Moishe Bourlais 87 years old and lives in the Jewish old people’s home, Saul Modiano, in Thessaloniki. He has had an eventful life: at 13 he became a communist, at 20 he fought as a partisan against the Germans. After 1945 the right wing Greek government banished him for seven years to a penal colony, before finally extraditing him to Israel. He subsequently lived in Russia and in 1990 he returned to his hometown, Thessaloniki. He says that whether he was Greek, Italian or Jewish was of less significance to him than being a communist and having a free spirit.
Sofia Leviti is a care worker in the old people’s home, Saul Modiano. She grew up in remote Kazakhstan, where she was an English teacher. Her family is of Greek descent. In the former Soviet Union there were several hundred thousand people of Greek descent. Many emigrated after 1990, the majority to Greece, many to Thessaloniki and Sofia is one of these.
Yaacov was 15 years old when he was deported to Auschwitz. He comes from a wealthy family. After the war he went to Israel, because he did not want to get involved in the Greek civil war. It was only many years after the concentration camps that he conquered his shame and began to talk of his experience.
Olivera Shaquiri is an Albanian Roma, who begs for a living. Her family lives in Albania. She is 20 years old and has a six-year-old daughter. The gypsies are a part of life in every town in the Balkans.
Jiannis Kiriakidis is a reporter and has photographed all the local events in Thessaloniki over the past 50 years. He is a quintessential Thessalonian and his family, like many of his fellow citizens, is from Asia Minor, he is a Pontic Greek, as the Greeks from the Black Sea Coast are known. But he is also a fervent Macedonian and patriot, who feels that his identity is being threatened by the new Republic of Macedonia.
Oscar Florentin is descended from a poor Jewish family and was 18 when he was deported to Auschwitz with his family. He had just finished grammar school and intended to go on to further studies. But as he said: «The Germans have sent me to a much better university... to Auschwitz!» He talks of the dismissive and indeed disrespectful reception that he and other survivors received at the hands of the Greeks on his return. This seems to cause him pain even today.
Dani Sevi is 13 years old. He is preparing for his bar mitzvah. He and his brother, Baruch, belong to the youngest generation of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki. In total there are about 500 Jews still living in this once predominantly Jewish city.
Davico Saltiel has been the chazan, or cantor, in the Thessaloniki synagogue for the past 25 years. He is the only person who is still familiar with the traditional, Sephardic way of reciting the psalms. He was originally a shoemaker and is descended from a very poor Jewish family. His father was a socialist and partisan. In 1942 he fled with his family to the mountains, where he survived the war and the deportations.
Devin Naar is a history student from New Jersey. His ancestors originate from Salonica and emigrated to the USA in the 1920s. In the process of tracing his family history he came to Thessaloniki, where with the help of the little surviving archive material pertaining to the Jewish community he is researching the history of his family and that of the Jewish community as a whole. He is particularly interested in the fusion of the Ottoman-Turkish, Spanish, Jewish and Greek lineage in the city.