‘Talking Until Nightfall’ (2020)

Remembering Jewish Salonica, 1941–44

Composite books are notoriously hard to pull off, but the immediacy and transparent honesty of the contributors leave powerful images in the mind.

Caroline Moorehead, The Tablet, 18 July 2020

Talking Until Nightfall (Bloomsbury) is unlike my other books, not least because it’s not really my book at all. It collects first hand accounts of the Shoah in Thessaloniki, written by my grandfather between 1948 and 1948, and by my father about 30 years later, before his untimely death.

During the German Occupation of the city, the Jewish population was subject to intimidation, public humiliation, theft, forced labour, imprisonment, torture and summary executions. Eventually, in the spring of 1943, most of those who had not managed to escape were deported to Auschwitz: very few returned. Of about 55,000 Jews living in the city in 1941, only about 2,000 were alive at the end of the war. My grandfather’s French texts were translated by mother, who also wrote a beautiful biographical introduction to the book. Together we edited it, selecting extracts from father’s incomplete memoir, and I wrote a final section, which draws together things I have been thinking about for as long as I can remember,. This is how it begins:

There were always stories. My earliest memories of Robert, my father, are entangled with them. Salonique – we spoke only in French – seemed ever close at hand, charmed from the air by words alone. The city whose streets he walked with his parents, cousins and friends, where he knew and was known by shopkeepers and café owners, to which he belonged in a way that he never felt again, stayed with him throughout his life. Though he never saw it after 1946 – because he never saw it after 1946 – its sunlit ways glowed in his heart. He evoked the White Tower on Salonica’s waterfront so often, and with such affection, that when I finally saw it, on a pilgrimage to my father’s birthplace after his death, it seemed to greet me like an old friend. In this lovely, complicated city, so changed since his 1930s childhood and yet still so recognisable from his stories, I walked with my father in spirit, alone, between the Aegean Sea and the mountains of Macedonia. It was exactly 50 years since the Liberation, half a century since Germans had deported nearly 50,000 of its citizens in fulfilment of a mad fantasy that Salonica, and Europe, would be Judenfrei. Historians still calculate the effects of those years. Families still feel the loss. On this jubilee, I needed to be here, a mischling like my father, simply to affirm that they had not succeeded.  Not entirely. 

From ‘Listening to the Witnesses’, by François Matarasso, Part VI of Talking Until Nightfall

There is a feature and interview in the Jewish Chronicle, and the book has been welcomed by reviewers:

A unique Holocaust memoir … The resurrection and enhancement of [this] 1948 manuscript is a triumph .” –  Kirkus Reviews, 1 June 2020

This is an important book. It is not an academic interpretation or analysis. It is powerful and unique, a first-hand account that also describes the lasting impact of the Shoah on its few Greek survivors and their heirs” – Rony Alfandary, The Spectator USA, 23 August 2020

Extraordinary … An account of the destruction of the Jewish population of Salonica, now Thessaloniki, during the Second World War, related by a man who was at its heart.” Charlie Connelly, The New European, 16 July 2020

Go to the Bloomsbury website to read more about Talking until Nightfall or order the book (which is also an audiobook, beautifully-read by Rebecca Front and Saul Reichlin). I’ve written about this history sparingly, but there are some blog posts on this site: