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Before The Deluge: The Jews Of Greece


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The stories in this column are translations by Mr. Nollet from “Die Juden In Der Welt [The Jews in the World]” by Mark Wischnitzer, a long out-of-print book published more than seven decades ago in Germany. The book examines Jewish communities, one country at a time, as they existed in 1935 – a time before the Nazis began their extermination campaign against the Jews and before there was a state of Israel.

The Jews Of Greece

Before the beginning of the Common Era, Jews were known to have lived in Sparta, Sikyon, Delphi, Athens, Patras, Mantineja, Laconia, Corinth, Thessalalonika, Philippi, and Beroa. Due to baptism forced on Jews by some Byzantine emperors, a number of Jews emigrated o southern Italy. Otherwise, there was a line of Jewish communities in the 12th century. By itself Thebes housed 2,000 families, Salonika 500 families, and middle-sized settlements arose in Halmyros, Corinth, Drama, Krisa, Naupactos, Ravnica, Arta, and Lamia.

The Jewish silk weavers of Thebes, the farmers of Krisa, and dyers and leather workers whom one met everywhere, had one calling. Not for nothing did King Roger of Sicily fetch the Jewish silk weavers to southern Sicily. In the 15th century one could encounter Jewish silk weavers in Modon on the Peloponnesos.

Benjamin of Tudela, who traveled through Greece in the 12th century, knew what to tell about the state of learning among the Greek Jews. Certain spiritual streams went forth from them up into the mountains of Albania, which Benjamin observed with admiration. He wrote, “They called themselves ‘Wallachian.’ They are able to race as fast as gazelles down from the mountains, to plunder the land of the Greeks…. they do not confess to the Christian faith, and they give their children Jewish names. Some even claim they descend from Jews. They call Jews their brothers. When they encounter Jews, they rob them but don’t kill them, as they do with the Greeks. They have no beliefs. From there it’s another two days to Gorzy, an abandoned locale with few inhabitants, a few Greeks and a few Jews.”

Gorzy is surely present-day Korica, in southern Albania. Not far from this lay Castoria, a community Benjamin of Tudela also mentioned, which was the eventual home of Tobia ben Eleasar, who had lived through and then reported about the persecutions in Germany during the First Crusade.

There were also communities in Janina, Arta, and Preveza. The Jews here spoke a language which was a mixture of Latin and classical Greek, and had their own unique songs for the Sabbath and Purim liturgies.

In the 14th and beginning of the 15th century, new settlements were built in Modon (Mothoni), in the port city of Coroni, and in Argos, Patras, Lepanto, and Kythera, all on the Peleponesian isthmus. When the Turks conquered this area, they found communities everywhere, and also at Morea, where a section of the city was named “Hebrew Tribe.”

The immigration of Jews from Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, and Apulia created tensions between the newcomers and the established Jewish communities. [Translator’s Note: This would have been primarily the result of the mass expulsions from Spain and Spanish-controlled territories to the east late in the 15th century.] The Sephardic element was in the majority and managed to make its Spaniolisch language [presumably Ladino] a general-purpose and business language, though in the 19th century it was forced out by the Greek language and this situation hasn’t changed into our own time.

Salonika was a center of Sephardic Judaism “in the exile.” Due to the establishment of a textile industry, the city grew increasingly important. The city maintained its economic health via foreign trade in the 17th and 18th centuries despite a steady region-wide impoverishment.

At the end of the 19th century Salonika had a population of 130,000, half of these being Jews, and three-quarters of its commerce lay in Jewish hands. One observer wrote, “The people who worked in the harbor were all Jewish, and on the Sabbath steamers could neither load nor offload their cargoes. Carters, cobblers, masons, and silk-workers are all Jewish.”

In Salonika in 1920, there were about 12,000 Jewish factory workers, mostly in the tobacco industry. All the female home-cleaners and general household helpers of the city were Jewish.

About the Author: Ezra James Nollet is a retired U.S. government chemist living in Poland where he is officer of the local synagogue in Legnica. Before the Deluge appears the last week of each month.


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More Articles from Ezra James Nollet
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The Joint Distribution Committee cared for the refugees, directed the care of children, renewed educational facilities, undertook the rebuilding of destroyed houses, etc. Through the year 1930 the Joint Committee distributed over $80 million to the different branches of its relief work, and even distributed aid via affiliated charities to Jewish agricultural settlements in the USSR.

book-Die-Juden-in-der-Velt

The Federation of Jewish Labor by the end of the 1920s consisted of some 125,000 members, of whom 60 percent were employed in the confections industry. After 1929 there was a further rise in the level of Jewish participation in workers’ unions. There were 134,020 Jewish members of the fifty largest trade unions, 34.1 percent of the total number of organized workers, which roughly reflected the level of the Jews in the population of greater New York. In the remaining centers of the garment industry, in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Rochester, almost all the owners were Jews and the workers they employed were mainly Jewish.

The outward orderliness of the new circumstances of life was not without inner quakings of a spiritual crisis. Mixed marriages were extremely frequent in the southern and western states, where Jews were sprinkled in among the Christian populations. They came to about a third of the marriages Jews entered. But after 1881 the picture changed, with the flood of Jewish immigrants into New York. From 1908-1912, only 1.17 percent of marriages involving Jews were mixed.

The (European) press began to busy itself with the problems of emigration. The Austrian Central Body of Jews, which arose in 1848, dedicated itself to this situation. In May of 1848 a Committee for the Promotion of Emigration was started.

On August 22 1654, the Sephardic Jew Jacob Bar-Simson landed in New Amsterdam. It appears he came from Holland. In the beginning of September of the same year, twenty-three Jews set sail for New Amsterdam, refugees from Pernambuco [Translator’s Note: Dutch South America). The ship Saint Charles, which functioned as the Jewish equivalent of the Mayflower for the first Jewish immigration to North America, brought them to the city today known as New York.

Before the beginning of the Common Era, Jews were known to have lived in Sparta, Sikyon, Delphi, Athens, Patras, Mantineja, Laconia, Corinth, Thessalalonika, Philippi, and Beroa. Due to baptism forced on Jews by some Byzantine emperors, a number of Jews emigrated o southern Italy. Otherwise, there was a line of Jewish communities in the 12th century. By itself Thebes housed 2,000 families, Salonika 500 families, and middle-sized settlements arose in Halmyros, Corinth, Drama, Krisa, Naupactos, Ravnica, Arta, and Lamia.

Under the influence of the Age of Enlightenment, the cultural union “Toalet” was formed, which published a number of works of by Hebraic scientists and works of fiction. In recent times, the Jewish-scientific movement has found its stride with the “Union of Jewish Science,” which was founded by S. Seeligmann, a historian and a bibliophile. In its university library, Amsterdam possesses a most valuable Jewish section, the so-called “Rosenthaliana,” which was named after the philanthropist Leiser Rosenthal, who was the father of the Baron von Rosenthal.

The present kingdom of Persia, which recently officially took the name “Iran,” encompasses a region of over 1,640,000 square kilometers with about 15 million inhabitants. The most important cities are the capital Tehran as well Tabris, Mesched, and Isfahan (the former capital).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/feautures-on-jewish-world/the-jews-of-greece/2013/05/29/

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