Agronsky Finds Saloniki Jewish Quarter After Pogrom Looks Like Hebron Following Riots

What my eyes have seen in the devastated Campbell section (poorest Jewish quarter razed by fire on June 29), where soldiers have been busy in the last few days clearing away wreckage and nailing up doors and windows of deserted homes, was powerfully reminiscent of Hebron in 1929.

Even approach to the Jewish quarter, as forbidding as Hebron after the riots, and permission to inspect the ruins, was refused me until I armed myself with a pass from the governor himself. Of the spacious synagogue only a charred brick frame remains, and miraculously too the vast wooden Aron Kodesh which sustained no damage greater than discoloration from flames and smoke. But the Aron Kodesh itself is empty, vandals having removed and desecrated the Sefer Torahs whose shredded and defiled remains are deposited with the chief rabbi.

Here and there, clambering over the burned floors, I found, and showed to two armed officers who constituted my escort, bottles which contained kerosene and benzine with which the fire was started when 2,000 rioters swooped down on 200 defenseless Jewish families whom they surrounded and imprisoned.

DESTRUCTION THOROUGH

The Bikur Cholim Clinic might easily have been the Hadassah Clinic in Hebron. So thorough was the destruction that it is not surprising that after a night of terror the pharmacist in charge became almost deranged. Like the Hadassah Clinic in Hebron, this Bikur Cholim Clinic ministered to the entire suburban neighborhood, including the Calamaria quarter whence the attackers came and where thus far only five have been arrested.

Complete thoroughness marked the destruction of the school house on the walls of which election placards in Judeo-Spanish remain with a photograph of a Venizelist candidate, for the Saloniki Jews are good Venizelists. It is true that only 11 barracks were burned but it is equally true that not one house remains intact for what the flames did not encompass the hooligans managed to smash.

Within 50 yards of the burned synagogue is a bakery belonging to two Christians. The only one in the Jewish quarter to whom I spoke was the partner of Leonides Papas, one of the owners of the bakery who was fatally wounded by a bullet. Papas’ partner was puzzled for the Jews of the Campbell quarter were his and his late partner’s friends. Why then was the quarter invaded and why should Papas have lost his life, he wanted to know. The answer is because he refused to join the invaders against his customers and friends.

POGROM UNLEASHED

From what I have seen in the Campbell quarter, I am forced to the conclusion that there was a pogrom with all the passions and fury unleashed behind it. But if mercifully the Greek hooligans did not achieve a wholesale carnage it is not because the spirit was not there but because the flesh was weaker, for after all Greeks are not Arabs and Saloniki Jews are not Hebron rabbinical students.

Beds on the pulpit of the Beth Shaul Synagogue-the only Jewish sanctuary surviving the June 29 fire-beds instead of pews which were removed, cooking utensils instead of praying shawls and phylacteries, the wail of the homeless and of children instead of the orderly Sephardic chanting-these are the sights and sounds that greet the visitor to the house of prayer where 50 families from the Campbell quarter fled, and where perhaps for the first time since the synagogue was built in 1896 no services were held Saturday because of the refugees.

But the privations of congestion pale when the refugees one after another begin unfolding the frightful story of the night of terror of last Monday. Bullets lodged in chairs. Bullets riddled the oilcloth on tables. The owner of one such chair gave the police 27 empty cartridges.

Simeon Revah and his terror-stricken wife describe the death of their two-year old child, flung on the floor by the hooligans. Moshe Alwo shows were a bullet struck him and tells how he was stunned by a blow from a club. A war veteran, one of 5,000 Jewish reservists in Saloniki, recounts how he hurled himself on the ground with his wife and children crouching beside him to avoid the hail of bullets as he watched him house go up in flames.

NO WORK AVAILABLE

Dozens of men speaking simultaneously say no work is to be had since the trouble began. Another declares the police took sticks from the Jews when the military were unable to overpower the rioters. Yet another tells of how the fire-fighting apparatus was delayed an hour because of a torn-up road.

A deaf and dumb girl pathetically shows a broken mirror. Women nursing infants point to a solitary garment with no other clothing for change. A Russian woman, a Seventh Day Adventist, married to a Caucasian Jew, says she never knew a pogrom in Russia and now wants to return there. Another woman complains her husband is under arrest because three knives were found near him, left there, she has no doubt, by the invaders. A horror-stricken mother recalls that her baby was placed in a trunk with the intention of abandoning it to the flames, but happily it was discovered in time.

Everywhere in the synagogue and the school of the Alliance Israelite there are subdued voices and lowered eyes over the violation of four or five women whose men folks were beaten senseless, facts with which mercifully only the rabbinate is entrusted.

“No Campbell,” was the chorus of replies to my question whether the refugees would return whence they came. “You see it is the front where the enemy was more brutal than I have even seen” a Jewish veteran of the Greek Nationalist army explains.

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