Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

IV. The Races of Macedonia

4. Jews

The Jews of Macedonia are more numerous and important. They must always have formed a considerable element of the population, as we learn from St. Paul in the first and from Benjamin of Tudela in the twelfth century. But their chief strain to-day has been drawn from Spain. They are the descendants of the exiles driven out by Ferdinand and Isabella. These refugees must have been numerous enough to absorb the earlier settlements, for Spanish, oddly contorted and corrupted, is everywhere the language of the Macedonian Jews. Their outlook on life is completely Oriental. They have no reason in their history to love the Christians. Interest and sympathy alike dictate an alliance with the Turks. They have their reward in a degree of immunity from oppression and in a complete confidence which no Christian race ever enjoys even when it happens under the dictates of some temporary political exigency, to be cultivating an understanding with the Turks. To some extent the schools maintained by the Alliance Israélite are breaking down the complete isolation in which the Jews of Turkey have lived, while the active commercial intercourse between the Jewish firms of Salonica and their co-religionists of Budapest and Vienna is helping to give them a fresh orientation. But they remain stubbornly Turcophil. Their new European education, such as it is, brings them no nearer to the Christian races who draw their knowledge and their political ideals from the same Western sources, and they remain as isolated as they were when their whole culture was the lore of the Talmud. This attitude of the Turkish Jews has serious political consequences, since it goes far to influence the sympathies of the great news-


papers and press agencies of the West, which are owned and managed by Jews, and thus delays and distorts the working of European opinion.

There are Jewish colonies of long standing and some importance in Monastir and Castoria; and in most of the less poverty-stricken smaller towns they are largely represented. Indeed, their extension is only prevented by the hostility of the Christian merchants who dread their competition, and now usually adopt the precaution of fixing the market day on Saturday a piece of sharp practice which has effectually prevented their settlement in several commercial centres of recent growth. It is in Salonica, however, that they attain their greatest glory and influence. Salonica is that rare thing in modern Europe, a city whose population is by majority Jewish. The Jews can hardly number less than 80,000. They monopolise the commerce, control the shipping, and eclipse the Greeks not only in business but in "society" as well. Their showy and hideous villas, designed in Rococo fashion to produce a maximum of display, give to Salonica's suburb an air of quite European vulgarity. Within the town the middle classes throng the narrow lanes and the forbidding and mysterious courtyards with their projecting upper storeys and protruding eaves. They patrol the streets in their long gabardines, and their women retain their medieval costume, garish and décolletée. They are conspicuous and at their ease. They dominate the town, managing Turks and overawing Christians. Commerce is not their only avocation. The lower classes have a monopoly of the harbour-work and provide the boatmen and the porters of the quay, who tolerate no competition from other races, and are a law to themselves in the streets indeed, the Christians go in fear lest the sturdy Jewish porters should some day join the Turkish mob in a general massacre. This Jewish predominance makes Salonica unique among Levantine seaports, where it is usually the Greek element which impresses its character on the town.

Salonica has the moral squalor of Europe with the physical squalor of the East. Picturesque it may be with its beautiful Byzantine churches, its Roman triumphal arch,


and its castles and bastions which recall the brief empire of the Crusaders. But the main impression is one of ugliness and materialism. The place seems oddly isolated, and when caged within its walls it becomes a sort of puzzle by what magic one reached a place so different from the idyllic Macedonian valleys to the north, or the fairy gulf of Volo to the south. Olympus across the bay dwarfs and rebukes it, and makes it trivial. It is a town of contradictions where men buy by telegraph in the costumes of the ghetto, and turn the stately Castilian of the Middle Ages into a patois for nasty pleasures and petty gains. And yet there lingers in Salonica a strange relic of a great enthusiasm, the flotsam of a wave of idealism which has hardly its parallel in the history of Europe.

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]