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Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950 Hardcover – April 26, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
- Publisher : Knopf; 1st edition (April 26, 2005)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 528 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0375412980
- ISBN-13 : 978-0375412981
- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.56 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,424,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The chapters on the modern world are first depressing, then appalling, as the Germans and collaborators exterminated over90% of the Jewish community. Doesn’t get much better after that.....
Top reviews from other countries
Mazower tells this story as it relates to the experiences of one southern Balkan city, Salonica (Thessaloniki). As far as official Greek historiography is concerned, the city has always been Greek. The long Ottoman era (1430 to 1912) depicted as an oppressive interregnum, ignoring the real picture, whereby Jews, Christians and Muslims achieved a remarkable degree of co-existence. The city's Jewish and Muslim residents, expelled or exterminated, were written out of the story. The Christians became Greeks. But the dead and departed residents once defined the city every bit as much as its modern day Greek residents do. And the ancestors of those who remained once thought of themselves differently. The city has had a succession of identities. The modern city is built on the bones of the dead (literally in the case of the city's university, built as it is on the old Jewish cemetery).
These are the ghosts Mazower brings back from the dead in this book. Mazower reconstructs, in pain-staking prose, the spheres of piety, commerce and culture that bound together members of the three monotheistic faiths. It did not mean that members of the each faith necessarily `liked' one another. It is just that, despite the awareness of difference, the city still thrived. Difference did not rule out coexistence. There was no clash of civilisations. When the `Rosenberg Commando', a cohort of Nazi apparatchiks tasked with looting the city's Jewish treasures during the Nazi occupation, could not find, to their surprise, any historical evidence of a ghetto, they were quietly informed by a local scholar that this was because there was no ghetto. This of course is totally at variance with the Jewish experience in medieval Christian Europe.
Mazower does not idealise the past. Relations among the faiths were often strained, sometimes disfigured with violence and discord. However, Mazower shows that the existence of divisions based on faith alone did not make mass expulsion or extermination inevitable. What made these divisions insurmountable was the rise of ethnic nationalism, which assigned political allegiance on the basis of ethnicity and demanded unconditional loyalty on this basis. This is a complex process and the book does not explore this at length but it outlines the consequences with absolute clarity: the end of a city of tolerance.
Two hammer blows did away with this: the first was the expulsion of the city's Muslim population as part of the concomitant population `transfers' between Greece and Turkey in the early 1920. This was a process of deliberate social engineering on the part of two newly created nation-states. You were now Greek or Turk, regardless of whether you accepted it or not and you were moved, regardless of whether you wanted to or not, to a land where you `belonged', even if you had never set eyes on the place. The first generation of `Greek' Anatolian refugees from the expulsions of the early 1920's often spoke better Turkish than Greek and needed to time to understand why they should stop calling themselves `Eastern Christians.'
The second was the near-destruction of the city's Jewish community (95 per cent deported and mostly murdered) during the Nazi occupation, who first put down roots in the 16th Century, seeking Ottoman protection from Christian persecution in Spain. This completed the process of transformation. From then onwards, the city was defined as Greek, with Muslims and Jews out of the picture. Although anti-Semitism did not feature prominently in inter-war Greek politics or society, the political imperatives of consolidating a modern nation-state in the aftermath of WWII meant history was razed, much in the way the old minarets, cemeteries and cypress trees were razed to make way for new, modern city.
Whether any of this has any resonance or relevance for contemporary debates on multiculturalism Mazower wisely doesn't say. History does not necessarily provide clear policy solutions to contemporary social and political dilemmas and neither should it. As he writes in his concluding chapter: `The myth of eternal Hellenism flattened out the past of the Greeks themselves and made it less interesting.' What Mazower has done is to offer us different ways of thinking about the past, and to realise the span of human possibility is perhaps much wider than is sometimes conceived.
As interesting as this history is it is also complicated. Mazower seems determined to capture every nuance which is laudable but ultimately exhausting. By the time we arrived at the 20th Century horror of the German occupation my fascination had worn thin and i have to confess i was longing for the book to end; but that may have also been related to the piecemeal way in which i ended up reading it.
What i learned from "Salonica, City of Ghosts" was how long-established communities and apparently deep-rooted identities can be swept aside in just a short time. The Ottoman world we see in photographs of the city in the early 20th Century is almost entirely obliterated now. The Ma'mun - a Jewish sect who embraced Islam and played such an important role in the city - have not only disappeared from Salonica but also vanished as a distinct group. The Christians - many of whose ancestors only immigrated from Turkey in the 1920s - are now solidly and proudly Greeks. And the Jews are almost all gone: transported and murdered by the Nazis.