De-Judaicizing a Class, Hellenizing a City: Jewish Merchants and the Future of Salonica in Greek Public Discourse, 1913-1914

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Current historiography approaches the passage of Salonican Jewry from the Ottoman Empire to the Greek nation-state from a macroscopic perspective. Concentrating on state-minority relations, it focuses exclusively on external forces, treating Salonican Jews as a homogenized community and ignoring the role of the city’s non-Jews. To reassess the importance of the local dynamic, this article examines processes within Salonica itself. Through a close reading of a debate over the city’s commercial future, it considers the shifts in Greco-Jewish relations and the swift reversal of ethnic hierarchies within the city’s entrepreneurial elite that took place at a time when Greek government circles still included the Jews in their vision of a commercially prosperous Greek Salonica. In 1913–14, the Salonican Chamber of Commerce’s proposal to establish a free port generated a heated discussion that transcended the boundaries of professional deliberations and entered the local public sphere. The Greek New Club, an organization whose members were drawn from Salonica’s still small and economically weak Greek entrepreneurial class, became heavily involved in the debate, broadening the field of entrepreneurial politics, marginalizing the existing multiethnic Ottoman commercial institutions, and ultimately elevating itself as the rightful representative of a class and a city’s broader interests. At the same time, the Greek press identified the proposal’s advocates as Jewish businessmen and discursively constructed them as un-Greek. Before the aggressive policies of a nationalizing state led to the complete marginalization of Salonica’s Jews during the interwar period, this historically particular local interplay of class and ethnicity was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the de-Judaization of the city.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373
Number of pages403
JournalJewish History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Thessaloniki
  • Jews
  • Greek Christians
  • Hellenization
  • Merchants
  • Urban History

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