Those following Greek-Turkish relations in the past several months may have noticed the Dassault family’s name in the news.
Dassault Aviation is the company behind the Rafale aircraft that Greece has acquired to help protect its borders. Specifically, 18 of these fighters were purchased in September of 2020 to aid the Greek military defense.
The international French aircraft manufacturer has played a big role in equipping European countries with state of the art military aviation technology. However, most people don’t know that the Dassault family behind the company, one of Europe’s richest clans, actually has Greek roots.
History of Dassault Group
Dassault Group, which owns the aviation company as well as several others, was founded by Marcel Dassault in 1929.
Previously, Marcel had worked in the French Aeronautics Research Laboratory. He helped invent various aviation technology that aided the French resistance in World War I. After the war, he founded the aircraft company, which produced its first plane in 1930.
At the time, however, Dassault was not yet called “Dassault.” He was born Marcel Bloch in Paris, France. His parents were doctor Adolphe Bloch and Noemie Allatini, and his mother was a prominent member of the Greek Jewish community of Thessaloniki.
Bloch changed his name to Dassault after World War II. During the war, he refused to cooperate with the Nazi regime. The Nazis sent him to the Buchenwald concentration camp because of his Jewish heritage. This likely played some role in his decision to change his name to something more French-sounding, as well as convert to Roman Catholicism.
Dassault’s Family Origins in Thessaloniki
As for his Greek mother, anyone who has visited Thessaloniki will likely recognize the Allatini name. Villa Allatini still sits, stately and beautifully preserved, on Queen Olga’s Avenue in Greece’s famous second city. The Allatini family had used it as a countryside home since 1898.
The family’s roots in the region go even further back, however. Records indicate that the Allatinis have called Thessaloniki home since the late 18th century, and helped develop a lot of industry in the area.
Right after the construction of the family home came the construction of Allatini Mills. This flour milling company operated for decades in the Kalamaria region of Thessaloniki. Today, however, it sits abandoned outside the city center.
The Dassault Family Today
The family is still heavily involved in the aviation corporation founded by their grandfather. In fact, up until recently the executives of the Dassault Group were Marcel’s grandchildren, Laurent and Olivier.
Unfortunately, Olivier died on March 7, 2021, in a helicopter crash at 69 years of age. Laurent survives him and is currently the co-managing director of the Dassault Group.
The brothers always made it clear that they still felt very connected to their Greek heritage. Laurent, upon a visit to Thessaloniki in July of 2021, said, “I feel Greek, and from Thessaloniki, just as much as I feel French.”
Walking through the streets of beautiful Thessaloniki, Laurent paused to take photos in front of Villa Allatini, his family’s ancestral home. It was an emotional moment for a man whose family had been away from Greece for so long.
Currently Laurent is worth approximately 6 billion dollars, and the Dassault Group continues to prosper and thrive in its operations.