On the eve of World War II, Jews accounted for some 40 percent of the population of Salonica; in earlier times, they had constituted an absolute majority of the city’s inhabitants. Most of Salonica’s Jews were Sephardi and Ladino-speaking, descended from exiles from Spain who came to the Ottoman empire in the 16th century. In her recent book, Sarah Abrevaya Stein reconstructs the lives of a Salonican Jewish family named Levy in the 19th and 20th centuries, based on their correspondence and other papers. Like most of the other Jews of that city, almost the entire family was murdered in the Holocaust. Stein here shares a vignette of one of her subjects:
As a young man, . . . David a-Levi left the family business of printing to become a student of law, a high-ranking official in the Ottoman bureaucracy, and, in time, the head of Salonica’s Jewish community. These prestigious positions earned him a new name, Daout Effendi, Daout being a Turkish version of his given name, David, and effendi being an Ottoman honorific for a distinguished, well-educated man. Daout Effendi represented the Ottoman Passport Office as Sultan Abdülhamid II [tried to transform his] empire into a modern state. Later, Daout Effendi presided over the official Jewish community of Salonica when the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 resulted in the Ottomans’ loss of the city—territory the empire had held for centuries—[to Greece].
[David] helped the Jewish community meet the new demands of state and, in time, manage the chaos of World War I and the population exchanges between Turkey and Greece that followed. Salonica’s refugee population burgeoned [at this time] and poverty became the norm. “Each day the poor knock on the door,” . . . Daout Effendi wrote his son, “and it is I alone who must respond and comfort them.”
Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books
More about: Greece, Ottoman Empire, Sephardim, Thessaloniki, World War I