Mario Modiano, a Jewish-Greek writer who chronicled some of the most turbulent times of modern Greek history, died November 26 in Athens. He was 86.
Modiano was born in Salonica, Greece in 1926 to Sam and Nella (nee Tchenio) Modiano. His family came from a long line of rabbis whose ancestor, Rabbi Samuel Modillano, moved from Italy to Salonica sometime in the mid-16th century. Sam Modiano was a prolific writer who joined forces with Avram Houli to launch the French-language newspaper Le Progres around 1926. Houli was the proprietor and Sam Modiano was the editor. At the outset the paper had great financial difficulties because of competition with the long-established afternoon daily L’Indepandant, which commanded great prestige. After Houli died in 1931, Sam Modiano took over the paper. Following World War II, Sam Modiano worked for the Reuters news agency and eventually became the chief correspondent for Greece and Turkey.
Mario Modiano, whose family survived the Holocaust that annihilated the historic Jewish community of Thessaloniki by fleeing to Athens, wrote for The Times of London for 38 years where he reported on Greece and Turkey. His work covered the rise and fall of the military dictatorship in Greece between 1967 and 1974, and tensions with Turkey over the invasion and partition of Cyprus.
“The period between 1967 and 1974 was particularly interesting because a bunch of army colonels imposed a dictatorship in Greece,” Mario Modiano recalled. “Actually mine was a risky profession to be in. From one moment to the next you couldn’t tell whether they would slap you in jail because of something disagreeable you wrote in The Times.”
Modiano, who also worked for the BBC, was awarded an Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1990, Modiano retired from journalism to spend a decade writing and researching a book on his family history of more than 400 years in Thessaloniki. The book – Hamehune Modillano – the Genealogical Story of the Modiano Family from 1570 to Our Days – was published in 2000.
Modiano married a Muslim-Turkish woman named Inci in 1963. Inci went through a fictitious conversion and she got the name of Lea. In this way the couple managed to register their religious wedding in the Athens registry. Inci died of cancer in 1998. The couple had no children.