In 1666, Thessaloniki's mixed religious
landscape was about to change once again.
Messianism was in vogue around Europe,
and some of the Jews in the city had already
started to believe that the Sabbatai Zevi,
who lived in Smirna but had studied in
Thessaloniki, was the long-awaited Messiah.
Zevi announced that he was embarking on a
march towards Constantinople to overthrow
the sultan and introduce God's Kingdom.
Religious frenzy took hold in Thessaloniki
and those who believed Zevi's words started
selling off their property, self-flagellating on
public marches and lying in their own graves;
some starved themselves to death. Zevi never
reached the capital, or at least not in the
way he had planned to. He was arrested and
brought before the sultan.
The padishah gave him a choice: to die as
a messiah or convert to Islam. Zevi chose
the latter option, and called on his followers
to do the same. Many did. This was the
beginning of a new Muslim sect, most of
whom were Jews from Thessaloniki. To other
Muslims they were dönmeh, a scornful word
for renegade, but they called themselves
ma'aminim, or believers. At the start of the
20th Century some 10,000 of them lived in
Thessaloniki and, as they were more liberal,
frequently joined reformist movements, such
as that of the Young Turks. This behaviour
resulted in a conspiracy theory that claims the
demise of the Ottoman Empire was the result
of a centuries-old secret plot conceived by
Zevi in 1666 and carried out by his followers.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers