• Rony Alfandary

Writing about Salonica

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

The facts are stark, if little known - before WW2, the Jewish community of Thessaloniki (in its old Ottoman name – Salonica) in Greece numbered 50,000, the largest single ethnic minority in this Mediterranean port city which had known many past glories. When the war was over, only 5,000, less than 10%, of the Jews survived. 45,000 people, including children and women, were taken from the city by the local Greek police, supervised by the SS Nazi police, and between March 15th and August 10th, nineteen convoys took them to their deaths in the Auschwitz concentration camp. The Cohens were a part of the Salonica Jewish community. Two of the Cohen children, Leon and Isaac, moved to France during the 1920s, where they became a part of the Greek-Jewish community there. The only survivor of the family, Rita, moved to Palestine during the 1930s. Both Greek and French Jewish communities were subject to mass deportation and murder during the 1940s by the Nazis and their local collaborators. In both Salonica and Paris, it was with the active aid of local police and municipal workers, as well as ordinary citizens, that the Jews were taken from their homes, had their properties looted and sent to their deaths in the concentration camps. It is the story, a microhistory , of my postmemorial tale of the Cohen family and in particular of Leon Cohen (1901-1942), one of the two brothers who emigrated to Paris, based upon the primary sources as found in the letters that were addressed to him and were found almost sixty years after he was murdered by the Nazis, along with his wife Bondy (Boena) (1905-1942) and their two children, Benjamin (1935-1942) and Eliane (Rachelle) (1939-1942), in Auschwitz in 1942. The letters which this testimonial study inspired by are the letters and documents found on four separate occasions and locations. They were written in four different languages: most of them are in French, some in Ladino, a few were written in Solitreo and a few legal documents are in Greek.

I have been writing and lecturing about the Cohen collection for some time. I first presented the raw material in a conference in Salonica in November 2014 "The Holocaust and its Aftermath". A short video shows highlights of e conference. In March 2015, a second lecture was given as part of the "Migration, Exile and Polyphonic" conference in Barcelona. Later that year, I gave a talk in Hebrew as part of a Ladino conference at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. In March 2017, I gave a lecture at "The Holocaust and its Aftermath from the Family Perspective" in Prague.

In 2019, an article in Hebrew was published in Alaxon.

I am currently working on the final stages of a book on the subject, to be published by Routledge during 2021.

For information concerning the collection, follow this link.


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