Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A book in English about Thessaloniki

I just finished a fascinating book called Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower, author of a short introduction to Balkan history and a history of Greece under the Nazi occupation. His primary agenda is to underline Thessaloniki's multicultural, multi-ethnic past, and to show how that has been rather forgotten since the liberation of the city from the Turks, the population exchange and the deportation of the vast majority of the city's Jews to Auschwitz. Although, as an American, I personally felt Mazower was surprisingly fair to the Greeks, one Greek acquaintance told me that he had read a review saying that the book did not do enough to show the Greeks' attempts to help the Jews. Mazower does indicate that some attempts occurred, and he makes it clear that Greek indifference was not the only reason the Jewish population in Athens survived largely intact whereas that of Thessaloniki was decimated, but he also points out that efforts to help the Jews were neither as whole-hearted nor as common in Thessaloniki as they were in Athens. Nevertheless, given the character of Greek nationalism, it seems unlikely that Greeks (or, for that matter, Deacon Iosif, formerly Dunstan) will be terribly excited about this book even if we lay aside the thorny Holocaust issues. For us unabashed Americans though, there is a lot of fascinating information here.


Blogger Mark Montague said...

Thanks for the review, Aaron - I'd more or less dismissed the book when I grasped his "agenda" as you call it. But since I definitely want to fall into your "unabashed" category, I'll pick it up again when I get a chance.

6:19 PM EDT  
Blogger aaronandbrighid said...

Well, I do recommend the book, but don't feel like I'm necessarily calling your Americanness into question just because you can't stomach a book that doesn't follow the Greek nationalist party line! ;) Anyway, I don't think it's an overbearingly 'agenda-driven' book (I know the type, and unless I happen to like the agenda, I thoroughly dislike them). Mostly it's just a bunch of information in somewhat chronological order that happens to underline Thessaloniki's multicultural past. But maybe I'm unusually easy-going! Probably I'm just thinking about how favourably Mazower compares with the various Western folks who have written about Yugoslavia, all of whom seem to be out to prove the essentially evil national character of the Serbs.

9:39 PM EDT  

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