Renée Saltiel and Solon Molho grew up in the greatest Sephardic Jewish community of them all, Salonica, or Thessaloniki, in today's Greece. Around 90,000 Jews lived there in its heyday, 50,000 lived there before the war. During the Second World War, the Germans rounded up and deported the city's Jews and almost none were left. Only a handful returned. This is the story of two Jews who did manage to survive, thanks to a Spanish diplomat and some very brave Christian families.
Sephardic Jews are the descendent of Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) before the 1492 expulsion. The word Sephardim, as “Sepharad” means Spain in Hebrew. For religious purposes, the term Sephardim also refers to all Jews who use a Sephardic style of liturgy, and therefore includes most Jews of Middle Eastern background, whether or not they have any historical connection to the Iberian Peninsula.
Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, is the language of Sephardic Jews. It only became a specifically Jewish language after the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. Cut off from the further developments in the language, the Sephardim continued to speak it in the communities and countries to which they emigrated. Ladino therefore reflects the grammar and vocabulary of 14th and 15th century Spanish.
The Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki
This Centropa film was sponsored by the Jewish Museum in Berlin and produced in cooperation with the Jewish Museum in Thessaloniki, which was established to honor the city's rich Sephardic heritage since the 15th century.
The website of the Jewish Museum in Thessaloniki offers a lot of information on the diverse Jewish history and culture of Thessaloniki.
Salonika is the second-largest city in Greece and home to around 1,200 Jews.
Salonika between the World Wars
After World War I, several events took place that greatly influenced the fate of the Salonika Jews and symbolized the decrease of the world's biggest Sephardic community. Below you will find a list of years and events that are of importance.
Greece entered World War II on 28 October 1940 when it was invaded by Italy from Albania, causing the Greco-Italian War.
Because Renee's family had Spanish passports, their fate was to be deported to Bergen-Belsen together with the other Spanish Jews. In August 1943, 367 Spanish Jews were deported to Bergen-Belsen but were transferred in Febraury 1944 to Barcelona, Morocco and Palestine. Around 144 Jewish Spanish nationals had escaped to Athens, among them were also Renee, her sisters and their father. In Athens they lived in different places until they arrived on Bouboulinas Street, in the house of Mrs. Lembesi.