Thessaloniki Jews get language heritage programme after Spanish deal struck

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Thessaloniki Jews get language heritage programme after Spanish deal struck

Sephardic Greek community which was decimated by the Nazis gets support to teach its 1,200 members Ladino

Thessaloniki's Jewish museum
Thessaloniki's Jewish museum

The small community of Sephardi Jews living in the Greek city of Thessaloniki is to benefit from a new cultural language programme after reaching an agreement with an institute run by the Spanish government.

The deal, signed on Tuesday, means that the Instituto Cervantes will provide teachers and resources to teach Thessaloniki’s 1,200 Jews both Spanish and Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, a language created by the exiles over centuries.

Jews from areas such as Toledo, Granada and Seville fled to Thessaloniki – then under Ottoman rule – in 1492 after their expulsion from Spain as ordered by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

For years it thrived but in the 1940s the Nazis deported and killed more than 90 percent of the city’s Jews, leaving only a few hundred descendants of the original Iberian exiles.

“It was a community that spoke, ate and sang Spanish,” said David Saltiel, president of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, speaking to The Guardian. “After the Holocaust, only 1,500 Jews were left, but we’ve always kept that idea of our Spanish past in our hearts and we want to keep our traditions alive.”

Institute director Cristina Conde de Beroldingen said the city had “lose a piece of its own memory” in the Holocaust, but that “Spanish is coming back after 500 years”.

She said: “We want to recover this legacy for Thessaloniki. There were a lot of newspapers in Judeo-Spanish, so it’s a good time to go digging in the archives.”

Ladino is “the language of Don Quixote, of how Spanish was written back them,” she explained. “It’s the Spanish of the time but enriched by words from the countries through which the exiled Jews passed. No other community expelled from a country has managed to keep its identity and its language for so many years.”

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