and flour industry, and Jews sold their brewing interests.
Meron deliberately focuses on the Jewish-dominated sectors of the economy because, she argues, previous work has hidden the impact of Greek state discrimination on them. She provides approximately 100 pages of information on Jewish firms and analyses of economic sectors and subsectors according to ethnicity. She has examined bank records to discover important details about Jewish enterprises. Although the Jewish economy became more concentrated, Jews kept control over significant activities. Jewish firms remained the most important in Salonika's export of such cash crops as opium and silkworm cocoons, the import of luxury products, insurance, and international commercial services. Jews also took to new endeavors, such as importing typewriters as well as photographic and cinema equipment. For example, one Salonika Jew, Saby Nissim Mallah...