The Jewish community of Thessaloniki: An exploration of memory and identity in a Mediterranean city.
Topics: Ethnography, Memory, Oral History and Biography, Jewish Community, Sephardi Jews, Main Topic: Identity and Community
Abstract: This study is an ethnographic account of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki and a description and analysis of oral histories gathered during my fieldwork in 1994. The thesis looks at the intersection of history, memory, and identity by analysing how identities and memories are shaped by historical experiences and how identities shape memories of historical experiences. Thessaloniki has undergone tremendous changes in the twentieth century. The demographic, political, and architectural landscape has radically altered. In the context of my thesis, the most relevant changes concern the ethnic and religious composition of Thessaloniki's population, the city's incorporation into the Greek nation-state (1912), the subsequent introduction of nationalism, and the annihilation of 48,000 Salonikan Jews during the Second World War. The thesis explores how these historical changes and 'events' are represented in individual narratives of Jews in Thessaloniki and in the realm of Jewish communal memory, how these historical changes have affected the formulations of Jewish communal and individual identity and memory, and how Jewish memory relates to the general landscape of memory in contemporary Greece. In chapters one and two, I discuss the theoretical framework and methodology of this thesis. Discussions on ethnicity, nationalism, memory, and certain themes of the 'anthropology of Greece' form the theoretical background of this study. The methodology applied consists of ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviewing. Chapter three presents a historical overview of the history of Thessaloniki and its Jewish community, and discusses the position of minorities in contemporary Greece. I describe the current structure and organisation of the community and look at some demographic developments of the Salonikan Jewish population in chapter four. I then proceed to a detailed account of the interviews which constitutes the main part of the thesis. Chapter five deals with the pre-war past, chapters six and seven with the experience of the war, and chapter eight with the post-war period. In chapter nine I look at perception of boundaries and notions of 'us' and 'them' among Salonikan Jews. In the conclusions, I examine the changes of post-war Jewish memorial practices in the context of the changing 'memory-scape' of the city of Thessaloniki.