A guest post by Μαγιόρ Ρισόν:
The term Ahnassath Orehim, (alternative transliterations of the original Hebrew term “הכנס אורחים” include Ahknasat Orechim/achnasat orchim/achnasas orchim/hachnusas orchoim), refers to a central tenet of Jewish faith which commands every Jew to provide shelter for travelers and strangers. In accordance, Jewish communities offered to needy travelers an organized service to provide food and/or accommodation. Sometimes this is a separate organization, other times it is an ad hoc service. Indicative organizations in the 30’s can be found from the ashkenazi Biellorussia (1) to sephardic Rhodes. (2)
Until now we had no knowledge of a similar organization in Thessaloniki in the late ’30s. Still, a piece of paper from the part of the Archives of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki currently held at Moscow can provide an insight, while at the same time furnishing an example of how they can be useful.
In this paper one can read in french: “Ahnassath Orehim. Communaute Israelite Thessaloniki”. It includes a list of families from diverse countries which passed through Salonica and registered with the aforementioned organization on the 31st of August 1940. The vast majority were from war-torn Poland but the catalogue includes families from Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Denmark, Italy, Turkey, Palestine, Argentina, Lithuania plus 3 Greek families arriving from Trieste en route to Constanza. Everyone arrived from the italian port of Trieste, with the exception of 5 people from Hungary which arrived from Belgrade. Almost all head towards Istambul or directly to Palestine.
From these 310 arrivals, 49 still await visas on August, 31st 1940. The salonican committee of Ahnassath Orehim was financially in charge for 205 of them for a total 1061 days and at a cost of 280.715 drachmas. This seems to contradict the fact that the majority of them appear to be part of the middle/upper class; 43 are industrialists, 50 intellectuals, 154 merchants and 63 from other professions.
We do know that Salonica was used as a transit post for refugees, both Jews and not Jews, eg from Poland.(3) Still, we do not have an idea of the numbers – even with this document we do not know whether this is the work of a single month or perhaps the first 8 months of 1940. Still, it documents how foreign Jewish nationals were passing through and how some of them remained for lack of visa. It would not be illogical to assume that some of these – or future arrivals – would be trapped in Salonica as Greece would enter the war 3 months later.
We also do not know why this document was redacted in French and in such not typical bureaucratic fashion. The working languages of the Jewish Community were JudeoSpanish, (Ladino) primarily and Greek. Could this be some kind of pamphlet addressed to Jewish organizations abroad requesting assistance to cope with this influx of transiting refugees?
Although this document raises more questions than answers, it serves as an indication of what the archives can offer. With a single paper we learn of a new organization in Thessaloniki, we document the influx of refugees which necessarily are among the middle/upper classes who can afford the costs of escaping, we learn of previously undocumented Jews in the local population whose exact number still remains elusive, while at the same time providing an answer on the appearance of foreign Jews appear in various lists.
Let’s hope one day to get a glimpse on the rest of the folder 140.
1. Cholawsky Salom, “The Jews of Bielorussia during WW2”, p.XX
2. Pacificci Ricardo, “Notizie sulla vita degli Ebrei di Rodi”, La Rassegna Mensile di Israel seconda serie, Vol. 8, No. 1/2 (Maggio-Giugno 1933), pp. 60-77 3. Williamson David, “Poland Betrayed”, p.141