Thessaloniki, also known as ‘Mother of Israel’ (Madre de Israel) was the metropolis of the Mediterranean Jews. The population of the community, which in several periods of the city’s history constituted the majority of its cosmopolitan mix of Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Franks and Slavs, defined the city’s atmosphere and was responsible for its characteristic air.
The presence of Jews in the city since the antiquity, as well as the large numbers of Sephardic Jews, who arrived there at the end of the 15th century, shaped the city’s urban landscape. The Jews of Thessaloniki lived all over the city, depending on their occupation and financial means. Thus, one would find the dirt-poor harbour workers in the western neighbourhoods, near the harbour, whereas the affluent upper middle class made their homes in the suburb of Exohes – Las Kampanias. The latter make up the majority of local survivors of the Holocaust, thus making the collection of testimonies today somewhat unbalanced, since it is hard to find survivors from the former.
Historic circumstances, such as the great fire of 1917, which destroyed the centre of the city, forcing many Jews to move to settlements on the outskirts of the city, such as the Campbell quarter, contributed to the shaping of this particular urban picture. These quarters, although clearly defined, never functioned as ghettos, since they always included residents of different ethnic backgrounds. They would only assume this function during the German Occupation, as part of the conquerors’ plan to arrest and annihilate in its entirety this unique and historically important part of the city’s population.
Today, there are unfortunately very few traces left of the former vibrant presence of Jews in the city, which has now lost one of the most important and cosmopolitan parts of its population.
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