Date of this Version
Research on the transition of nondominant groups in the territories of the Ottoman Empire from empire to nation-state remains in its infancy. The book under review by Devin Naar is a masterly account of the ways in which the Jews of Salonica adapted themselves and negotiated their boundaries during and after the transition from the multicultural, multireligious, and multinational Ottoman Empire to the homogenizing nation-state of Greece.
With a reputation as a place of Jewish refuge, Salonica has been one of the most important centers of Sephardic Jewry since the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. This once proud and flourishing community came to an end during the Holocaust. The turning point for Salonica’s Jewry was not World War I, as it was for some other Ottoman ethnoreligious groups, but rather the First Balkan War of 1912, which resulted in the transfer of Salonica to Greece. Naar is reluctant to adopt the dominant historiographical approach of representing the interwar period as one of decline (deskadensya); rather, he considers it a period of rebirth (renasensya) during which the Jewish community of Salonica flourished.
Relying on archival sources in Greek, Hebrew, Ladino, and French, Naar reconstructs the history of Jewish Salonica during the interwar period not from the perspective of the Greek state but from that of the different voices within the Jewish community. He describes how the different interest groups—integrationists (the Alliance Israélite Universelle), socialists (the Workers’ Federation), and nationalists (Zionists)—interacted and some- times competed with one another in order to preserve the interests of their community. Some of the major questions Naar raises in the book could be applicable to other cases of non-dominant groups who used similar strategies of co-opting, adapting, and refashioning themselves within both the new context of the nation-state and their own new status as minorities.