Persecuted under the Spanish Inquisition, most of the Jews came to the city in the mid-16th century upon the Sultan's invitation. They breathed new life into the city after the decline that had followed the conquest of 1430.
Until the arrival of the refugees from Asia Minor in 1922, the Jews made up 30 to 50% of the population. Thessaloniki became the "Mother of Israel", a "second Jerusalem", and an important spiritual centre for the world's Jewry.
Exceptionally rich or exceptionally poor, they managed through hard work to dominate the city's commercial life. Their philanthropic events were days of celebration for the whole city. Their social organization, closed, religious and strictly patriarchal, played a decisive role in the preservation and prosperity of the Jewish community.
At the turn of the century, the Ottoman Empire's first labour federation came into being as a result of the community's manoeuvres, led by Abraham Benaroya. The Nazi occupation meant the virtual annihilation of the Jewish community; about 40,000 of its members were either executed, or deported to concentration camps.