Knowledge of Hebrew Widespread in Salonica, Leading Jewish Center in Balkans; Economic Conditions Ba
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Knowledge of Hebrew Widespread in Salonica, Leading Jewish Center in Balkans; Economic Conditions Ba

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In Greece, where until the first Balkan War only about eight or ten thousand Jews lived scattered among two and a half million Greeks, there are today about 100,000 Jews, including from 60 to 70 thousand in the city of Salonica alone. There are three Jewish representatives in the Greek parliament, Deputies Bessantschi and Matalon and Senator Asher Mallach, who is at the same time president of the Zionist Organization of Greece. All of them were elected in Salonica upon a Zionist platform and they also appear in parliament as the representatives of the Zionist cause. At the present moment they are standing with the government party and have recently received several concessions from Premier Venizelos with regard to Jewish schools.

In Athens there are about 2,000 Jews, most of whom have come there from Salonica, Constantinople and Smyrna. By profession they are merchants and brokers. They are very indifferent to spiritual matters. There are no signs of any Jewish life among them, to say nothing of Zionist activities. One can hardly find a Jew who talks and understands Hebrew. Besides Kavalla, where the Jewish community numbers about 6,000 souls, there are also small Jewish communities in Drama, Serres and Xanthi.


When one speaks of Judaism in Greece one really means Salonica where the Jews, not only because of their numbers but also because of their achievements in a cultural, national and humanitarian way, play a prominent role. Although Salonica too isn’t what it was once, what it was under Turkish rule when the Jews formed a majority of the city population and with the power of numbers and prosperity virtually ruled the city, nevertheless Salonica, even today, is one of the most important Jewish centers inthe Balkans.

The Zionist Organization is quite strong there, counting a membership of 3,000. These are divided into Mizrachists, General Zionists and Revisionists. The Mizrachi is the strongest group of the three. There are no anti-Zionists in Salonica.

There is quite a widespread knowledge of the Hebrew language, together with the Sephardic Ladino, in Salonica. For me the Hebrew language was the only means of communicating with them. There are about a dozen Jewish schools where Ladino and Hebrew are the languages of instruction and a number of Hebrew kindergartens, which are led by a Palestinian young lady from Metullah. The Hebrew-speaking club meets every Saturday, when lectures and discussions are conducted under the chairmanship of Deputy Bessantschi and Mr. Florentin. The economic situation of the Jews of Salonica is extremely unfavorable.

Because of the Hellenization of the city, many Jewish businesses were ruined and many Jews have been forced to emigrate, among them the famous “Hamale,” or Jewish dockyard workers, who were strict Sabbath observers. No ship that entered the Salonica harbor on the Sabbath at that time could unload its cargo on that day. Today there is no more “Hamale.” Almost all of these harbor workers have emigrated or have taken to other occupations. The rest, who still cling to their jobs at the dockyards, must work on Saturday.

After the great fire of 1917, which laid waste the entire Jewish quarter of Salonica, together with the great Central Synagogue, which was one of the landmarks of the near East, and 70 other synagogues, the Jewish quarters were built. Each one of these now has a synagogue, a school and a kindergarten. The largest of these quarters I visited in the company of the Zionist leader, David Florentin. It is located on the land which the Italian section of the Eastern armies of the Allies occupied during the World War, and stretches over an area of 1,200 hectares. Here about 900 homes have been built during the past few years, in which about 5,000 people live. The entire quarter is the property of the Jewish Community, which rents the homes. It contains, besides a synagogue, school and kindergarten, also a large hospital, which was erected years ago with the money furnished by the Ica. It is also worth mentioning that in this section there is a thoroughfare called Nordau Street. However, this street was not so named to honor the great Zionist leader, Max Nordau, but another Nordau who was a great Greek patriot.

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