The Thessaloniki Association ‘White Tower’ held a lecture last Sunday on the history of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki, delivered by Dean Kalimniou. The lecture was part of the annual events organised by the association in order to commemorate the liberation of the city from the Ottomans and the sisterhood between it and the city of Melbourne.
In his lecture Dean Kalimniou presented an overview of the Jewish presence in Thessaloniki, which as he said, draws its origins from Hellenistic Alexandria and said that like present day Melbourne, Thessaloniki has historically served as a mosaic and melting pot of different cultures, while also being a refuge for various persecuted groups.
Amongst others he argued that Jewish groups fleeing persecution in Western and Central Europe during Byzantine times settled in Thessaloniki and that it was because of the precedent established by the toleration afforded to them in that city that the Spanish Jews decided to migrate there en masse in 1492 in order to escape persecution.
By the end of the nineteenth century, so prominent was the Jewish community of Thessaloniki that it comprised fifty per cent of the total population of the city. The shrinking of the community to its present size was directly as a result of the Nazi occupation of the city.
It is worth noting that, as Dean Kalimniou said, some 12,000 members of the Jewish community had fought in the Greek army in order to combat the fascist invaders, while valiant but unsuccessful efforts were made by the populace and the clergy of Thessaloniki to save the community. As a result of the deportations to the concentration camps, only 4 per cent of the pre-war population of the community survived, with most survivors emigrating to Israel.
It is worth noting that the members of the Thessaloniki Association have now resolved to institute an annual event commemorating the Jews of Thessaloniki, with the participation of the Jewish community of Melbourne.