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Mico Alvo

My grandmother's sister Mathilde was the same age as my father. My father was born in 1889, she must have been born either in 1890 or in 1888, sometime around then. There was a big age difference with Daniel. Mathilde had a daughter from another marriage.

Grandfather was widowed, she too, and so they got married. It was then a custom to marry the sister of your wife, if both of you were left widowed. And even the Jewish religion suggests doing so. The religion says that if your brother dies and his wife becomes a widow, someone from the family should marry her in order to maintain her.

Mathilde Gattegno spoke Ladino really well and French fluently. She also spoke Greek, but not as well. She couldn't write in Greek, but she spoke it, especially because most of her maids were Greek. She didn't speak any Turkish. She went to school at the Alliance where she learned French.

Before she got married, during World War I, when the allies were here, she opened, or rather the family opened, a shop for her in which she sold souvenirs for the soldiers. And it did really well. She was pretty and she spoke French, which was something that the soldiers couldn't find everywhere.

At the time of World War I, many women started working out of necessity. They would sell things like that; they would do the easy work. After she became a widow, and maybe also before she got married, she worked at her brother's school, the Gattegno.

Mathilde used to speak about World War I while my mother didn't. I remember that they had in their house all sorts of flags, because once the English would come around, then the French, then the Italians, and then the Romanians.

She got married to Grandfather Daniel after the Great Fire. They were already married when I was born, because I remember they left me with them when I was one year old, and that they got married before my uncle and before my father. I think that my father was already married in 1920.
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I remember the house where they lived after I was born. It was on Koromila Street at the fourth stop of the tram. They were renting it from an Armenian. It was quite a nice house. At the beginning, before the Great Fire [5], everyone lived down in the center of the city.

The Jews were the ones that suffered most from the fire because the area where they were living, from the White Tower [6] all the way to the city center, burned down. My grandmother and grandfather lived much better after the fire, even though it took them a few years to recover.

They used to tell many stories about the fire. First of all, in the way they would keep track of time: they would say, 'two years after the Fire,', or, 'three years before the Fire'. We say B.C. and A.D., back then it was before or after the fire. They regarded the fire as a starting point, or a turning point, because the whole city of Thessaloniki got ruined.

They all gathered in the houses of the few families that lived in an area that wasn't burned. If someone, let's say, had a house with four rooms, the relatives would come and he would put one family in each room. You can imagine how this was, and under what circumstances they had to live.
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Lily Arouch

My grandfather Solomon was a pharmacist, so when he got to Thessalonica he opened a pharmacy. When his son Gastone grew up, he wanted to renew the pharmacy; back then it was traditional for the children to take up their fathers' profession. So in 1917 he ordered new equipment for the pharmacy from Germany.

In 1917 there was a great fire in Thessalonica [1]. After the equipment arrived, the fire broke out and everything, along with the pharmacy, burnt down, and they were left with nothing. The family, husband, wife and three children, was left without anything. In 1918 my grandfather died from appendix problems; he was forty at the time. His family was left without any means to survive.
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Renée Molho

When my father's shop was destroyed by the fire [2] it was Uncle David who was next to him, to encourage him and he even gave him the money to start all over again. At the same time he opened a bank account for my mother so that she wouldn't have to worry, that she wouldn't have to ask anybody when she needed something. Of course I have a weak spot for him in my heart. He was always there for us, helping in any way he could.
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Mirou-Mairy Angel

In 1917, after the Fire of Thessaloniki [1], he bought land from a Turk. It was a big piece of land where he built our house, the house I was born in. It was a big house with four bedrooms. My grandmother’s room was the best one. But she didn’t live long enough to enjoy it. My father told me so. And when my brother Alberto was born, he got my grandmother Mirou’s room.
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Albertos Beraha

My grandmother would also take me to the working class neighborhoods in Thessaloniki. There was a big fire in Thessaloniki in 1917 [3] and almost the whole town had burned down, so lots of people were left homeless.

That was near the end of World War I, and when the British and French troops left the city their deserted camps were turned into refugee housing. Even when I was a child these refugee camps still existed; they were '151' [4] and No. 6 and Baron Hirsch [5]. Only Jews lived in these camps and my father, who was a member of the Community Council, was in charge of this section.
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Yvonne Capuano-Molho

My grandfather constructed for my mother’s marriage in 1917 a set of very good furniture. And then came the big fire of Thessaloniki in 1917 [20] and all was burned. Of course the marriage wasn’t postponed. So after the marriage my grandfather made new furniture for his daughter.

When they got married they first bought an apartment overlooking the sea like in Venice. Right in front of it, the waters were deep, so my mother used to put us in a rowboat and we were going opposite to Alexander the Great, where the waters were shallow and people were swimming, and we would also swim with our mother.

I was born in the month of June and when I was two months old, Mother must have taken me into the sea to swim. Later both my sister and myself, when we had whooping cough, and as they said that the sea would be good for us, my mother kept on taking us swimming with the boat. At this particular house there was a common yard that we shared with the apartment next door. Jews, very good people. They do not exist any more.

Also, on the other side lived Sonia Petridou, whose origins were from Russia, divorced with two children, who wasn’t on speaking terms with us. I’m not sure whether she was divorced or not, but we never saw a husband. One evening she was very sick, so her daughter Milia, who was the same age as my sister, came to us and called in the night, ‘Mrs. Errieti, Mrs. Errieti, please come.’

And my mother called the doctor and stayed next to her continuously for two days until she got well. After that Sonia told her, ‘I never thought that you Jews were like that.’ She came from Russia and it seems they had anti-Semitism there. Anyhow, after that incident they became good friends.
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Roza Benveniste

We were a very large family so we didn’t have much contact with other Jewish families.
Thessaloniki was the only city where the majority of the population was Jewish. I was born two years after the Great Fire of 1917 [6]. Many Jewish buildings and synagogues were ruined by the Great Fire, and many were emigrating. Even though many synagogues had burned down during the fire, quite a few remained. There were many small ones, because it was forbidden for a synagogue to be any bigger than its nearest mosque. There was Beith Shaul synagogue in the posh area of Las Campagnas or Exohes, which was a very luxurious one, but there were many other smaller and simpler ones.
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