This article originally appeared in the Financial Post. Below is an excerpt from the article.
By Jack Mintz, October 30, 2023
A simple but powerful gesture. When visiting Thessaloniki in Greece just recently, my wife and I came across four Israeli tourists placing flowers at the Holocaust Memorial in memory of those Jews slaughtered by Hamas on Oct. 7. Thessaloniki’s Jewish community, once known as the Jerusalem of the Balkans, was destroyed by the Nazis after 1942, leaving little behind.
The connection could not be clearer. After witnessing the Hamas atrocities, Israelis and Jews in the diaspora cannot ignore the existential threat that comes with virulent antisemitism, whether 80 years ago or today. Given Israel’s population of 9.8 million, the death of 1,400 Israelis is as if 5,800 Canadians had died or almost 48,000 Americans — compared with the 3,000 killed in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
The history of Thessaloniki’s Jewish community is fascinating. The first recording of Jewish residents goes back to 140 B.C. when Greek-speaking Romaniote Jews migrated from Alexandria to Thessaloniki. Later migrations followed from Italy, Germany and the Balkans, for economic reasons or to avoid persecution. After the Spanish expulsion of Sephardic Jews in 1492, Thessaloniki’s Jewish population ballooned, rising to half the city’s total. The Jewish community was successful, creating well-known financial and learning centres. Despite wars and the loss of trading routes that diminished the economic strength of Thessaloniki, the Jewish community, living peacefully with Christian and Muslim neighbours, continued to thrive, receiving new migrants from Tsarist Russia and Eastern Europe.