Salonica (Jun. 26)
The situation in Salonica continues serious. The press is glorifying the anti-Jewish students who led the mob in their attack on the Maccabee Jewish Sports Club (reported in yesterday’s J.T.A. Bulletin), and calls them national heroes. During the night many houses in the two Jewish quarters were bombarded with stones. All the Jewish institutions in Salonica are heavily guarded and present the appearance of besieged fortresses. Anti-Jewish threats are heard on all sides and the anti-Jewish boycott campaign is in full swing. So far no serious damage has been done, but feeling is tense, and the Jewish population is afraid of the consequences of the violent anti-Jewish agitation in progress.
A strongly-worded joint petition, signed by all the Jewish communal authorities and all the Jewish organisations and clubs, has been presented to the Government and to Parliament by Deputy Bessantchi, one of the Jewish representatives in Parliament, demanding the punishment of all concerned in the anti-Jewish outbreak, both instigators and participants.
The Government must take drastic measures to punish the guilty, the petition says, and must make itself responsible for the protection of Jewish life and property. The local authorities, including the Governor of Salonica, it complains, are weak in face of the agitation, and some highly-placed persons, like the Director of the Press Bureau in Salonica, are actually encouraging the antisemites. We demand that he should be removed from his post, it says, because the official position which he occupies makes his attitude one of great danger for the Jewish population. The petition further complains that the police always manage to arrive too late on the scene, when the damage has already been done.
The Prime Minister, M. Venizelos, issued a statement this morning severely condemning the anti-Jewish agitation and declaring that the agitators are bringing discredit upon Greece. The position of the Jews of Salonica was economically better under the Turks than now, he says, and it could not, therefore, be expected that they would receive the Greeks with open arms. But to-day the Jews of Salonica are loyal and patriotic Greek citizens, and gradually they will assimilate.
All the other party have followed the Premier’s example by issuing similar statements, condemning the anti-Jewish movement.
A violent anti-Jewish agitation was carried on in Salonica in 1928, when much concern was aroused among the Jewish population by the publication of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in two of the most important newspapers in the city, the Venizelist “Makedonia” and the Royalist paper “Phos”. In response to protests from the Jewish side, the “Makedonia” claimed that the publication was not for antisemitic reasons but to present the important document in question to its readers and that it was ready to print a Jewish refutation of the “Protocols”. The “Phos”, for its part, claimed that the publication was for reasons of business competition against the “Makedonia” and expressed itself also willing to print the Jewish point of view. Appeals were made to the Governor-General and to the Government, but before any action was taken the publication of the “Protocols” was concluded. About the same time an outcry was raised over an allegation that the Jews in Greece were spreading Bolshevik ideas, which was attributed to the Prefect of one of the districts, Evrou, which is near the Bulgarian and Turkish borders, in presenting a recommendation to the Government that Jews should be expelled from his area and should be prohibited from travelling there. Deputy Bessantchi raised the matter with the Government, but was told that there was no need to be alarmed, since the Government did not intend to act on the recommendation. The Government refused, however, to entertain any suggestion of dismissing or transferring any official because of his opinions. Deputy Bessantchi complained in his paper, “L’Independant”, that the assurance that the recommendation would not be acted on did not alter the fact that the Prefect of Evrou was an antisemite and that the Jews living in the area under his jurisdiction were in danger of persecution.
Salonica was at one time one of the great Jewish centres of the world, with its Jewish inhabitants numbering as centres of the world, with its Jewish inhabitants numbering as many as 150,000, constituting the largest and most important section of the population. Jews were represented there in all occupations, and a particularly large number of Salonica Jews were boatmen, dockers and lightermen. The Jewish community used to enjoy some degree of self-government and the Jewish Sabbath was generally observed, the entire trade of the city being suspended on Saturdays.
The influx of Greek refugees from Asia Minor since the city has become part of Greece has depressed the economic situation of the Jews, the Greek refugees working as artisans, carriers, small traders, dockers and casual labourers, and depriving many Jews of their livelihoods, so that there has been a large emigration of Jews, and a great reduction in the Jewish numbers down to less than 50,000. In addition, the Jewish population has never recovered from the disastrous fire of 1917 in which 36 synagogues and 12 schools and hundreds of houses were destroyed, the majority of the Jewish householders losing the greater part of their possessions, which were mostly uninsured.