The Italian Synagogue of Thessaloniki

Interior of synagogue

Salonique: Synagogue des Italiens. Circa 1917. Special Collections Research Center. DS 135 .G72 T41 S96 1917

Postcard verso, inscribed in French

Among the hundreds of Jewish postcards from Thessaloniki (Salonica), Greece, produced between 1886 and 1917, just a few depicted synagogues – usually the outside structure of synagogue buildings. This recently acquired postcard, however, is an exception to that rule. It displays the interior of the Italian synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in the famous Balkan port city.

This synagogue was richly decorated. On the left foreground we see part of the elevated marble platform where the Torah scroll was read. Two posing Jewish old men are sitting on its stairs. On the background there is a majestic wood ark, located in the East wall, so that when members of the community turn in its direction for praying, they turn towards Jerusalem. 

The Italian synagogue was destroyed by the fire of 1890 and rebuild, but it was destroyed again by the fire of unprecedented proportions that took place on August 1917. When the fire of August 1917 took place, Thessaloniki had 37 synagogues, of which no less than 32 were turned into ashes. The majority of them were latter re-established in different locations, but destroyed again during the Second World War. Today there are three functioning synagogues in Thessaloniki. 

On the back of the card we see the word "postcard" printed in 7 languages. It indicates the broad scope of its potential audiences. In fact, after Greece entered the First World War in June 1917, Allied armies fighting on the Macedonian front stationed in Thessaloniki. Thousands of soldiers from different countries spend months in the strategic port city and were avid consumers of postcards, as they had to communicate with their families and friends, which anxiously waited from news back home.

Like the majority of the used Jewish historical postcards from Salonica available today, this one, dated October 12, 1918 (just two weeks after the Armistice of Salonica was signed) is inscribed in French – in this case in a neat caligraphy. 

References

Costis Copsidas, The Jews of Thessaloniki through the postcards, 1886-1917. Thessalonikē: K. Kopsidas, 1992, page 26. 

Elias V. Messinas, The Synagogues of Salonika and Veroia. Athēna: Ekdoseis Gavriēlidēs, 1997, page 59.

Tamar Alexander, Gila Hadar, and Shalom Sabar, "El oio ve, la alma desea: Jewish Postcards from Salonika", Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Folklore 27 (2011), page 199 [in Hebrew].