The Fire That Erased Much of Salonica’s Jewish Character

When Greece annexed the city of Salonica (Thessaloniki) from the Ottoman empire in 1913, it was home to a large and thriving population of Ladino-speaking Jews. Four years later, a devastating fire swept through the city, hitting the Jewish neighborhoods close to the center particularly hard. The Greek government used the opportunity to transform Salonica into a city that was more Greek, more modern, and less Jewish, as Devin Naar writes:

With its nationalist goal in mind, the government [seized] the burnt terrain and prevented residents from rebuilding on their land. Instead, under the guise of promoting state interests and a modern, European urban plan that would transform the downtown into a middle- and upper-class Greek [neighborhood], the government auctioned off the razed property. . . . The National Bank of Greece outbid the Jewish community for the plot on which the Talmud Torah, the main Jewish communal school, had stood before the fire. . . .

The prime minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, encouraged British and French urban planners to view the city as a “blank slate” and ignore the centuries-long imprint left by Jews and Muslims. One of the urban planners described Venizelos as “particularly enthusiastic about the new Salonica, almost to the point of regarding the fire as providential” and conceded that the “fundamental purpose of the plan was to deprive the Jews of complete control of the city.” But the planner also noted, as if to offer consolation, “There was no desire to oust the Jews completely.” . . .

Largely prevented from rebuilding in the city center, the Jewish community began to rebuild on the city outskirts. . . . Despite growing tensions between Salonican Jews and the Greek state, . . . the Jewish community succeeded in building several dozen new synagogues and a new school system. It restarted the Jewish hospital and medical dispensary and established new institutions, including a tuberculosis clinic, girls’ orphanage, and maternity ward. . . .

Jewish leaders did succeed in preventing Athens from nationalizing the community’s old cemetery—the largest Jewish burial ground in Europe—only for it to be destroyed by the Nazis, who slaughtered over 90 percent of the city’s Jews during World War II.

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Read more at JTA

More about: Greece, History & Ideas, Sephardim, Thessaloniki, Turkish Jewry, World War II

 

As Vladimir Putin Sidles Up to the Mullahs, the Threat to the U.S. and Israel Grows

On Tuesday, Russia launched an Iranian surveillance satellite into space, which the Islamic Republic will undoubtedly use to increase the precision of its military operations against its enemies. The launch is one of many indications that the longstanding alliance between Moscow and Tehran has been growing stronger and deeper since the Kremlin’s escalation in Ukraine in February. Nicholas Carl, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, and Katherine Lawlor write:

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi have spoken at least four times since the invasion began—more than either individual has engaged most other world leaders. Putin visited Tehran in July 2022, marking his first foreign travel outside the territory of the former Soviet Union since the war began. These interactions reflect a deepening and potentially more balanced relationship wherein Russia is no longer the dominant party. This partnership will likely challenge U.S. and allied interests in Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe.

Tehran has traditionally sought to purchase military technologies from Moscow rather than the inverse. The Kremlin fielding Iranian drones in Ukraine will showcase these platforms to other potential international buyers, further benefitting Iran. Furthermore, Russia has previously tried to limit Iranian influence in Syria but is now enabling its expansion.

Deepening Russo-Iranian ties will almost certainly threaten U.S. and allied interests in Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe. Iranian material support to Russia may help the Kremlin achieve some of its military objectives in Ukraine and eastern Europe. Russian support of Iran’s nascent military space program and air force could improve Iranian targeting and increase the threat it poses to the U.S. and its partners in the Middle East. Growing Iranian control and influence in Syria will enable the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [to use its forces in that country] to threaten U.S. military bases in the Middle East and our regional partners, such as Israel and Turkey, more effectively. Finally, Moscow and Tehran will likely leverage their deepening economic ties to mitigate U.S. sanctions.

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Read more at Critical Threats

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Russia, U.S. Security, Vladimir Putin