The Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty of Saloni­ka: His­to­ry, Mem­o­ry, Identity

Bea Lewkow­icz
  • Review
By – December 12, 2011

The fate of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Saloni­ka, as well as that of the 100,000 Jews from the pre-World War II Greek world, is no longer over­looked, and is regard­ed today as a major part of Holo­caust doc­u­men­ta­tion. Trag­i­cal­ly, Greece lost 96 per­cent of its Jew­ry. Saloni­ka itself had at one time 80,000 Jews, most of whom were sent to their deaths by the Ger­man occu­pa­tion. Incred­i­bly, the post­war com­mu­ni­ty of Saloni­ka itself chose not to acknowl­edge the for­mer exis­tence or the his­to­ry of the mur­dered Jews until the ear­ly 1990’s.

Bea Lewkow­icz, her­self a child of Holo­caust sur­vivors, was raised in Ger­many, stud­ied in Cam­bridge and Cologne, earn­ing a Ph.D. from the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics. A cul­tur­al anthro­pol­o­gist, she focused her ear­li­er research in Saloni­ka in 1989 on young Jews, hop­ing to avoid by exten­sive ques­tion­ing her becom­ing the source of pain or dis­com­fort” to the old­er peo­ple, the war survivors 

The book’s chap­ter His­tor­i­cal and Polit­i­cal Back­ground” serves to high­light the very ear­ly and lat­er out­stand­ing eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al con­tri­bu­tions of the Sephardic, Roman­iot, and oth­er eth­nic­i­ties of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in Saloni­ka. It is in the chap­ters Nar­ra­tives of Return and Recon­struc­tion,” and Iden­ti­ties and Bound­aries” that Lewkow­icz demon­strates her strength as an oral his­to­ri­an. This book is the prod­uct of Lewkowicz’extensive 1994 inquiry which pro­duced the nar­ra­tives that describe and uncov­er notions of iden­ti­ty and mem­o­ry among [all] gen­er­a­tions of Jews in Saloni­ka, which have been formed in agree­ment, oppo­si­tion and com­pe­ti­tion with oth­er dis­cours­es about the past and the Jews in Greece.” 

Lewkow­icz treats all of her data with great respect and dili­gence, sort­ing through the remark­able threads of mem­o­ry of the Salonikans, mem­o­ry buffered by time, sear­ing pain, and the desire to for­get the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Saloni­ka” — an out­stand­ing work. 

Ruth Seif is a retired chair­per­son of Eng­lish at Thomas Jef­fer­son High School in NYC. She served as admin­is­tra­tor in the alter­na­tive high school division.

Discussion Questions