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Avraam Benaroya

Avraam Eliezer Benaroya
Died16 May 1979(1979-05-16) (aged 91–92)

Avraam Eliezer Benaroya (Hebrew: אברהם בן-ארויה; Bulgarian: Аврам Бенароя; Greek: Αβραάμ Μπεναρόγια; Ladino: Abrahán Eliezer Benarroya; Turkish: Avram Benaroya; 1887 – 16 May 1979) was a Jewish socialist, member of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers' Party (Narrow Socialists),[7] later leader of the Socialist Workers' Federation in the Ottoman Empire. Benaroya played a key role in the foundation of the Socialist Worker's party of Greece in 1918, the predecessor of the Communist Party of Greece.[8][9]

Early years

Benaroya was born to a Sephardi Jew in Bulgaria.[10][11][12][13] He was raised in Vidin by a family of small merchants.[14][15][16][17] A polyglot, Benaroya learned to speak six languages fluently. He studied at the University of Belgrade Faculty of Law, but did not graduate, becoming rather a teacher in Plovdiv. Here Benaroya became a member of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers' Party (Narrow Socialists) (although other sources suggest that he joined the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers Party (Broad Socialists),[18] he himself insisted that this was incorrect[19]) and published in Bulgarian his work The Jewish Question and Social Democracy (1908).[20][21]

After the Young Turk revolution of 1908 he moved as a socialist organizer to Thessaloniki. He founded here a group called Sephardic Circle of Socialist Studies and was in connection to the Bulgarian left-wing faction, close to the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), called People's Federative Party (Bulgarian Section),[22] as well as to some Bulgarian socialists, who worked there.[23] Benaroya's influence grew, as he argued that any socialist movement in the city must take the form of a federation in which all national groups could participate. Due to the Bulgarian roots of its Jewish founder, the organization was viewed with suspicion by the Young Turks and later by the Greek government, as being close to the IMRO and Bulgarian socialist movement.[24][25][26]

The Fédération Socialiste Ouvrière

Solidaridad Obradera

Idealistic and pragmatic at the same time, in Thessaloniki Benaroya played a leading role in the creation, in 1909, of the mainly Jewish Socialist Workers' Federation, or in Ladino, Federacion. The organization took this name because, built on the federative model of the Social Democratic Party of Austria, it was conceived as a federation of separate sections, each representing the four main ethnic groups of the city: Jews, Bulgarians, Greeks and Turks. It published its literature in the languages of these four groups (i.e., Ladino, Bulgarian, Greek and Turkish, respectively) but in practice the two latter sections were under-represented if not nonexistent. The democratic Federacion soon became, under Benaroya's leadership, the strongest socialist party in the Ottoman Empire. It created combative trade unions, attracted important intellectuals and gained a solid base of support among Macedonian workers while cultivating strong links with the Second International. From 1910 to 1911 Benaroya edited its influential newspaper, the Solidaridad Ovradera, printed in Ladino.

Unlike other parties which were organised on ethnic lines, as a cross-community group the Federacion was allowed by the Ottoman authorities. A prominent Bulgarian member, Dimitar Vlahov, was a socialist MP in the new Ottoman parliament until 1912.[27][28] Indeed, its leaders initially supported the Young Turks, and Benaroya participated in the "Army of Freedom" march on Istanbul to help put down the Countercoup of 1909. Alarmed by the growing power of socialist groups, the CUP subsequently launched a crack down, under which Benaroya was jailed three times, in early November 1910, June 1911 (when he was deported to Serbia) and February 1912 (when he was deported to Greece).[29][30][31]

The Federacion and the labour movement in Greece

In the aftermath of the incorporation of Thessaloniki into the Greek state, Benaroya resisted the attempts to impose ethnic divisions in the city. Opposed to the First World War, Benaroya and another Jewish socialist were exiled for two and a half years at the island of Naxos. In contrast to most of the prominent socialists in the pre-1913 Greece who followed Eleftherios Venizelos, Benaroya and the Federacion, adhering to its internationalist ideals, mobilized for neutrality. As this happened to the same policy as pursued by King Constantine and his militaristic entourage, this led to the loss of support for Federacion in Macedonia.

From 1915 onwards the Federacion was buoyed by the popular reaction to the war. Both monarchist and Venizelist policy actually assisted the emancipation and the radicalization of the left, and Benaroya, keeping equal distance from both established political groups, was quick to turn the situation to advantage. In the 1915 general elections Federacion sent two deputies representing Thessaloniki (Aristotelis Sideris and Alberto Couriel) to the Greek Parliament, while it lost by only a few votes for a third seat. It already had strong links with internationalist groups and organizations all over Greece and abroad; from them the Socialist Workers Party was to spring up in due time. However, another socialist faction, headed by the future Prime Minister Alexandros Papanastasiou, who sided with Venizelos in foreign affairs, also had deputies elected in the same election.

Papanastasiou and other reform-minded socialists strongly supported Venizelos' liberal brand of nationalism. Benaroya and the Federacion, on the other hand, were influenced by Austromarxists such as Victor Adler, Otto Bauer and Karl Renner, who, sensitive to matters national, searched ways to utilize socialism as a cohesive force for the decrepit Habsburg monarchy; they elaborated the principle of personal autonomy, according to which national consciousness should be depoliticized and become a personal matter. Modern states should be based on free association and allow self-definition and self-organization of ethnicities in cultural affairs, while a mixed parliament, proportionally representing all nations of the realm, should decide on economic and political questions. The Federacion traced the origins of its federative position in Balkan authors of the Enlightenment like Rigas Velestinlis, and stressed that the forthcoming peace should exclude any change of borders or transfer of populations. The Socialist Workers' Party, that was created under Benaroya's initiative near the end of the First World War, followed closely the Federacion's theses on national self-determination, and wanted to transform the Greek state into a federation of autonomous provinces that would safeguard the rights of minorities and participate in a federative Republic of the Balkan peoples.

Jewish ethnic activism

Benaroya was interested in the Jewish Question since the beginning of his career and made efforts to promote Jewish causes throughout it. His first book was The Jewish Question and Social Democracy (1908) while once in Thessaloniki he founded a group called the Sephardic Circle of Socialist Studies. He also played a leading role in the creation, in 1909, of the mainly Jewish Federacion. Apprehensive of what the resurgent Greek self-confidence behind the Megali Idea might mean for Jews in Greece and Asia Minor, at the time he labelled the campaign imperialist. He envisaged a state free from any ethnic divisions where Jews could exist unpersecuted and free, retaining their religion. Some of his fears might have been argued to have been realised when after the city's fire, the Venizelos administration did not rebuild the original Jewish section,[32] adopting instead a French town plan, but a considerable proportion of the Jewish population remained throughout the following decades, with the Greek government guaranteeing their rights in March 1926. Benaroya was always very interested in combating anti-Semitism, while over later years he shifted his emphasis to reflect the sizable Thessaloniki Jewish community that chose to remain within the Greek state.

Partnership with Democratic Union

The tomb of Benaroya in the cemetery of Holon.

After a historic meeting with Venizelos, Benaroya's tactical abilities resulted in the birth of the Socialist Labour Party of Greece (later named Communist) and the General Confederation of Greek Workers, which helped unite Greek workers.

Government persecution of the new movement led to a general strike in 1919. Subsequently, social and political polarization, as well as the prestige of the newborn Soviet Union, strengthened the radicals and before long the party was affiliated to the Leninist Third International. The Labour Centre of Salonica, another creation of Benaroya's, which united more than twelve thousand workers of all nationalities, a good part of them Jews, became the focus of radical socialism. The fall of the Venizelos government (1920) and the war in Anatolia fuelled even more dissent, leading to anti-war riots. In the wake of these developments Benaroya, thrown in prison again, as well as most of the leading members of the party, were marginalized by the radicals. On the other hand, moderate socialists under Alexandros Papanastasiou started preparing their own revolution: their primary aim was now to overthrow the Greek monarchy.

In 1922 the Greek army was defeated by the Kemalists and a military revolution ensued that deposed King Constantine. The new government undertook many reforms, notably the distribution of big estates to peasants, but after a general strike, workers were violently suppressed.

A little later, in December 1923, Benaroya, together with Couriel and Kordatos, who preferred social-democratic organizational models and opposed radical Bolshevisation considering the circumstances not suitable for a revolution, were expelled from the Communist Party of Greece and he was obliged to quit the editorship of Avanti. Afterwards he focused his action on Thessaloniki's Jewish community, and participated in a splinter group that—with help from Papanastasiou, then Prime Minister—tried unsuccessfully to split the Communist Party. At that time he and Papanastasiou agreed on the need for reforms and not revolution, and on the priority of abolishing the monarchy. An equally urgent imperative, though, was combating racism and anti-Semitism.

Later life

Benaroya remained politically active after 1924 but as he stayed outside the principal political formations of the left, the communists and Papanastasiou's socialists, his capacity for action was increasingly restricted. In Thessaloniki he had a difficult political life, especially after the Liberals' more nationalist turn by the end of the decade, and the repeated coups d'état of 1935 that destroyed the Republic and the hopes of the democratic left. In the 1940s he lost a son during the Greco-Italian war, he survived the Nazi concentration camps, and led a small socialist party in Greece after his return collaborating himself with Alexandros Svolos. He left to Israel in 1953, to Holon, where he ran a small convenient store. He died in 1979, aged ninety two.


  1. ^ Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 3, Fred Skolnik, Michael Berenbaum, Macmillan Reference USA in association with the Keter Pub. House, 2007, ISBN 0-02-866097-8, p. 318.
  2. ^ Documents on the history of the Greek Jews: records from the historical archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Historiko Archeiotou, Hypourgeiou Exōterikōn (Greece), Panepistēmio Athēnōn, Kastaniotis Editions, 1998, p. 420.
  3. ^ Ιστορία του νέου Ελληνισμού 1770 - 2000 (2003). Τομ. 6. Μέρος Τέταρτο. Ελληνικά Γράμματα σελ 261. ISBN 960-406-545-9.
  4. ^ ΤΟ ΒΗΜΑ - ΜπεναρόγιαΟ «κόκκινος Αβραάμ» της Φεντερασιόν, 31/12/2010.
  5. ^ Ahmet Ersoy, Maciej Górny, Vangelis Kechriotis, Modernism: The Creation of Nation-states, Central European University Press, 2010, ISBN 9637326618, p. 444.
  6. ^ Documents on the history of the Greek Jews: records from the historical archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Phōteinē Kōnstantopoulou, Thanos Veremēs, Kastaniotis Editions, 1998, p. 420.
  7. ^ Abraham Benaroya, A Note on the Socialist Federation of Saloniki, Jewish Social Studies, 1949, pp. 70-71 - JSTOR
  8. ^ A. Thomas Lane, Biographical dictionary of European labour leaders, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995, ISBN 0-313-26456-2, p. 176.
  9. ^ Ahmet Ersoy, Maciej Gorny, Vangelis Kechriotis, Modernism: The Creation of Nation States, Central European University Press, 2010, ISBN 9637326618, p. 444.
  10. ^ Kostas Theologou & Panayotis G. Michaelides, The role of Jews in the late Ottoman and early Greek Salonica, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 2010, Routledge, pp. 316-317.
  11. ^ Jewish social studies, Conference on Jewish Social Studies (U.S.), Indiana University Press, 1945, p. 323
  12. ^ Marc David Baer, The Dönme: Jewish converts, Muslim revolutionaries, and secular Turks, Stanford University Press, 2010, ISBN 0-8047-6868-4, p. 90
  13. ^ Mark Mazower, Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950, Vintage, 2006, ISBN 0-375-72738-8, p. 269.
  14. ^ Mete Tunçay, Erik Jan Zürcher, Socialism and nationalism in the Ottoman Empire, 1876-1923, British Academic Press in association with the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, 1994, p. 60.
  15. ^ Ilicak, H. Şükrü (September 2002). "Jewish Socialism in Ottoman Salonica" (PDF). Southeast European and Black Sea Studies. 2 (3): 115–146. doi:10.1080/14683850208454706. ISSN 1468-3857. S2CID 145717501.
  16. ^ Joseph Rothschild, The Communist Party of Bulgaria: origins and development, 1883-1936, AMS Press, 1972, ISBN 0-404-07164-3, p. 213.
  17. ^ Jüdisches biographisches Lexikon: eine Sammlung von bedeutenden Persönlichkeiten, jüdischer Herkunft ab 1800, Hans Morgenstern, LIT Verlag Münster, 2009, ISBN 3-7000-0703-5, s. 68.
  18. ^ Joshua Starr, The Socialist Federation of Saloniki, Jewish Social Studies, 1945 - JSTOR
  19. ^ Abraham Benaroya, A Note on the Socialist Federation of Saloniki, Jewish Social Studies, 1949, pp. 70-71 - JSTOR
  20. ^ Joshua Starr, The Socialist Federation of Saloniki, Jewish Social Studies, 1945 - JSTOR
  21. ^ Zhak Eskenazi, Alfred Krispin, Emmy Barouh, Jews in the Bulgarian hinterland: an annotated bibliography, Judaica bulgarica, International Centre for Minority Studies and Intercultural Relations, 2002, p. 264.
  22. ^ Mercia MacDermott, For Freedom and Perfection (the life of Yané Sandansky), Journeyman Press, 1988, ISBN 978-1-85172-014-9, p.386.
  23. ^ Mark Mazower, Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950, 2004, p. 287.
  24. ^ "Due to the Bulgarian origins of its Jewish founder, Abraham Benaroya, the organization was viewed with suspicion by the Young Turks and later by the Greek government, as being close to the International Macedonian Revolutionary Organization and Bulgarian socialist movement. "Sociological papers", Volume 11, Universiṭat Bar-Ilan. Leon Tamman Foundation for Research into Jewish Communities, Bar-Ilan University, 2006, p.12.
  25. ^ "Nea Athilea" for instance interpreted the clashes as a proof that in Thessaloniki the strike has ceased to be labor-related, and that the promotion of socialist demands was a pretext for Anti-Greek actions and Avraam Benaroya — Federation leader, Jewish socialist, and Bulgarian subject — was singled out as the mastermind behind this turn of events. Billie Melman, Borderlines: genders and identities in war and peace, 1870-1930, Routledge, 1998, ISBN 0-415-91114-1, p. 430.
  26. ^ Benaroya, a Bulgarian Jew, came to Salonica in 1908 in order to establish an organized Jewish socialist movement in this city... However, the new CUP regime in the Empire was suspicious about the activities of Benaroya regarding his Bulgarian roots. Turkish Review of Balkan Studies, Volumes 10–11, Ortadoğu ve Balkan İncelemeleri Vakfı, Isis, 2005, p. 83.
  27. ^ Mete Tunçay, Erik Jan Zürcher, Socialism and nationalism in the Ottoman Empire, 1876-1923, British Academic Press, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, 1994, ISBN 1850437874, p. 65.
  28. ^ Mary C. Neuburger, Balkan Smoke: Tobacco and the Making of Modern Bulgaria, Cornell University Press, 2012, ISBN 0801465508, p. 67.
  29. ^ Iakovos J. Aktsoglou, The emergence / development of social and working class movement in the city of Thessaloniki (working associations and labor unions), “Balkan Studies”, Thessaloniki, Vol. 38, No. 2, 1997, p. 298, 300, 303.
  30. ^ Mark Mazower, Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950, 2004, pp. 288f.
  31. ^ Abraham Benaroya, A Note on "The Socialist Federation of Saloniki", Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Jan. 1949), p. 70
  32. ^ Benbassa, Esther; Aron Rodrigue (2000). Sephardi Jewry. A History of the Judeo-Spanish Community, 14th-20th Centuries. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520218222.


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