1st Edition

The Holocaust in Thessaloniki Reactions to the Anti-Jewish Persecution, 1942–1943

By Leon Saltiel Copyright 2020
    268 Pages 26 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    268 Pages 26 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The book narrates the last days of the once prominent Jewish community of Thessaloniki, the overwhelming majority of which was transported to the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in 1943.

    Focusing on the Holocaust of the Jews of Thessaloniki, this book maps the reactions of the authorities, the Church and the civil society as events unfolded. In so doing, it seeks to answer the questions, did the Christian society of their hometown stand up to their defense and did they try to undermine or object to the Nazi orders? Utilizing new sources and interpretation schemes, this book will be a great contribution to the local efforts underway, seeking to reconcile Thessaloniki with its Jewish past and honour the victims of the Holocaust.

    The first study to examine why 95 percent of the Jews of Thessaloniki perished—one of the highest percentages in Europe—this book will appeal to students and scholars of the Holocaust, European History and Jewish Studies.

    Recipient of the 2021 Vashem Yad International Book Prize for Holocaust Research

    "In view of the important contribution that this study makes to the understanding of the Holocaust in Thessaloniki in particular and, more broadly, in Greece, […] the International Committee for the Yad Vashem Book Prize decided to award the 2021 prize to Dr. Leon Saltiel."

    The Decision of the International Committee to award the 2021 Yad Vashem Book Prize to Dr. Leon Saltiel for his book, The Holocaust in Thessaloniki: Reactions to the Anti-Jewish Persecutions, 1942–1943 (London and New York: Routledge, 2020).

    1. Historical and Theoretical Background 

    2. Dehumanizing the Dead: The Destruction of Thessaloniki’s Jewish Cemetery 

    3. What People Knew: Contemporary Sources on the Holocaust 

    4. Reactions from the City Authorities  

    5. Reactions from the Institutions: the Church, the Courts, the University 

    6. Reactions from the Professional Associations 

    7. Jewish Efforts in Athens and Thessaloniki to Save the Jews of Thessaloniki during the Holocaust 

    8. The Actions of the Red Cross Delegate in Thessaloniki during the Holocaust and their Post-war Legacy

    9. Conclusion


    Leon Saltiel holds a PhD in Contemporary Greek History from the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki and has received post-doctoral fellowships at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

    "Saltiel’s book is a major achievement of the Holocaust history as local history. Thessaloniki makes the perfect example of the past and present of this complex relation, but the book’s methodological and empirical contribution goes well beyond the local or national level. Anyone interested into the Holocaust and how the macro picture was shaped by micro-level interests and incentives should read this book. The author discovers new sources and asks some extremely hard but straightforward questions. The answers to those questions shape a totally new reality of what we knew so far and how the Gentile-Jewish relations should be reappraised."

    Giorgos Antoniou, Chair of Jewish Studies, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

    "Leon Saltiel, a true child of Thessaloniki, studied systematically the tragedy of the Jewish community of our city. This book depicts in a calm and objective manner all the tragedy, but also the importance of the Jewish community in forming the city’s identity. No one can imagine how Thessaloniki would have been today, the Jerusalem of the Balkans as it was then called, if the complete annihilation of the Jewish community had not taken place, a community with presence in the city since the first century AD.
    My thanks to Leon Saltiel for his important contribution to the history of the Jewish community of our city."

    Yiannis Boutaris, Mayor of Thessaloniki 2011–2019

    "This book, in tracing in detail the local mechanics of the Holocaust in Thessaloniki, shows the long history of which such debates are a part, explains the ongoing discomfort that the city has with its Jewish past, and underscores it to be a continuity of the fundamental discomfort that interwar Thessaloniki had with the idea that it was in some core way Jewish."

    K. E. Fleming, Professor, New York University

    "The book on (the fate of the Jews of) Thessaloniki that we have been waiting for 70 years."

    Joël Kotek, Professor, Université Libre de Bruxelles and Sciences Po Paris

    "The book uncovers untold aspects of Thessaloniki’s Jewish history during the German Occupation. Saltiel, focusing on the complex reality of Jewish-Christian relations in the city during the war, convincingly dispels the widespread myth that Christians helped as many Jews, as they could, to survive from Germans persecutions. Instead, he shows that in some cases the Christian elites and authorities willingly cooperated with the Nazi in implementing anti-Jewish measures."

    Nikos Marantzidis, Professor, University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki

    "It is never untimely to delve back into the history of Holocaust. All the more so, when it is done in comprehensive, revealing of new angles manner, as the present work. Dr. Saltiel deserves my gratitude and congratulations for providing a page-turner, as well as a mainstay in my, and hopefully many people’s, library."

    Petros C. Mavroidis, Professor, Columbia Law School

    "Leon Saltiel’s path-breaking book draws on a rich array of previously untapped archives to paint a detailed picture of how genocide unfolded in occupied Thessaloniki, and illuminating as never before the local and municipal dimensions of this grim story."

    Mark Mazower, Columbia University

    "Saltiel’s book is one of the few to take the reader inside both the bureaucratic maze and the human experience of the Holocaust. Based on explorations in archives on four continents and a vast literature in several languages, the book explains how the leading figures and institutions in Thessaloniki, Christian and Jewish alike, responded to the German occupation of the city, and subsequent roundup, deportation, and murder of almost all of its 56,000 Jews. Saltiel blends detailed narratives anchored in his exhaustive research with broad analytical insights in a work that should stand for the foreseeable future as the definitive study of its subject."

    John McNeill, Professor, Georgetown University

    "The Nazi anti-Jewish campaign, and especially its genocidal chapter, were implemented in an unprecedented pace throughout Europe and beyond, and with an overall unbelievable success. This could not have happened without local support, apathy, or by turning a blind eye by authorities and individuals. Yet the success was not the same everywhere, and this resulted to a considerable extent from the ways local populations responded to the persecution of the Jews. Consequently, in-depth examination of local situations is of major importance for the comprehension of the Holocaust. Leon Saltiel’s penetrating, sensitive and innovative study of the reactions of the non-Jewish population in Thessaloniki to the fate of the local Jews, is of utmost importance for a better, even if painful, understanding why they became one of the most victimized Jewish community and why the proper commemoration of their life and death has been suppressed for decades after the war. This book is essential reading."

    Dan Michman, Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem; Professor (Emeritus) of Modern Jewish History, The Israel and Golda Koschitzky Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry, Bar-Ilan University

    "Genocide occurs not only when actors with destructive intentions take control of states. They require the different agencies of a state apparatus and civil society to cooperate in their designs. Leon Saltiel’s meticulous and nuanced reconstruction of Christian elites in Thessaloniki during the Nazi occupation demonstrates that a mixture of nationalism, opportunism, and moral cowardice can quickly lead to the social death, deportation, and mass murder of a significant minority."

    A. Dirk Moses, Professor, University of Sydney

    "What were the main factors that facilitated the extermination of the Jews of Thessaloniki during World War II? Leon Saltiel’s highly original and deeply researched book singles out several economic, political, and ideological reasons, some going all the way back to the city’s Ottoman tradition of separating its religious minorities from each other, which made them more independent but also more isolated from one other. Saltiel examines the extent to which Thessaloniki’s elite Christian groups cooperated with the German occupiers and explains their motivations, which ranged from the reasonable to the malevolent. Without underestimating the complexities of the situation that faced the people of Thessaloniki, he offers a look, as detailed as it is depressing, into one of the worst moments of Modern Greek history. An indispensable work."

    Alexander Nehamas, Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Literature, Princeton University; Member, Academy of Athens

    "Leon Saltiel offers a thick description of the institutional reactions to the Holocaust in Thessaloniki. By telescoping the aporias of the Greek nation-building with the indifference of the local Christian decision-makers for their Jewish neighbors he points to the guilty silence of the city in non-confronting the darkest moment of its history."

    Miltos Pechlivanos, Professor of Modern Greek Studies, Freie Universität Berlin

    "Leon Saltiel’s book is a significant contribution which persuasively explains the urgency to forget, the attempts to erase and the efforts to conceal that Thessaloniki had been a cosmopolitan city whose Jewish communities had contributed for centuries to its rayonnement. Saltiel critically engages with Greek history and the historiography of antisemitism in Greece, of the Greeks, and with the Ottoman past and legacy after the annexation of Thessaloniki to Greece. His compelling writing and the clarity of his argument add to our knowledge of the genocide of European Jews perpetrated by the Nazis and their allies with the complicity—in various degrees—of local populations and authorities whose zealous actions and lack of reactions have been so far overlooked.
    The hypocritical neglect and chilling indifference of notables, political and cultural elites witnessing the humiliation, killing and deportation of their fellow-citizens examined by Saltiel are particularly meaningful in our times when racism and antisemitism are, once again, trivialized, normalized or passively accepted by policy-makers and portions of public opinion."

    Davide Rodogno, Professor, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva

    "Leon Saltiel’s meticulously researched study of the annihilation of the Jews of Thessaloniki is a critically important addition to both the history and the historiography of the Holocaust. This work is especially effective in its depiction of the attitudes of the city’s Christian population toward the dire plight of their Jewish neighbors, ranging predominantly between complicity and largely callous indifference."

    Menachem Z. Rosensaft, General Counsel and Associate Executive Vice President, World Jewish Congress

    "This ground-breaking book on Thessaloniki reflects excellent scholarship and new findings. It shows that Greek officials and society had choices regarding the Jews’ treatment during the German occupation and that Greek attitudes toward Jews in Thessaloniki and in Greek Macedonia generally during the war were based on a history that went back at least to 1912. On that background, the book lays bare how a society abandoned fellow citizens and took advantage of their plight. A must read."

    David Silberklang, Senior Historian, Yad Vashem

    "This book is an exemplary study of the behavior of local elites during the Holocaust. It stands out both in the thoroughness of its research and the persuasiveness of its reasoning. The concepts Saltiel has generated in his study of Thessaloniki could be usefully applied in other cities and in much of occupied Europe. This study thus constitutes a major step forward in the history of wartime Greece and is indispensable for those interested in the politics of occupation and mass atrocity generally."

    Timothy Snyder, Professor, Yale University

    "The destruction of Thessaloniki’s Jews reconsidered, as perceived by the, benevolent or malevolent, outer world. A necessary and crucial perspective, in a time when the involvement of bystanders is subject to distortion within both historiography and politics."

    Dominique Trimbur, Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, Paris

    "A meticulously researched, penetrating study of the destruction and despoliation of the ‘Sephardic metropolis’, Saltiel’s book offers an unvarnished picture of the confluence of interests between the German occupiers and local society that led to that cataclysmic event."

    Dr. Laurence Weinbaum, Chief Editor, The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs

    Shortlisted for the 2020 London Hellenic Prize
    "An original study based on new archival historical research, illuminating the municipal, civil and religious responses to the tragedy of the Holocaust victims of Thessaloniki."

    Michael Moschos, Director, The London Hellenic Prize