Hidden histories. Meet the Jews of Thessaloniki

“As you walk the streets of Thessaloniki today, it’s hard to imagine the time back in the 17th century when Greece’s second city was known as “The Mother of Israel” and Jews made up 68 per cent of the population. But there’s still plenty to tempt visitors, both those trying to retrace its Jewish heritage as well as those enticed by this attractive seafront spot." 

Visiting on a cruise through the Aegean, aboard the Viking Sea, Gillian Walnes-Perry introduced "the mainly non-Jewish audience to Thessaloniki’s past as part of an onboard talk — resuming my career as a cruise ship lecturer, a return to the path I’d followed since my retirement as Director of the Anne Frank Trust, following a two-year pause during the pandemic. 

And the chance to explore the city once known as Salonika was a highlight. Thessaloniki’s well-known 15th century landmark, the waterfront White Tower at the southern edge of the old city, once marked the historic boundary of the Jewish quarter and it’s an ideal starting point to explore.” 

Two Greek Jewish boxers from Thessaloniki, who survived Nazi concentration camps after being forced to beat other prisoners in the ring, are featured in the podcast “Holocaust Histories.” 

The five episodes highlight different boxers from across Europe who were in the prime of their lives and careers in the 1930s and 1940s, but whose dreams were shattered by Hitler’s army. 

Episode Four focuses on Salamo Arouch and Jacko Razon, who were born and raised in Thessaloniki, which had the largest Jewish community in Greece. The two men, both Jewish, trained together at a boxing gym; Arouch eventually became a successful fighter while Razon turned his attention to soccer. 

Salamo Arouch was the Middleweight Champion of Greece, the All-Balkans Middleweight Champion and survivor of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. A Greek-Jewish boxer, Arouch came from a family of fishermen. Salamo, his brother Avram, and his father, also worked as stevedores. 

By 1939, Salamo had a 24-0 (24 knockouts) record with a traditional style of boxing: jabbing and crossing. He became known in Greece as “The Ballet Dancer” due to his “fancy footwork.”

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