A haunt­ing mem­oir of Salonica

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

EVOK­ING WITH haunt­ing ac­cu­racy the sights, sounds and smells of Salonica around the turn of the 20th cen­tury, Leon Sci­aky charts the chang­ing for­tunes of his ex­tended Jewish fam­ily of traders in Farewell to Salonica (Haus Pub­lish­ing, £16.99), a mem­oir com­posed at the end of the Sec­ond World War.

The Sci­akys were de­scen­dants of Sephardic Jews from Spain who spoke Ladino, the Span­ish di­alect of­ten re­ferred to as “the Yid­dish of the Sephardim”.

Jews had lived in Salonica since the time of Alexan­der the Great. The main burst of im­mi­gra­tion fol­lowed the ex­pul­sion from Spain in the 15th cen­tury. The Sul­tan of Turkey or­dered the Salonica au­thor­i­ties to wel­come the Jews with kind­ness and to ex­tend ev­ery as­sis­tance to them, re­mark­ing that Ferdinand of Spain “im­pov­er­ishes his coun­try to en­rich mine”. Some 25,000 Jews came to Salonica from Spain and Por­tu­gal. At its peak, the city had a Jewish pop­u­la­tion of 40,000.

Salonica was the vir­tual Jewish cap­i­tal of the Ot­toman Em­pire. For cen­turies, Jews lived in a cos­mopoli­tan com­mu­nity, along­side Mus­lims and Chris­tians, in rel­a­tive har­mony. The Mus­lim pres­ence ended with the tri­umph of the Greek na­tion­al­ist move­ment. Many of the Jews re­mained un­til the catas­tro­phe of the Holo­caust.

Sci­aky’s fa­ther Salo­man took his fam­ily to Amer­ica in 1915, leav­ing his beloved grand­fa­ther Nono be­hind.

Sci­aky says “most of my friends had al­ready left Salonica, oth­ers were pre­par­ing to scat­ter far and wide”. He con­cludes that, al­though for a while his fam­ily longed to re­turn, “there can be no re­turn to the past”. Nev­er­the­less, his book brings it back to life. JEREMY KU­PER

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.