On June 29, 1931, anti-Semitic riots against the Jews of Salonica broke out in Thessaloniki, which the Greek state feared could damage its reputation, and attempts were made to downplay the incidents, especially abroad. The downplaying continued however, as recently discovered British intelligence documents show.
According to these documents, the pogrom against the Jews in what is now Thessaloniki, in todays northern Greece, did not just come about, but rather it was a deliberate act of revenge.
The Campbell Affair – Attack against the Jews of Salonica
The Campbell Affair was the attack on the Jewish settlement of Camp Campbell in Salonica, which occurred between June 23 and 28, 1931 and then ended in the pogrom on June 29.
The settlement was created to house homeless Jews in 1927 when the old Akçe Mescid neighborhood was demolished after a fire.
After many inquiries from the Jewish community, an abandoned British military camp with an area of 45 acres was found suitable to house the homeless. The Jews of Salonica bought the entire area directly from the owners and initially housed 210 families.
On the night of June 23, 1931, riots broke out in the city center when the Greek fascist organization EEE (Ethnike Enosis Ellas, National Union Greece which was informally known as the Greeks Eliminate Jews) distributed anti-Jewish propaganda flyers and attacked Jewish shopkeepers. Then there were several attacks against Jews:
- Near the settlement 151 (June 24)
- Against the settlement 151 (June 26)
- Against the settlement 6 (June 27)
On the night of June 29, a group of approximately 350 people attacked the remote Campbell settlement.
Together with the 700 inhabitants of the Campbell settlement, hundreds fled from other settlements from the surrounding area to the center of Thessaloniki, where they were offered temporary accommodation in schools and synagogues.
In April 1932 the trial of the events in the Campbell settlement took place in Veria. “The Greek judiciary had won the case”, all of the defendants were found innocent.
The Jews of Salonica supported Macedonia’s autonomy – Asian Greeks responded with a pogrom
As discovered intelligence documents show, the pogrom “did not just fall from the sky”. As the British documents and report notes reveal, the attack is said to have taken place because of the Macedonian question. Because the Jews were in favor of Macedonia’s autonomy.
The British Diplomatic Report, F.O. Note – dated July 17, 1931, stating that the Jewish organization that supported the autonomy of Macedonia was the pretext for the attack by the Greek extremists against the Jews of Salonica.
So we read in the “Secret Note”:
F.O. Note – date 7/17/1931
Anti-Jewish disturbances in Salonica
Anti-Jewish disturbances occure in Salonika on June 23rd and 28th after the National Union of Students did significant damage to property in the Jewish Quarter. In protest against an envoy from the Jewish Maccabeic Society who attended a meeting in Sofia where a resolution for the autonomy of Macedonia was being passed.
Jewish residents fled their homes fearing another attack after the pogrom at Camp Campbell, as the Jewish settlement was called.
On the night of June 29, 1931 until the early hours of the next morning, the entire Camp Campbell Jewish settlement was destroyed by fire and 500 families were left homeless when Greek-Christian refugees from Asia Minor unleashed a pogrom.
That the reason for the pogrom was the Macedonian question is also confirmed by Bea Lewkowicz. In her thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, London School of Economics, University of London in 1999, she wrote:
The massive influx of Asia Minor refugees, who came to be seen as a catalyst for a homogenous Greek state, created an atmosphere of fierce economic competition between the Jewish and Greek working classes. The fascist party Tria Epsilon (Ethiki Enosis Ellas, National Union of Greece), founded in 1927, found ample support among the deprived refugees who were willing to blame Communists and Jews for their misfortune.
The tense situation led to the first large scale antisemitic incident in the history of Thessaloniki: the looting of Campbell, a poor Jewish neighbourhood. The incident was triggered by news that a member of the Maccabee society had participated in a meeting in Sofia which adopted a resolution for an independent Macedonia. Tria Epsilon thus launched a campaign against the ‘foreign and communist Jews’ who had ‘betrayed’ Greece. The quarter of Campbell was set on fire after an earlier attempt in the neighbourhood of Toumba had failed. The Campbell event was accompanied by antisemitic campaigns in various newspapers, Macedonia in particular, in which Jews were portrayed as foreign elements who were harmful to ‘Greek interests’. The Campbell incident caused another wave of Jewish emigration. Between 1932 and 1934 Salonikan Jews left for Palestine, France, the United States and South America. It is a very important event in the history of the Jews of Thessaloniki because it demonstrates that a certain political and economic climate can make an ethnic group ‘suspicious’ to the majority population of a nation-state. In the public eye the ‘foreign’ element of the actually ‘indigenous’ Jews was fuelled by the fact that they spoke Ladino and ‘stuck to themselves’. The accusation of non-Greek, unpatriotic behaviour and treason which surrounded the Campbell events (and the Tobacco Strike in 1914) created an insecurity among the Jewish community which still exists today.
According to Greek authors Stratos Dordanas and Vaios Kalogrias, the Greek government in Athens tried to cover up the incidents abroad:
The incidents of June 29, 1931, which the state feared could damage its reputation, were downplayed, especially abroad …
The pogrom led to a pre WWII Exodus
The Campbell affair led to a pre WWII Exodus of Jews of Salonica. According to Katerina Lagos (Full Professor at California State University, Sacramento), in her work “Forced Assimilation or Emigration: Sephardic Jewry in Thessaloniki, 1917 – 1941”, a large number of Jews emigrated to Palestine.
A final pre-WWII exodus occurred in Thessaloniki following the 1931 Campbell Riots. In this case, legislation was not the centre of controversy. The rise of the anti-Semitic EEE (Ethnike Enosis Ellas, National Union Greece which was informally known as the Greeks Eliminate Jews) capitalized on the existing national economic crisis and local tensions of the Asia Minor refugees and generated a violent outburst in the Jewish neighbourhoods of the city. The EEE targeted the Thessaloniki Maccabee sports association and claimed that they were both separatist in orientation and also politically disloyal. Attacks on the Maccabee club offices and the city’s Jewish neighbourhood number 151, the Campbell District, quickly ensued. Over 300 shots were fired in the Campbell District and three different locations in the district were set ablaze. While many of the residents ultimately returned to their homes, a large number emigrated to Palestine, then under the British Palestine Mandate.
Description of the cover picture:
Jewish refugees leaving their homes for fear of another attack after the pogrom at Camp Campbell in Thessaloniki. During the night of June 29, 1931 and continuing into the early hours of the next morning, the entire Jewish settlement of Camp Campbell was destroyed by fire and 500 families made homeless, when Greek Christian refugees from Asia Minor unleashed a pogrom. Scores of Jews were injured in the attack and one Jew and one Christian were killed.
Date, June 1931 – July 1931. Source, USHMM (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), via Wikipedia