Jewish Salonika is unique: the most cataclysmic and momentous event in its two thousand year history is its near total obliteration. The year 1943 CE witnessed unfathomable events of human annihilation that took place within the time frame of just a few months. These events have been only superficially researched. Such superficiality is exemplified in the research on the interplay of circumstances and powers that allowed them to take place and the degree and speed to which they occurred. At odds with such feeble research is the existence of documentary evidence demonstrating the bureaucratic efficiency of the perpetrators. Given such documentary evidence, the events of the Holocaust of the Jews of Salonika should be correlated with the history of the Community before and after the destruction. Proceeding in this manner should be done in keeping with the framework of concurrent Hellenic history in particular and European–world history in general. The inquiry partially catalyzing such a correlation is twofold: first, could more human beings have been saved and second, irrespective of the outcome, what was the moral standing of the Society at large? The latter, for objective purposes, can only be deduced by the behavior, attitude, actions, reactions and/or omissions of the non-Jewish community as a whole and as individuals before and after the Holocaust. Deducing as such must occur with cognizance. Mainly, there is difficulty in judging the behavior of bystanders when it is impossible to ascertain how the critic would have behaved under similar circumstances. Mindful of possible ambiguity, the general Holocaust calculus nevertheless has two parts: the first operation states that it takes only a few evil persons to assassinate many. The second operation states that many righteous humans may save, at most, a finite number of fellow beings.
Informed by such evidence and caveats, my objective is to present a glimpse of Jewish Thessaloniki with special emphasis to the Holocaust. This vast topic may be broadly divided into the following subtopics: 1) The history of Jewish Thessaloniki up to the Holocaust, 2) The Holocaust of the Jews of Thessaloniki and 3) The post war aftermath encompassing the current status and future of Jewish Thessaloniki in general and the preservation of the remnants of Sephardic heritage and traditions.
The goal to which I aspire is to provide a sequence of historical events and by so doing, to attempt to stimulate interest in further research. A cursory non-web or web based search lays bare both the surprising little we know, as well as the fact that scholarly or non-scholarly published work, in most instances, employs the repetition of a bare minimum of facts and data. Informed by such a reality, one might be tempted to believe that a particular subject especially that of the annihilation is taboo. Gaps in the historiography of Greece do a disservice both to the remaining Jewish Greeks in particular and the whole Hellenic nation in general. It is encouraging that research has recently accelerated, albeit at a slow pace. These endeavors are nevertheless a welcome step in the right direction. The main reason that research should accelerate at full speed is the inescapable reality of the biological attrition of the ranks of eyewitnesses and Holocaust survivors.3
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1. I start by wholeheartedly thanking Dr. Judith Roumani for her encouragement to engage in the necessary supplemental research for this work. I also thank her for agreeing to publish the narrative of my findings in the online academic journal Sephardic Horizons. This supplemental research and its narrative expand upon a 2006 endeavor of mine that employed the same title. Since then, two things occurred. Both necessitate a timely update of the contents irrespective of scope.. First, new publications, data, archival material, etc., have surfaced. Second and with greater personal resonance: Further reading, study, pertinent films and documentary viewing, and research as well as my recent pilgrimage to Auschwitz and Birkenau camps in Poland have reinforced my earlier convictions, corroborated my interpretive syntheses and refined particularly important topics. I will incorporate such personal resonances throughout the text corpus in the name of further enriching the narration and the affluence of details.
2. Born in Athens, Paul Hagouel holds a BE (summa cum laude) in electrical engineering from New York University (1973) and a PhD in electrical engineering and computer sciences from the University of California at Berkeley (1976) and is a retired engineer living in Salonika. He has published 35 papers in the field of electrical engineering (semiconductors) as well as on the history of the Jews of Greece, the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism. He is also a lecturer on the Holocaust in Greece and is the National (Greek) Delegate to the Academic Working Group (AWG) of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)- www.holocaustremembrance.com.
3. From this point onwards I use the Anglicized term Salonika instead of Thessaloniki.