Money, power, politics, and the great Salonika Fire of 1917

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In August 1917, a fire broke out in a crowded quarter on the northwest side of Salonika. It eventually destroyed the historical center of the city, including the homes and property of more than 70, 000 people, most of them Jews. The Greek government enacted a law for the reparceling and reconstruction of the burned-out area, which aroused anger and concern among Salonikan Jews, who understood it as a scheme to push them out of the city. The scholarly discussion of this crucial event in the history of the city and its Jewish community has revolved mainly around two main foci: the role of the fire as a muchneeded opportunity to modernize the city and the question whether the rebuilding plan was a calculated scheme to Hellenize Salonika at the expense of the Jewish community. This latter debate is part of the wider discussion of the place of European Jewry in the transition from empire to nation-state. In this paper, the repercussions of the fire will be discussed from another perspective, namely, the role played by members of the local Jewish political and social elite in the aftermath of the fire. Key members of this elite adapted themselves to the politics of the Greek state and succeeded in turning what was considered a disaster by the majority of the Jewish community into a catalyst for promoting their own economic interests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-115
Number of pages42
JournalJewish Social Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2017 The Trustees of Indiana University.


  • Great fire
  • Jacob Cazes
  • Jewish community
  • Rabbi Ya'akov Meir
  • Salonika
  • Saul Modiano

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Religious studies


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