Thessaloniki’s Jewish athletes in the spotlight

An exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki draws attention to personal narratives of Greek Jewish athletes in the northern port city who contributed to nationwide developments.

These little-known stories are both shocking and inspiring, and they chronicle the brutal interruption of many athletes’ bright careers, at Thessaloniki clubs such as Maccabi and AKOAX, with the intensification of the Nazi hold over the region.

«Modern historians in the past 50 years have tended to focus on microhistory, on the study of daily life, in order to discover what they like to call ‘hidden voices,’» Evangelos Hekimoglu, ephorate of the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki, told Kathimerini.

«The history of the Jewish community is more often than not identified with the Holocaust or focused on Jews who distinguished themselves as intellectuals. The arena of sports is very much neglected and rarely studied,» added the curator of the exhibition, Nikos Zaikos, associate professor at the University of Western Macedonia.

Among the stories showcased at the exhibition is that of boxing champion Dino Uziel, who used his fists to avoid being transported from a camp in Serbia to the notorious Auschwitz extermination camp. Jacko Razon and Salamo Arouch were also boxers, who were forced by guards to fight with other inmates for their entertainment and would only be allowed to continue living if they won.

The show tells the story of track and field star Allegra Gategno, who was last seen in Thessaloniki during the occupation, emaciated and dressed in a burlap sack, as well as those of Jack Passy, who died in one of the camps.

Two athletic clubs were born in the early 20th century from the large Jewish population in Thessaloniki: Maccabi in 1908 and AKOAX is 1904. Representing amateur athletes in numerous sports, including soccer, tennis, cycling, fencing, swimming, track and field and boxing, great stars emerged from these and other affiliated clubs: middle-distance runner Leon Passy and his younger brother Jack; international soccer player Alberto Nahmia, top scorer on the national team in its game against Italy in 1929; sprinters Maurice Coen and Allegra Gategno of Iraklis; and, of course, the great boxing team comprising Dino Uziel, Jacko Razon and Salamo Arouch.

Maccabi, a table tennis champion before the outbreak of World War II, redefined itself in the 1960s and has grown into a force in basketball.

The Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki is located at 13 Aghiou Mina Street (tel 2310.250.406) and is open Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m.

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