EAJS Conference Grant Programme 2021/22
Vienna and Thessaloniki. Two cities and their Jewish histories
University of Vienna, Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies
24-26 February 2022
The international workshop “Vienna and Thessaloniki. Two cities and their Jewish histories”, was designed to bring together a group of scholars, from different European universities, to critically engage with the interconnections and entanglements inherent in the Jewish histories of these two cities. Drawing inspiration from the historiography on Port Jewry and other related scholarship, the proposed program was intended to enhance knowledge on the historical connections between Viennese and Salonican Jewry through an examination of the two cities together, in juxtaposition, as well as on a comparative level. In short, the workshop was motivated by the general need to explore and reflect upon the Jewish histories of these two cities outside dominant scholarly approaches that either investigate the cities separately or as part of a state-centred framework. It was furthermore designed to encourage the examination of certain crucial themes. These themes included the question of space, both Jewish and non-Jewish within Vienna and Thessaloniki, the consequences for their Jewish communities brought about by the First World War and the subsequent dissolution of the Ottoman and Habsburg empires, the Shoah and its depiction in wartime photography as well as the Shoah more broadly as a turning point in the lives of these cities and their Jews.
The workshop convened an international and interdisciplinary group of ten emerging and established scholars from Austria, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom. It took place at the Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies (DBMGS) of the University of Vienna on 24-26 February 2022. This academic event was organised by Dimitrios Varvaritis (University of Vienna) and Nathalie Soursos (University of Vienna) in close collaboration with the staff and faculty of the DBMGS and with the generous support and financial assistance of the Conference Grant Program of the European Association for Jewish Studies (EAJS) and the Austrian Society for Modern Greek Studies.
Although initially planned to be held in person, due to the ongoing covid-19 situation, the organisers decided in early 2022 to host the workshop in hybrid format. This format enabled a number of speakers to present their papers remotely and furthermore allowed for an expanded audience of listeners chiefly from Greece, Germany, Austria and Israel. At any given moment there were approximately twenty-five people present in the audience in Vienna with another twenty to twenty-five joining the workshop’s audience remotely through the live video-stream. The working language of the workshop was English and to a lesser extent German and Greek.
The selection of papers and speakers was based on personal invitations of the organisers as well as on the submission of abstracts by way of a public Call for Papers. The Call for Papers was published in September 2021 on the webpages of H-Judaic, H Soz Kult and the European Society for Modern Greek Studies. In the process of selection of speakers the organisers prioritised doctoral candidates, recent doctoral graduates, early career scholars and researchers as well as scholars associated with the host department and the wider academic community of the University of Vienna. Priority was also given to those established scholars who had a proven record of pertinent research and publications in the specific fields of Viennese and Salonican Jewish history.
Following the end of the submission process the organisers produced a provisional program that included the Keynote lecture of Professor Rika Benveniste (University of Thessaly) and twelve papers. Due, however, to the subsequent withdrawal of three papers the workshop’s final program (see below) consisted of nine papers. These nine papers were arranged into four panels. They were initially grouped thematically and then chronologically, starting in 18th century Vienna (Anna Ransmayr) and ending in mid-twentieth century Thessaloniki (Nathalie Soursos). Each speaker had twenty minutes for his/her presentation, while a thirty minute discussion was programmed at the end of each panel. The keynote lecture took place after the third panel, in the afternoon of Friday 25 February 2022.
A webpage dedicated to the workshop was created within the website of the University of Vienna. On this webpage the organisers published, in advance of the start of the workshop, the workshop’s final program as well as the abstracts and papers. A copy of the final conference report will also be published on this website.
The workshop commenced with the welcoming greetings of Christophe Erismann, Head of the DBMGS and was followed by some introductory remarks from Nathalie Soursos and Dimitrios Varvaritis. The first panel, entitled “Jewish communities, topographies and spaces” was chaired by Dimitrios Kousouris (University of Vienna) and included three papers.
Anna Ransmayr (University of Vienna) opened with a paper on the relations between Vienna’s two Greek-Orthodox communities and the community of Turkish-Israelites (or Sephardi Jews) of the city. Offering a longue durée perspective Ransmayr referred in detail to the legal bases of these communities within the Habsburg Empire and retraced numerous common institutional and organizational issues that these communities faced over the course of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. These legal bases provided a secure foundation upon which both groups were able to successfully live and trade in Vienna as tolerated non-Catholics and in time cultivate a kind of “Viennese oriental” identity that combined elements of late 19th century Viennese culture with their Balkan roots. The end of the Habsburg monarchy was a severe blow to these communities and the paper closed with brief references to the fate of the Sephardi community during National Socialism.
The second paper of this panel was given by Susanne Korbel (University of Graz). It examined, using both a micro-historical approach and digital humanities methods, relations between Jewish and non-Jewish residents in two districts of Vienna in the period 1880-1930. Korbel’s paper provided an in-depth analysis of the everyday life of two residential buildings, one in Döbling and the other in Leopoldstadt. This analysis was based on literary sources, address books, oral history testimonies and registration card indexes. Furthermore, Korbel presented how Jews and non-Jews developed a common and shared notion of community through daily and habitual activities in private and public spaces as well as a strong identification with the wider residential area to which they belonged.
Architectural historian Fani Gargova (University of Vienna) focused on the question of Synagogue architecture in the Balkans. Gargova argued that due to the large amount of relevant scholarship on the Jewish cultural, political and religious life in Vienna and Thessaloniki, it is often assumed that they were also centres in terms of architectural design and history. She then presented various missing links that can help better understand the mechanisms of (dis-)entanglement between the Jewish communities of Vienna and Thessaloniki and the Balkans in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the discussion, Gargova impressed with her expertise on the architecture of Thessaloniki and the aftermath of the fire of 1917.
The second panel entitled “Viennese and Saloncian Jewish memories” consisted of two papers both of which examined the Jewish memories of the Shoah in Vienna and Thessaloniki. Its chair was Nathalie Soursos (University of Vienna).
The panel’s first paper, by Eleni Beze (University of Thessaly), examined five cases of Greek Jewish women who during the Axis occupation of Greece, and subsequent Civil War, participated in the leftist resistance. Through a close reading of these women’s postwar testimonies as well as some impressive photographs, Beze’s paper illuminated the multi-faceted nature of these women’s wartime experiences, stressing not only the importance of gender in the formation of their feminine identity but also the role that other factors such as geography, participation in partisan groups and maternity played in the formation of their leftist identities.
The second paper of this panel, that of doctoral candidate Stefania Zezza (Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata) presented six Viennese and Salonican Jews interviewed by the pionnering Latvian-American psychologist David Boder in 1946. These interviews are among the earliest testimonies on the Holocaust and given this temporal proximity, Zezza’s paper enriched and complemented the findings of Beze. Through a meticulous analysis of these interviews, Zezza argued that while many traumatic experiences were common to both groups. other were more specific and dependent on the language and socio-cultural background of the interviewee.
The third panel was chaired by Professor Maria Stassinopoulou (University of Vienna) and was centred on the theme of Jewish networks. It was entitled “Salonican Jewish networks of Trade and War Relief”.
The first paper, that of doctoral candidate Lida Dodou (University of Vienna), focused on the forgotten history of the Salonican Jews of the Habsburg Monarchy, and in particular the applications for Austrian citizenship made by a number of prominent Salonican Jewish families immediately before and during the Balkan Wars (1912-1913). In this sense Dodou’s paper complements and extends further the themes of commercial mobility, migration and settlement developed in Anna Ransmayr’s intervention. Dodou’s paper was moreover based on a detailed and ongoing examination of the archives of the Austrian Foreign Office and especially the records of the Habsburg consulate of Thessaloniki.
Following a similar thematic thread to that of Dodou was the paper of Paris Papamichos-Chronakis (Royal Holloway, University of London). Chronakis’ paper focused on the politics of contraband trade in Thessaloniki during the First World War. It examined how the British and French military authorities imaginatively adopted a variety of non-economic criteria to define as “contraband” the business activities of prominent Jewish and Dönme merchants. These merchants were often able to successfully resist the restrictive sanctions and Chronakis’ paper argued that the factors that primarily strengthened the position of the sanctioned merchants were the conflicting geostrategic interests of the Entente powers, interests that moreover could be skillfully manipulated by these merchants in their favour.
Both papers provided an actor-network approach and thus brought to the fore the merchants’ and migrants’ agency, actions and experiences. During the discussion that followed the above papers the broad themes of citizenship, national allegiance and their relationship to transnational mobility and shifting notions of state territoriality were explored at length.
The keynote lecture entitled “Salonika, Vienna: Entangled Jewish histories in the 20th century” was delivered by the eminent historian Rika Benveniste. Benveniste is Professor of European Medieval History at the University of Thessaly in Volos, Greece. She has published extensively on recent Greek Jewish history and especially on the immediate post-Shoah period. Her lecture did not seek to tell the Jewish histories of the cities in the twentieth century but rather “read one history through the other”. Its aim was thus to highlight encounters and discrepancies, common structures and emphasise stories of movement and travel, deportation and migration. It made extensive use of relevant visual material and photographs as well as numerous literary sources.
The lecture began on a personal note. Benveniste recalled travelling, by wagon-lits, to Vienna as a child. This recollection served as a starting point for a reflection on the historical significance of the late 19th century railway line that connected the two cities. To this end she did not neglect to remind the audience that although this line did advance the economic development of Thessaloniki and furthermore provide the Habsburg Monarchy with an outlet to the Aegean Sea, it also constituted the means by which the Jews of the city reached the death camps of Poland.
Benveniste went on to address the tumultuous and dislocating effects, on Viennese and Salonican Jewry, brought about by the end of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires. One of the particularly troubling consequences was the emergence of a new radical antisemitism embodied in the 1931 Campbell riots and the Kristallnacht. This antisemitism did not however disappear. And so in the wake of the Anschluss and the German Occupation of Greece began the desperate attempts of many Jews to flee the Nazi maw. Benveniste retraced some of these trajectories, displacements and deportations. Her lecture continued with the post-Shoah return to life and the endeavours by survivors to rebuild and to mourn. It closed by detailing the contemporary efforts to create permanent and appropriate Shoah memorials in both cities. Benveniste moreover noted the profound reluctance and ambivalence surrounding the erection and continued presence of the memorials in the landscapes of these cities. Her lecture provided, in sum, an important foreground for all the workshop’s papers and especially those of the fourth and final panel.
The fourth panel entitled “The Holocaust in photography” presided by Professor Frank Stern (University of Vienna) began with the paper of Maria Kavala (Aristotle University Thessaloniki) on the collection of photographs, taken by the German soldier Werner Range, of the Black Sabbath in July 1942 in Thessaloniki. This rare photographic material, Kavala argued, presented not only distinct and cynically “tourisitic” view of the German military observer but also contributes to a clearer and more detailed reconstruction of this seminal day in the Shoah of the city.
The second paper of this panel was delivered by Nathalie Soursos (University of Vienna). It explored holocaust-era photography from Salonica and in particular its various uses in Greek-Jewish memoir literature and postwar trials. Soursos emphasised the often non-critical use of these photographs in much of the historiographical and testimonial literature and argued for a re-examination of this visual material that takes into account the broader history behind the photographs and outside the picture frame.
During the vibrant discussion that followed Frank Stern offered extensive and expert commentary on the panel’s papers. He emphasised that in the study of the photographic, and more broadly the visual, material concerning the Shoah in Greece, one needed to draw a distinction between the works of official German war photographers, those of ordinary German soldiers and the photographic traditions and outputs of 1940s Greece. Stern furthermore discussed the materiality of these sources as well as issues concerning their “trade” in various “black” markets and their antisemitic and orientalist depiction of Jews.
The workshop’s closing round table triggered a lively discussion during which the following topics were raised:
- the various meanings of the term Zionism and their relation to the survival of Jews during the Shoah.
- the question of the popular Sephardi musical culture of Israel – its origins in Thessaloniki and through Israel its transmission to the Jewish diaspora
- the need to revisit, reassess and contextualise the testimonies of survivors of the Shoah irrespective of the time that the testimony was taken.
- the challenges of transmitting the content of the above testimonies to the next generation of students.
- the continuing and problematic debates in Vienna and Thessaloniki, surrounding the public acknowledgement, through the creation of relevant monuments and memorial spaces, of the destruction of their Jewish communities in the Shoah.
- the persistence of antisemitism in present-day Vienna and Thessaloniki and by extension, in Austria and Greece.
Summary of Discussions
This workshop offered a major opportunity for scholars to discuss a new and promising approach by comparing Jewish communities in two key cities in European Jewish history – Vienna and Thessaloniki. From the history of Greek-Orthodox and Sephardi-Jewish relations in the 18th and 19th centuries to the dissolution of the imperial Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman states, and in turn to the Shoah, the participants, panel chairs, speakers and listeners shared materials, ideas, sources and knowledge related to the diverse historical experiences of the Jews of these cities. The broad chronological timeframe chosen allowed us to include the imperial history of both cities and find surprisingly many interrelations. One of the many important thematic threads was the concept of Jewish space within the space of a city, that is space not only in the sense of the built environment and neighbourhoods of a city but also in terms of sites of collective Jewish memory. Another key thread was the end of empire and the ensuing consequences of the changes of national borders during the 20th century for the Jewish communities and Jewish individuals. A number of papers demonstrated the important connection between individual Jewish agency and shifting notions of allegiance and citizenship during times of socio-political transition. A further and final theme was centred on the Shoah – its memory and depiction in photography and the visual arts more broadly. The workshop encouraged new insights into these issues and contributed to the study of Jewish history of Vienna and Thessaloniki beyond the traditional state-centred framework.
The EAJS Conference Grant Program enabled the conveners of this Workshop to provide accommodation to three scholars from outside Vienna as well as cover their travel expenses and offer coffee breaks, one lunch and two evening meals to all the workshop’s participants. The workshop also provided a distinctive opportunity for scholars, from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, to meet and discuss on their respective work. It has therefore broadened the academic networks of all the participants. This academic event succeeded in stimulating a lively discussion and exchange between scholars. The discussions across the workshop confirmed the importance of approaching Jewish histories in an interdisciplinary perspective. The workshop successfully promoted Jewish scholarship in the framework of Modern Greek Studies. The event also enabled the Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies of the University of Vienna to build new relationships with scholars who work on Jewish history not only in other departments of the University but in universities in the United Kingdom, Italy and Greece. It also assisted in promoting and associating the Department’s name within the European-wide network of Jewish studies. The publication of the workshop’s papers in a major Jewish Studies journal is being planned. The details of this publication will be finalised in the coming months. The organisers are also considering the possibility of a second workshop in the city of Thessaloniki that will focus on aspects and themes that were not addressed in the Vienna workshop.
The event was publicised through the following channels:
- Event page on the H Soz Kult website: https://www.hsozkult.de/searching/id/event-112584?title=vienna-and-thessaloniki-two-cities-and-their-jewish-histories&q=thessaloniki&sort=&fq=&total=210&recno=8&subType=event
- Webpages of H-Judaic: https://networks.h-net.org/node/28655/discussions/8211851/cfp-vienna-and-thessaloniki-two-cities-and-their-jewish-histories
- Website of Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies: https://wienergriechen.univie.ac.at/workshop-vienna-and-thessaloniki/
- Mailing list of abovementioned Department.
- Website of the European Society for Modern Greek Studies: https://www.eens.org/?eens-event=call-for-papersvienna-and-thessaloniki-two-cities-and-their-jewish-histories
- Personal channels of individual participants.
A workshop poster and a brochure were printed and distributed during at the start of the Workshop.
Final Program of Workshop
Thursday, 24 February 2022
19:00 Meet & Greet and Welcome Dinner
Friday, 25 February 2022
Christophe Erismann (Head of Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies)
Dimitrios Varvaritis (University of Vienna)
9:30-11:00 Jewish Communities, Topographies and Spaces
Chair: Dimitrios Kousouris
Anna Ransmayr (University of Vienna), Fellow Balkan merchants – the Turkish-Israelite and the two Greek Communities of Vienna from 1718 until World War II
Susanne Korbel (University of Graz), Viennese Jewish Spaces 1880-1930: A Relational Approach
Fani Gargova (University of Vienna), Decentering the Centers: Reassessing the role of Vienna and Thessaloniki in a Balkan context
11:30-12:30 Viennese and Salonican Jewish memories
Chair: Nathalie Soursos
Eleni Beze (University of Thessaly), Greek Jewish, Leftist and Women: Narrating the experience of the Shoah
Stefania Zezza (Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata): Aftermath: Viennese and Salonikan Jews interviewed by David Boder in 1946
14:00-15:00 Salonican Jewish Networks of Trade and War Relief
Chair: Maria Stassinopoulou
Lida Dodou (University of Vienna), Salonica Jews in the Habsburg Empire, 1867-1918: A forgotten story.
Paris Papamichos Chronakis (Royal Holloway University of London): ‘Trading with the Enemy’ Salonican Jews, Central Europe, and the Politics of Contraband Trade During the First World War
16:00 Keynote Lecture
Salonika, Vienna: Entangled Jewish Histories in the 20th Century
Rika Benveniste (University of Thessaly)
Saturday 26 February 2022
9:30-10:30 The Holocaust in Photography
Chair: Frank Stern
Maria Kavala (Aristotle University, Thessaloniki), A “black” photo diary. The rare photographic material of the young German soldier Werner Range on Black Saturday in Thessaloniki (Andreas Assael’s collection)
Nathalie Soursos (University of Vienna), Photographs as evidence in Court and Memorial Literature
11:00-12:00 Round Table
Frank Stern (University of Vienna)
Maria Stassinopoulou (University of Vienna)
Dimitrios Varvaritis (University of Vienna