Roots in Thessaloniki

In the summer of 1973, two young Frenchmen just out of high school arrived in Thessaloniki from Istanbul. For one of them, it was simply a holiday in two cosmopolitan cities but, along with an InterRail ticket, his friend Nicolas Sarkozy had a number of legal documents in his rucksack. Sarkozy, now president of France, had traveled a few thousand kilometers for an additional reason – to obtain part of the proceeds from the sale of property that belonged to his family, whose roots hailed from Thessaloniki when it was under Ottoman rule. Whether he actually received any money is not confirmed by any notary public contracts or bank records from the time, some of which confirm that Sarkozy’s ancestors were among the legitimate heirs to property there. However, the evidence provided by his friend, and recorded in the book by Giorgos Anastassiadis, Leon Nar and Christos Raptis, «Me, the Grandson of a Greek,» reveals that he did not return to Paris with empty pockets. According to his friend, Sarkozy was paid 4,000 French francs from the sale of his family’s share and since Greek law did not permit the export of the money from the country, he took it across the border hidden in the lining of his jacket. His grandfather Beniko Mallach was a Greek from Thessaloniki who had emigrated to France at the turn of the 20th century in search of a better life. Right after his election, the French president thanked his compatriots for electing «the son of a Hungarian immigrant and the grandson of a Greek from Thessaloniki.» In the summer of 1904, Beniko Mallach, the son of the jeweler Mordechai Mallach took a ship from Thessaloniki for Marseilles to end up in a small industrial town a few kilometers outside Paris. He did not emigrate for economic reasons. His father had been a well-to-do merchant with the biggest jewelry shop in the city and his children’s future was certain. However Beniko had other dreams – he wanted to study, to change his life and so left for Paris where he became a doctor and married Adele Bouvier with whom he had two daughters, one of which, Andree, became Nicolas Sarkozy’s mother. In 1950, Andree met a charming Hungarian immigrant, an adventurer from a noble family who had served in the Foreign Legion, named Paul Sarkozy. They married and, five years later, on January 28, 1955, Nicolas was born. «A few years ago, a distant uncle, Alex Mallach, who lived in Paris, told us we had a cousin who was a politician, named Nicolas Sarkozy,» said Loukia Mallach, who along with her sister Lina are Sarkozy’s sole living relatives in Thessaloniki. «He gave us his telephone number and we contacted him. When Sarkozy came to Athens shortly before he was elected president, we met at the French Embassy. It was a lovely moment. He was very happy and asked us a lot of things about the Mallachs and about Thessaloniki. We gave him an album of family photographs and he promised that at the first opportunity he would visit the city where his grandfather had been born.»