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Greece--a Jewish History

Greece--a Jewish History

K. E. Fleming
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Greece--a Jewish History
    Book Description:

    K. E. Fleming's Greece--a Jewish History is the first comprehensive English-language history of Greek Jews, and the only history that includes material on their diaspora in Israel and the United States. The book tells the story of a people who for the most part no longer exist and whose identity is a paradox in that it wasn't fully formed until after most Greek Jews had emigrated or been deported and killed by the Nazis.

    For centuries, Jews lived in areas that are now part of Greece. But Greek Jews as a nationalized group existed in substantial number only for a few short decades--from the Balkan Wars (1912-13) until the Holocaust, in which more than 80 percent were killed. Greece--a Jewish History describes their diverse histories and the processes that worked to make them emerge as a Greek collective. It also follows Jews as they left Greece--as deportees to Auschwitz or émigrés to Palestine/Israel and New York's Lower East Side. In such foreign settings their Greekness was emphasized as it never was in Greece, where Orthodox Christianity traditionally defines national identity and anti-Semitism remains common.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3401-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-12)

    On October 26, 1914, Thomas Donnelly, justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, signed off on docket #4979–1914 C, legally certifying the incorporation of the “Jewish Community of Janina, Inc.” A parenthetical note explained the name to the court: “(Janina [is] the name of a town in Greece).” What was being incorporated was a “Greek Jewish group.” These notes were deceptively simple. For Janina (Jannina) had only been part of Greece for one year, and the idea of a “Greek Jew” was all but nonexistent—at least in Greece.

    In 1914, Jannina was home to...

  6. Part I Independence and Expansion

      (pp. 15-31)

      When the Greek War of Independence broke out in 1821, it was greeted by Western Europe and the United States as a noble battle for democratic freedom, signifying nothing short of the rebirth of the ancient Greeks so celebrated in the Western cultural tradition. As President James Monroe announced to Congress late in 1822, “The name of Greece fills the mind and heart with the highest and noblest sentiments … the reappearance of this people in its original character, fighting for its liberty … arouse[s] enthusiasm and sympathy everywhere in the United States.”¹ One of the realities of the Greek...

      (pp. 32-48)

      In the decades before and after the turn of the nineteenth century Greece doubled in size. Expansion, however, was not a smooth or uniform process. Different territories became Greek in different ways. After centuries of Ottoman rule, Thessaly (1881), Epirus (1913), Macedonia (1913), and Thrace (1920), along with many northern and eastern islands, passed directly from Ottoman to Greek hands during military territorial expansion. The Ionian Islands, in the Adriatic Sea off the west coast, were never Ottoman, going from Venetian, to French, to Russo-Turkish, to British control before being joined to Greece in 1864. The Greek Revolution (1862), combined...

  7. Part II The “Sephardic Republic”:: Salonika to 1923

    • Chapter 4 SALONIKA TO 1912
      (pp. 51-66)

      Greek Jewry, in the modern sense of the term—that is, Jewish citizens of the Greek nation-state—refers overwhelmingly to the Sephardic descendants of the Iberian expulsions, who settled in the Ottoman city of Salonika (Selânik) during the sixteenth century. On the eve of the Second World War, eight out of nine Greek Jews were Salonikan Sephardim. Yet Salonika’s Jews were Greek only for a brief time: from the 1912 annexation of the city in the Balkan Wars until early spring 1943, when the German occupying forces began their process of mass Jewish deportation to the death camps of northern...

    • Chapter 5 BECOMING GREEK: SALONIKA, 1912–23
      (pp. 67-88)

      In 1912, Salonika far surpassed what today would be called a multicultural city. With no one official language, close to half its 160,000-strong population was made up of Sephardic Jews, with the remaining half divided between Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Dönme (Jewish converts to Islam), Armenians, Slavs, Roma, and foreign nationals.² Dual nationality was commonplace, with up to a quarter of the city’s residents claiming legal status under more than one political regime. As a Western visitor wrote in 1918:

      Imagine a town where the languages commonly and regularly spoken are old Spanish, much adulterated, Greek, Turkish, Italian, Bulgarian, Serb, Roumanian,...

  8. Part III Normalization to Destruction

      (pp. 91-109)

      In a recently published memoir, Moisis Vourlas, a Greek-speaking Jew born in Egypt in 1918, writes of his family’s return in the early twentieth century to what he calls “mother Greece” (mitéra Elláda). Vourlas tells the story of a homework assignment he was given as a youth, in the 1920s after his family’s return “home”:

      As a homework exercise, the teacher had us write an essay on the topic of “homeland.” … I sat down in the afternoon, and from two until midnight, with the help of my two older sisters, who remembered better than I did our life in...

    • Chapter 7 Occupation and Deportation: 1941–44
      (pp. 110-144)

      A photograph from turn-of-the-century Crete shows a family gathered in their garden for their portrait.¹ They all sit somberly for the occasion, with the exception of the two young men in the upper left corner of the frame who mug for the camera, posing coquettishly behind a rosebush. Most of the men have bushy handlebar mustaches, in the Cretan style, and they hold Cretan instruments—bouzoukis and a fiddle. All wear modern dress, save for the patriarch, who sports a fez. In the front, kneeling in the dirt, are two small children, a boy and a girl. These children’s parents...

  9. Part IV “The Greeks”:: Greek Jews beyond Greece

      (pp. 147-165)

      Once in the cattle cars on the way north, even the most optimistic individuals realized that the outcome of their journey would not be a happy one.¹ One deportee from Salonika, who was fifteen when his family was shipped out on April 7, 1943, recounts his father’s last hopes fading away.

      It’s difficult for me to identify exactly when my father stopped thinking that they were taking us to central Europe to live under … Jewish civil democracy. Maybe it was when the soldiers shouted “Raus!” at us and beat us with clubs to make us get into the wagons?...

      (pp. 166-189)

      During the 1920s and 1930s, a fledging distinct Greek Jewish identity had emerged. The youngest generation particularly of Salonikan Jews, those who came of age under Venizélos and Metaxas, were culturally and ideologically more Hellenized than any generation before them. Greek Jews increasingly occupied diverse points on the political spectrum, rather than voting as a bloc, as had traditionally been the case. Almost all spoke Greek as well as Ladino. With increased secularization, and especially the loosening of dietary law and Sabbath observance, the social worlds of Jews and Christians were becoming intertwined. Counterhistorical speculation is tempting: Might Salonika have...

      (pp. 190-204)

      People who had just suffered a trauma of literally unimaginable proportions had little time to heal. Those who stayed in Greece had to compete with the acute needs of the general population, which had suffered immeasurably during the occupation. And those who went to Palestine were confronted with a chaotic and turbulent situation, a violent war between Jews and Arabs, and a Jewish Ashkenazic elite that would regard the Greek Jews with suspicion and as inferior.

      In the midst of the chaos of postwar Greece—utter poverty, a bloody civil war, and tremendous international pressure—its Jewish population was reduced,...

    (pp. 205-214)

    In Greece itself, the Greek Jew as a category has in past decades slowly found greater purchase. The five thousand Jews living in Greece today are active preserving and documenting their history, and advocating for Jewish rights in Greece. The Jewish community of Thessaloniki, the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki, and the Jewish Museum of Greece, in Athens, all issue regular publications, and the efforts of Greek Jewish groups within and outside Greece have recently led the Greek government to acknowledge the contributions of Greek Jews to Greek history, and to commemorate the devastating losses the community suffered in the Holocaust....

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 215-264)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 265-271)