The Jewish community of Thessaloniki (Salonica) thrived for centuries until the horrific events of World War II, the Nazi occupation, and the subsequent transportation of 46,000 people to the concentration camps decimated the community. Only 2,000 survivors returned to the city. The harrowing events are recounted in Talking until Nightfall: Remembering Jewish Salonica 1941-44 by Isaac Matarasso, a doctor who witnessed the oppression and recorded it stages as well as eyewitness accounts of those who returned to the city from the concentration camps.
The memoir was originally published in French and is now available in English with contributions from Matarasso’s family members, his son, Robert, his daughter-in-law Pauline, who translated the book and also wrote the introduction, and his grandson Francois, who wrote the book’s afterword, titled Listening to the Witnesses. The Greek text of the book was published in Athens in 2018.
The book vividly brings to life the Jewish community of Salonica and is a powerful reminder to never forget.
Dr. Matarasso and his son escaped imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Nazis and joined the resistance. After the city's liberation they returned to rebuild Salonica and, along with the other survivors, to grapple with the near-total destruction of their community.
Matarasso witnessed his Jewish community's devastation and does not shy away from describing the difficult aftermath and the feelings of grief, guilt, and grace as survivors returned home and shared their traumatizing experiences.
An essential read in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, Talking until Nightfall includes poignant moments amid the unspeakable violence and oppression that people experienced in the day to day struggle to survive in the ghetto that was set up in Salonica. The upheaval and the disbelief among the community at what they were experiencing at the hands of their fellow human beings is clearly described in the book and Matarasso criticizes community leaders and collaborators for their actions.
Heroic moments of escape and defiance are also included in the book which at times reads like a compelling novel, but as a doctor and scientist, Matarasso includes the facts and numbers that make the loss of so many people, from a variety of professions and levels of society, so devastatingly sad to comprehend. The glimpses of every day life highlight the tragedy of the loss of so many promising people, many in the prime of life, young children who never had the chance to grow up, and elders who still had so much to contribute and share in wisdom and experience with the younger members of the community.
It might seem easier to focus on man’s inhumanity to man, but this book showcases the hope and the indomitable spirit of the people who survived and continue through sharing their stories to keep alive the memory of the community, to never forget, but also to teach us the vital importance of championing human rights and respect for all people, so that such tragic history never repeats itself.
Talking until Nightfall: Remembering Jewish Salonica 1941-44 by Isaac Matarasso is available online.