History

Yugoslav film archive reveals raw footage of Thessaloniki’s 1917 great fire

Due to one French soldier lack of attention, on the 18th August 1917 there was a great fire in Thessaloniki which destroyed two thirds of the city, leaving more than 70,000 homeless, a great number of them in the Turkish and Jewish quarters of the city. The fire burned for 32 hours and destroyed 9,500 houses within an extent of 1 square kilometer. Half the Jewish population emigrated as their livelihoods were gone.

Almost a year before this incident, the film department of the Serbian army was founded and in this fire the newly acquired laboratory for film development from Italy was destroyed. In return, the cinematographer of the department, Colonel Mika Mihajlović Afrika, recorded all details of this event – soldiers and civilians on the beach, panoramic shot of the town without any indication of the ongoing drama, gradual spreading of the black smoke that covered the town, only to show the real scales of disaster by the shot made from a boat.

Cinematography skills of Mika Afrika were revealed mostly in the display of fatalistic serenity with which the citizens of Thessaloniki accepted this catastrophe – monotonous and persistent, albeit hopeless work of the firefighters on putting out the fire; slow moving of the citizens on pier, as if going for a stroll, carrying rescued bundles.