This volume of Yad Vashem's series Pinkas ha-Kehilot (Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities from their Foundation till after the Holocaust), which aims to set up a memorial to European Jewry, portrays the Jewish presence in Greece from its early beginnings until its near total destruction during the Holocaust.
Structure of the book and the entries. The Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities: Greece opens with an historical introduction that covers the history of the Jewish community in Greece from its early beginnings until the present, with particular emphasis on the period between the Balkan Wars and the Second World War, as well as the events of the war itself. A selected bibliography follows the introduction. The entries in this volume, as in the other volumes of the series, appear in alphabetical order; the name of each community is given in Hebrew and English, and additional names, as they appear in various sources are given in parentheses, along with the Greek name. Historical sites and ancient communities appear, in brief, along with entries about settlements with no clear evidence regarding an organized community. Most entries include a table of statistics, that has been compiled from various sources. Official censuses held in Greece in 1928 and 1940 offer the basic statistical data about the Jews in Greece during the inter wars period. Each entry opens with brief background on the location of the community, followed by a chronological description of the history of the Jewish community. Larger entries are subdivided by topic. The period prior to the Holocaust, as well as the Holocaust itself, are dealt with extensively if the sources allow this. Each entry concludes with a brief survey of the whereabouts of the Jews of the community since the Holocaust, followed by a bibliography and the author's initials.
This volume includes four maps of Greece and an appendix about the Jews in Greece's northern neighbor, Albania (along with a map). Although Albanian Jewry was a tiny community on the eve of the Second World War, they maintained a tradition of deep and close ties with Greek Jews. The occupation of Greece by German troops came after bloody battles fought in Albania. Nevertheless, whereas the Jews of Greece were deported to gas chambers, Albania became a haven for Jewish refugees.
The Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities: Greece is based on various sources: The Rabbinical Responsa Literature, archival material, testimonies, journals and historical research. All these sources include the names of places and personalities in a variety of languages:
Turkish, Greek, Italian, Ladino and Hebrew. In most cases, the names used are those appearing in the sources, with an indication of the present names. The index listing places and personalities at the end of the book is intended to help the reader to locate topics of personal interest.
Acknowledgments. I wish to convey my deepest thanks to all those who assisted me in the preparation of this book, in Greece and in Israel: institutions such as archives, libraries and museums, as well as individuals. The cooperation and encouragement of Israelis of Greek origin at all stages of the project is worthy of deep appreciation and admiration. In Greece this project received the full cooperation of the Central Board of the Jewish Communities in Greece, the Jewish Museum in Athens and the Presidents and the Boards of the Jewish communities in Salonika, Volos and Athens.
I wish to thank Dr. Jacques Stroumsa and Mr. Zvi Loker, who were active at the inception of the project, as well as Mr. Itzchak Kerem and Dr. Lea Bornstein-Makovetsky who wrote several entries. I am appreciative of the assistance rendered by members of the Association of Survivors of Concentration Camps of Greek Origin living in Israel and their chairman Mr. Raul Sapporta, members of the Israeli Second Generation of Greek Survivors of Death Camps, as well as members of the "Hellas-Israel League". Their advice, criticism, actual help in translations of articles, as well as in directing me to various sources, has been invaluable. I owe a special debt of gratitude to several colleagues, especially Prof. Steven Bowman of the University of Cincinnati and Robert Attal of the Ben-Zvi Institute, who helped the project from its inception. I appreciate the support and encouragement from Greece: In Athens, Dr. Yorgos Haniotis, Rabbi Yaakov Arrar, Dr. Nicholas Stavroulakis, former director of the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens and Zanet Battinou, the Museum's curator, Abraham Minos Sasson and Nissim Mais, President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. In Salonika, Andreas Sefiha, President of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, the Board of Directors and Shelly Cohen-Karmi. In Corfu, Milka Toya. In Israel, I am especially indebted to Dr. Immanuel Margalit, Rabbi Efraim Levi, Rabbi Dov Ha-Cohen, Yaron Ben-Naeh, Renato Spiegel of the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, Arieh Koretz, Prof. Samuel Hassid, Artemis Miron, Moshe Ha-Elion, Delia Cohen, Rivka Fishman, Gavra Mandil, Hayyim Cohen, Jacqueline Benatar and Jack Handeli, as well as grateful to Yitzchak Kerem, Yaakov Weiman, Ilan Karmi, Yoram Goren, Neta Gatenyo, Berry Nahmias, Intu Shimshi and Stella Jakoel, who lent me photographs from their private collections.
My thanks to Mr. Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Directorate of Yad Vashem, Dr. Shmuel Spector, director of the Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities, and Bracha Freundlich, the devoted coordinator of the department. I also thank all my colleagues at the Yad Vashem library, Archives and department of the Righteous. Last but not least, I am grateful to Hanna Stern who prepared the manuscript for printing.
Dr. Bracha Rivlin
The roots of Greek Jewry stretch back to antiquity. An early inscription attests to a Jewish presence in Greece in the third century B.C.E., but it is very likely that Jews moved there either by force or as a result of travel during the Biblical period. In the aftermath of the Hasmonean uprising, when many Jews were sold into slavery, the community expanded. In the second century B.C.E. Jews are mentioned as residing in Sparta, Delos, Samos, Rhodes, Kos, Chios, and Crete. The record of Jewish settlement in Salonika, which was to become the largest and most famous Jewish community in Greece, begins around 140 B.C.E.
It appears that during and after the Jewish War (66-70 C.E.), the Jewish population of Greece grew considerably. Josephus relates, for example, that the victorious Roman Emperor Vespasian sent some 6,000 Jewish young men from Palestine as forced laborers to dig a channel at the Isthmus of Corinth.
Early on the Jews in the Greek Diaspora adopted the Greek language (retaining Hebrew for liturgical purposes) and used the famous translation of the Bible known as Septuagint, compiled in Egypt in the third century B.C.E.
Following the fall of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, and, after 644, with the completion of the conquest of the Persian Empire (including Babylonia) by the Arabs, most Jewish communities in the world found themselves under Arab-Moslem rule and influence. In the West, the existing Jewish communities in Anatolia, the Balkans, and Greece now came into contact with Western communities, particularly those of Italy in the ninth century, as the Byzantine emperors added these territories to their dominion.
A series of anti-Jewish imperial decrees promulgated in the first centuries after Constantine the Great (including the forced conversion decree by Heraclius in 632 and a similar decree by Leo III in 721) proved ineffectual. The Jews enjoyed relative prosperity and freedom from persecutions; with some outward conversions notwithstanding. The legal status of the Jews (who were called "Romaniotes") in communal and religious affairs continued to be recognized, and their legal inequalities consisted mainly of exclusion from service in the armed forces and the government. In religious matters Hebrew remained the language of the Jews, with some incursions of the Greek into the liturgy. Their unique rite was called "Minhag Romania". In the tenth century Karaism made its appearance. Little is known about writings that might have existed in the areas of Midrash, Talmud and halakhah.
Benjamin of Tudela, the twelfth-century Jewish traveler, recorded Jewish communities in Corfu, Arta, Corinth, Thebes, Chalcis, and in the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes, and Cyprus, among others; he also left a detailed and reliable account of the Jewish community in Constantinopole. During the Byzantine period the largest community was that of Thebes (with 2,000 Jews according to Rabbi Benjamin), which also gained a reputation as an important center of Torah study. Salonika was home to 500 Jews. The Jews of Greece engaged in dyeing, weaving, and producing silk garments. In most of these communities the ancient communal structure prevailed: it consisted of a rabbi (known as Rav GadoI), the parnas Naggid, and Maskil (community heads).
Overall, during the last 250 years before the Fourth Crusade, Jews in the Greek part of the Byzantine Empire seem to have enjoyed a relatively peaceful existence, due mostly to either the absence of, or inefficacy of the attempts made to convert them.
In the late fourteenth century, with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and, later, from Portugal and Sicily, Jewish refugees immigrated to Greece, bringing with them the Sephardi customs and language. They formed the nucleus of the Sephardi communities that would come to dominate the Greek Diaspora. In addition, Jews from southern Italy settled in Corfu.
The impact of the refugees' homeland and its culture - especially those from Spain and Portugal - proved to be lasting and deep. Salonika became a melting pot. Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries it developed into the largest Jewish community in Greece and a center of Torah learning; until the early twentieth century it was populated by a majority of the Greek Diaspora. The Sephardi heritage left its mark on every facet of Jewish life - institutional, religious, cultural, economic, and social. The merchants of the Patras community were known for their wide-ranging travels, whereas Thebes and Crete gained fame as the home of scholars, sages and rabbis. Among the prominent religious figures during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were Samuel di Medina (Rashdam), Joseph Taitatzak, Benjamin ben Mattathias and Samuel Kalai of Arta (the author of Mishpetei Shemuel). The Responsa of these rabbis were accepted as the proper interpretation of the halakhah throughout the Sephardi world.
During the Turkish period the Jews engaged in international trade (owing to their connections and command of languages) with Italy, France, Amsterdam, Hamburg, and, in the East, with Constantinopole, Izmir, and Alexandria. The main crafts of the Jews of Greece were spinning silk, weaving wool, and making and dyeing of cloth, but they also engaged in commerce, money-lending and tax-leasing. A minority engaged in agriculture.
In the Greek islands under Venetian rule, the Jews could engage only in retail commerce, whereas under Turkish rule they all but dominated wholesale trade. In Thessaly, the Peleponnesus and the Balkans, however, the Jews lived in extreme poverty, seeking out an existence by tinsmith's work or peddling. In Salonika the port was closed on the Sabbath and Jewish festivals, as the Jews practically monopolized the harbor economy.
The refugees from the Iberian Peninsula, particularly the Marranos, made their influence deeply felt in many areas of Jewish life, including the economy, commerce, liturgy, as well as customs (weddings, inheritance and ritual slaughter) and language (Judeo-Spanish, known as Ladino). The messianic movement of Shabetai Zvi (who resided in Salonika in 1651-1654, after his expulsion from Izmir) swept the Jews of the city from all walks of life. A large-scale voluntary conversion to Islam by some 300 families (called Donme), including influential and affluent Jews, prefigured the deep crisis that was to engulf the city's Jewish community in the eighteenth century, following the collapse of the textile trade and the political chaos in the region.
The Jews' civic and political equality was officially recognized with the establishment of the Greek State in 1821; in 1882, legal status was accorded to the Jewish communities. In the capital of Athens the organized Jewish community came into being in the mid-nineteenth century; it grew in size and influence, absorbing numerous Sephardi immigrants from Izmir, Istanbul, Chios and other Aegean islands. With the territorial expansion of Greece in the nineteenth century, further communities came under Greek rule, especially in Thessaly and Epirus. In areas still under Turkish rule, the community of Salonika rose to a central position, with more than 17,000 Jewish families living there in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Jews were active in trade, banking, and industry; they operated flourmills and breweries and entered into municipal services. Growing modernization left its imprint also on internal Jewish life: a modern educational system was established, based on linguistic, scientific and technical studies; a network of schools run by the Alliance Israelite Universelle, or Kol Israel Haverim society, also engaged in vocational training; and numerous newspapers, libraries, clubs, and associations sprang up.
After the Balkan wars, the increases in the Greek population as a result of the country's territorial expansion and the population exchanges with Turkey brought about a lower percentage of Jews in the general population, particularly in Salonika, where it dropped to 16.4 percent. This, in turn, led to a gradual decline in the Jewish predominance of the city. The Greek government's policy of systematic hellenization was aimed, among other things, at the cultural assimilation of the Jewish minority. Also, economic competition from new arrivals and legislation designed to protect the economic position of the Greeks caused a deterioration in the Jews' economic fortunes.
By the 1928 census nearly all Greek Jews, a total of 73,000, were living in the cities, with the overwhelming majority (83.5 percent) in Salonika. The other most populous communities were Kavala in Macedonia (2,165 Jews), Janina (1,970), Corfu (1,820) and Athens (1,578). The majority of Jews (62,000) declared the Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) language as their native tongue, with only 10,000 declaring Greek.
The affluent Salonika Jews included bankers, jewelers, physicians, lawyers, merchants, and trading, insurance and shipping agents. The Jewish proletariat was concentrated in the tobacco and silk industries, harbor facilities, and shipyards. Over all, the economic situation of the Jews in the city was not particularly sound: in the mid-1930s Jewish welfare authorities reported that nearly 60 percent of the community lived in conditions of serious economic distress.
The law of 1920 established that in localities with at least twenty Jewish families a community could be formed and assume authority in the areas of religion, education, and social welfare. Communities could operate their own schools with joint Greek and Jewish curricula. Each community drew up its own statutes, and its assembly chose the rabbi and the committee responsible for communal affairs, prayers, Jewish education, tax collection, etc. All in all, twenty-four communities were accorded formal recognition in 1920.
The hellenization of Greek society as a state policy manifested itself during the 1920s and 1930s in economic and political restrictions. As part of the effort to force the Greek Jews to integrate into the general society through language conformity, there were continuing demands to increase the share of Greek language in the curricula of Jewish schools.
In 1924, despite vigorous protests from the Greek and international Jewish communities, the law of Sunday rest was enacted and enforced. This forced Jewish wage-earners to lose one workday each week and became a turning point in the life of the Jewish community. Another law, in 1932, however, recognized Jewish festivals as days of rest for Greek Jews. Ultimately, educational instruction in the Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) language was banned by law in 1931.
From the beginning of the twentieth century, the Greek Jews' response to cultural and economic restrictions was emigration. Successive waves of emigration followed each political crisis. The great fire of 1917 in Salonika, which devastated a significant part of the city, the population exchange with Turkey, and the Sunday law were followed by the world economic depression. These all affected the Greek Jews. A constant stream of emigrant Jews flowed from Greece - to France, Italy, England, South America, the United States, and Palestine.
Anti-Semitism in the pre-war period was mainly of an economic nature, especially in Salonika, which had recently absorbed numerous Greek refugees from Turkey, and where Jews held key positions in the city's economy. Anti-Jewish riots in the Campbel section of the city broke out in 1931, with the active instigation of the nationalist and anti-Semitic movement known as the "triple epsilon" or EEE (Greek National Union). Many of their members were Greek refugees from Asia Minor. Beside economic considerations, anti-Semitism in Greece was fueled also by the rising tide of Anti-Semitism in Europe, especially in Germany and the Jews were accused of disloyalty to Greece. In 1928, the Greek translation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was published despite Jewish protests. Paradoxically, it was the dictatorial regime of Metaxas (1935-1941) that clamped down on the Greek anti-Semites and publicly affirmed the Jews' civic rights and their rightful place in the Greek homeland.
During the Turkish-Ottoman rule a great many ancient Romaniote-Greek communities disappeared, but they left behind multi-lingual piyyutim (religious poetry) in Hebrew, Greek and Italian. In the Epirus region the ancient Romaniote community of Janina numbered nearly 2,000 Greek-speaking Jews. On the Greek mainland the largest Romaniote community was in Athens (originally established by Ashkenazi Jews); an old Romaniote synagogue has survived to this day at 8 Melidoni Street. Other, small Romaniote communities existed in Larissa, Volos, Trikala, Chalcis, Patras, Corfu, and Crete. In addition, small congregations of Italian-speaking Jews (descendants of refugees from Sicily and southern Italy) existed in Patras and Salonika, among others.
In the interwar period there was also an unprecedented boom in the Jewish press, principally in Judeo-Spanish (Ladino), but also in French and Greek; some of the newspapers were bilingual. Between 1900 and 1936 five dailies in French were published in Salonika; nearly all the other Jewish dailies and periodicals also originated there. Although some were published irregularly and reached only a limited circulation, the publications ranged from ideological organs of political movements to community-oriented, cultural, and humorist papers covering a wide range of public Jewish interest.
Greek immigrants to Palestine shipping agents, shipyard workers, bankers, merchants, industrialists, journalists and writers - left their distinctive imprint on the Yishuv. Along with others, they were among the founders of several Tel-Aviv city neighborhoods and played key roles in developing the shipyard infrastructure and harbor facilities in Haifa, as well as in the development of the local tobacco industry.
Despite the numerous difficulties that besieged the Zionist movement in Greece (separatist tendencies within the Federation, splits, emigration of prominent leaders and activists to Palestine, police and lower official harassment, British complaints about illegal immigration), it carried on, especially in the area of fund-raising. However, during the last years before the occupation of Greece by the Germans, the Zionist movement practically ground to a halt, and the attempts to unite the various organizations within a single federation failed.
Despite reinforcements from the British contingent, the Germans completed their occupation of the country with the conquest of Crete. Soon thereafter Greece was divided into three occupation zones: German (eastern Thrace, central and eastern Macedonia, including Salonika, and Crete); Italian (central Greece, including Athens, the Peleponnesus, sections of the western coast and the Ionian Islands, Kastoria, Chalcis, Patras, and Janina), and the Bulgarian (western Thrace, eastern Macedonia, including Kavala, Seres, and Drama, among others). The Bulgarians were rewarded for joining the Axis. A Greek puppet regime was installed in Athens.
Immediately after the occupation, German actions against the Jews began. In Salonika, in the German occupation zone, anti-Jewish measures were introduced immediately after the German troops entered the city in April 1941. Jewish-owned apartments were confiscated; prominent Jewish figures were arrested; communal and public organizations and institutions were liquidated; and Jewish cultural treasures, especially valuable Hebrew manuscripts, were looted. In July 1942, in what later came to be called "Black Sabbath", all Jewish men were assembled in one of the city's squares and sent to forced labor. The agony of forced labor stimulated efforts to release the men, and shortly thereafter the Germans agreed to ransom them for 2.5 million (old) drachmas. Later that year Jewish-owned businesses and factories, as well as the ancient Jewish cemetery were confiscated. In February 1943 racial restrictions were introduced. The ghettoization of the Salonika Jews in a specially designated section of the city soon followed.
Eichmann's deputy R. Gunther and Himmler's assistant D. Wisliceny arrived in Salonika in January 1943 to oversee the implementation of the "final solution". Despite warnings from the Jewish underground of impending deportations, only 3,000 Jews fled to Athens. The Baron Hirsch ghetto near the railroad station was the transit point. The first transport of deportees left Salonika for Auschwitz-Birkenau on March 15, 1943. A total of 48,533 Jews were deported to the death camps in Poland in nineteen transports, about 3,000 people in each. More than 37,000 of these deportees were gassed immediately upon arrival. The final, nineteenth transport, consisted of 1,800 starving Jewish forced laborers. By August 1943, Salonika, the great center of Sephardi Jewry in Europe, ceased to exist.
Under Italian rule, in Athens and Peleponnesus, the Jews lived relatively free of persecutions. After the Italian surrender in September 1943, however, the Germans occupied the entire country and proceeded to implement the "final solution" throughout Greece. Thanks to the concerted efforts of Greek Archbishop Damaskinos to save the endangered Jews, as well as the help extended by the underground movement, only 1,300 Jews were deported from Athens to the death camps. Many Greeks throughout the country (but especially in the Italian zone) offered refuge to Jews who asked for their assistance. Nearly 200 Greeks from all sectors of society have been honoured as Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem.
In the Bulgarian zone the authorities embarked on a program of Bulgarization, just as they had done during World War I. Anti-Jewish measures were introduced in August 1942, and hundreds of young Jews were drafted into labor battalions. In March 1943, more than 4,000 Jewish men, women and children were assembled in different locations in Thrace, deported to Bulgaria, and handed over to the Germans.
The total number of Greek Jews who were sent to their death in the extermination camps is estimated at 65,000, or about 85 percent of the entire Jewish population of the country.
In addition to the consequences of the civil war, the economic crises, and the ravages of the occupation, the restoration of Jewish life in the country also ran into obstacles related to the restitution of lost property. The procedure in the Greek courts and the bureaucracy was excruciatingly slow.
Over the years, however, the Jewish community slowly recovered. By the late 1960s the Jewish population had finally risen above subsistence level, thanks, among others, to the material support of world Jewish organizations, including the Joint and the Jewish Agency.
Jews began entering into various branches of the economy and assumed government posts; later Jews also entered universities, the medical professions, and the arts and mass media. Except for isolated incidents, Anti-Semitism in Greece was on the decline.
At present Athens is the largest community. Others include Salonika, Larissa, and Volos; with very small communities existing in Corfu, Janina, and Chalcis.
KIS, the central Jewish organization representing Greek Jews vis-a-vis the authorities and world Jewish organizations, looks after Jewish interests in the country, and remains in charge of educational and philanthropic activities. This body also oversees abandoned synagogues in Greece and several projects commemorating Greek Jewry in Greece and Israel.
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