Thessaloniki has acquired the title ‘Refugee City’ numerous times in the past and, not surprisingly, it remains as such to this very day following the present-day humanitarian crisis in Syria. Throughout its long history, the city has been populated by Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Slavs, Franks and many more ethnic groups. This article is dedicated to the city’s Jewish past.
Following the Spanish inquisition established by the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella I in the late 15th century, Jewish population fled Spanish-controlled territories in big numbers to avoid persecution. Originally, some 3,800 arrived in Thessaloniki where they formed the third largest ethnic group of the city preceded only by the muslims, 8,500, and the Greek Orthodox, 8,000. By 1519, however, Jewish population increased rapidly by newcomers. Accounting, approximately, 15,700 people, the Jews became the most populous ethnic group to be found in the city, representing 54% of the total population.
In time, Thessaloniki became one of the largest Jewish populated cities in the world which left the city with the nickname ‘Mother of Israel’. Such was the success of the Jewish population in the city, that in 1912, following the liberation of the city against the Ottomans by the Greeks, the Austrian government argued in favour of the creation of a state with Thessaloniki as its capital that would be not Ottoman, not Greek but Jewish!
However, things changed dramatically in the 20th century. In August 18, 1917, a fire crippled the city and left more than 70,000 people homeless, more than half of which were Jewish. Due to this tragic event, the majority of the Jewish population abandoned the city. Some years later, WWII started and Thessaloniki fall victim of the German army which, among other monstrosities, systematically seeked the extermination of the remaining Jewish population of the city.
Ithout its Jewish population, the city has progressively lost most of the traits that were pointing toward its Jewish past. Nowadays, only a handful of buildings remain to remind us of this past. However, comprehending this part of Thessaloniki’s past is not only important from a historian’s perspective but to anyone who wish to understand the city’s unique identity. Thessaloniki was the home for numerous multicultural groups of people who lived harmoniously for centuries and each one flourished in its own way within this diverse environment.
Recently, we stumbled across an app that we ,hereby, presenting you which allows the users to get access to information regarding all major visible and “invisible” Jewish monuments of the city. Salonica Jewish Legacy, was created by Ready Labs Inc. with the collaboration of the Embassies of Canada, Germany and Israel, the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki, the City of Thessaloniki and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University. It is available on appstore for free. Find more information on http://thessalonikijewishlegacy.com/index.html.