DIGITAL EXHIBITION

Views of Cosmopolitan Thessaloniki: The Postcards of the Beza family

ISAAC M. BEZA COLLECTION OF POSTCARDS

This collection is a family inheritance of the family of Mr. Joseph Florentin, discovered in the home of his grandmother when she passed away in 2002. Recently, he kindly donated it to the JMG. It consists of 318 postcards, sent mainly by Isaac M. Beza, (the father of his step-grandfather) who was a commercial agent in Thessaloniki, from various commercial centres and cities, where he travelled on business. They were addressed to his wife, Fortuné (or Fortunata) and his children Lucie, Alfred, Sarina, Irma and Alberto. Also included are many postcards sent by business associates and friends from various parts of the world to the Beza family, who maintained residences in Thessaloniki, Constantinople and, after World War II, Athens.

The photographs on these rare postcards, of public buildings, grand hotels, synagogues, Zeppelin airships and city panoramas, show the admiration and pride of the people of that time in architecture, urban planning and the advancement of technology.

The commercial, friendly and family correspondence on the postcards describes not only a part of the life of a typical Sephardic merchant from Thessaloniki, with his daily difficulties in long journeys (by ship and train), his concerns for his health and family, but also exemplifies the multilingualism, secularism and extensive network of Sephardic merchants, with Jewish and non-Jewish businesses, in the Ottoman Empire, Europe and the Balkans, in the early 20th century. In addition, the correspondence vividly reflects the historical events and general living conditions of half a century from 1899 to 1949.

Their relatively short delivery time, which usually does not exceed 20 days, is also impressive. Today, a postcard or letter within Europe takes between one and three months to be delivered to its recipient. So much for progress…

Many of the stamps of the postcards have been carefully removed by cutting out, apparently by a collector, often obliterating the postmark as well, making accurate dating difficult.

Some of the cards depict themes from Jewish life in various countries. They were sent mainly on the occasion of Jewish holidays, or, in the case of Sofia, as a souvenir of the opening of the new, magnificent Synagogue.

An extremely strange subject for postcards is the massacre of the Armenians in Adana, Türkiye in 1909. It seems they were printed by Levantines, as the note “Poste Française Mersina” on the front implies, maybe in the frame of the preparations, already under way, for carving up the Ottoman Empire. The stamp of the Ottoman Post indicates that the Ottoman state had not reacted to their distribution – maybe they were not even in a position to…

The languages used by the Beza family and their associates in their correspondence are mainly French, often mixed with Italian, Judeo-Spanish (both in Latin and Rashi script), German, Ottoman and, post-war, Greek. Their use indicates not only the cultivation of the family, but also reflects the multicultural and cosmopolitan atmosphere of the meeting point of the Near East and Europe.

Many postcards, mainly sent by Isaac Beza’s colleagues, proudly depict both the existing technology in effective use, e.g. textile factories, as well as the new, innovative technologies that exude confidence and optimism for the future (Zeppelin airships, airplanes).

Cards sent by associates of Isaac Beza, demonstrating the extent of the family’s trade relations not only in the Near East, the Balkans and Europe, but also in South America, and the respect in which they were held by their associates. In many of them, the pride of factory owners in their businesses, which act as symbols of technological progress and economic prosperity, becomes particularly evident.

The names of the many cities and countries on the postcards represent Europe and the Near East on the eve of the First World War. It was a world fitting to a cultured, cosmopolitan trader, as Isaac Bezas was. This world would violently and irreversibly change though, after 1918. It was the time when the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy, the Russian, German and Ottoman Empires and only a part of the modern Greek state existed.

Espacially interesting is the name of Thessaloniki: From Salonique – Turquie and Salonich or Saloniki or Salonika – Europ. Türkei, as well as Salonicco – Turchia Europea from 1914 onwards, after a short period of confusion, to Salonique – Grèce.

Images from places that even today attract tourist interest could as a matter of course not be missing. Some remain famous and eternally popular; others have been completely forgotten over time…

Exhibition contributors

EXHIBITION CURATOR Zanet Battinou

RESEARCH – TEXTS Christina Meri Alexios Menexiadis

TEXT EDITING Alexios Menexiadis

GRAPHIC DESIGN Hayia Cohen Eliza Solomon

COMMUNICATIONS Elisa Solomon

PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVE Leonidas Papadopoulos

The Jewish Museum of Greece would like to express its sincere thanks to Joseph Florentin for the donation of 318 letter stamps from his personal archive, which were sent mainly by Isaac M. Beza, a sales representative in Thessaloniki, at the turn of the last century.