Leon Sciaky whose family were prosperous Jewish grain merchants, descendents of the Sephardic Jewish exodus from Spain in 1492, grew up in the vibrant city of Salonica (now Thessaloniki) in Macedonia in a remarkably polyglot world where Turkish, Arabic, Greek, Bulgarian, French, Spanish and Hebrew were all spoken regularly in the city's busy streets and quays. In the early part of the book Sciaky's recollections are achingly nostalgic and lyrical and describe an intimate and affectionate family existence where every day the young Sciaky would eat with his parents and his adored grandfather Nono on the oriental divan, exchanging stories and jokes. But in retrospect, the city was doomed to destruction and as early as 1902 when Leon Sciaky experienced an earthquake, he remarked: One's very conception of solidity, one's feeling of security was suddenly destroyed. Soon after, the young Sciaky witnessed the earliest examples of modern terrorism and a downward spiral of violent attacks. His account of the end of a world is powerful and intense; when, as a young boy, he saw the look of terror in the face of a refugee peasant, he likened it to the animal dread of cattle in the slaughterhouse. Farewell to Salonica was first published in America in 1946. It is a beautiful and touching memoir, which also offers a unique political and historical insight into the complex history of the breakdown of the Turkish Empire. The Sciakys left for America in 1915 and like them many non-Greeks left Salonica following the Balkan Wars and World War I. All but 1,600 of the city's 50,000 Jewish inhabitants perished in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
Leon Sciaky was born in 1893 and grew up in Salonica. In America he lead a bohemian life and pioneered children's camps. He later moved to Mexico where in died in 1958. Neil Barnett has written the introduction to this memoir. He is a journalist specializing in the Balkans. He has writes for, amoungst others, The Spectator.
‘It is nostalgic, beautifully written and illuminating for its evocation of how an apparently stable, multicultural provincial Ottoman city collapsed into the tangle of Balkan rivalries that still beset the region.’ - John de Falbe, The Sunday Times