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40 years of active presence

Sunday, October 1, 2023

    Views of Cosmopolitan Thessaloniki: The Postcards of the Beza family


    This collection is a family inheritance of the family of Mr. Joseph Florentin, discovered in the home of his grandmother when she passed away in 2002. Recently, he kindly donated it to the JMG. It consists of 318 postcards, sent mainly by Isaac M. Beza, (the father of his step-grandfather) who was a commercial agent in Thessaloniki, from various commercial centres and cities, where he travelled on business. They were addressed to his wife, Fortuné (or Fortunata) and his children Lucie, Alfred, Sarina, Irma and Alberto. Also included are many postcards sent by business associates and friends from various parts of the world to the Beza family, who maintained residences in Thessaloniki, Constantinople and, after World War II, Athens.

    The photographs on these rare postcards, of public buildings, grand hotels, synagogues, Zeppelin airships and city panoramas, show the admiration and pride of the people of that time in architecture, urban planning and the advancement of technology.

    The commercial, friendly and family correspondence on the postcards describes not only a part of the life of a typical Sephardic merchant from Thessaloniki, with his daily difficulties in long journeys (by ship and train), his concerns for his health and family, but also exemplifies the multilingualism, secularism and extensive network of Sephardic merchants, with Jewish and non-Jewish businesses, in the Ottoman Empire, Europe and the Balkans, in the early 20th century. In addition, the correspondence vividly reflects the historical events and general living conditions of half a century from 1899 to 1949.

    Their relatively short delivery time, which usually does not exceed 20 days, is also impressive. Today, a postcard or letter within Europe takes between one and three months to be delivered to its recipient. So much for progress…

    Many of the stamps of the postcards have been carefully removed by cutting out, apparently by a collector, often obliterating the postmark as well, making accurate dating difficult.

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