The comprehensive information and wonderful pictures included in this section on Greece are the courtesy of Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, President of the Association of Friends of Greek Jewry. She may be contacted at AFGJ@msn.com.
Jews of Greece have two distinctions: the longest continual Jewish presence in
the European Diaspora (over 2300 years) and the greatest percentage of Jewish
losses of any occupied country during the Holocaust (87%). Remains of early
synagogues have been found on the island of Delos in the Aegean Sea, at the foot
of the Acropolis in the Agora in Athens and on the island of Aegina in the
The Jews of Classical Greece adopted the language and culture of the
majority. It was not a coincidence that the first translation of the Jewish
Scriptures into any language was into Greek. The Hellenized Jews had lost their
ability to read Hebrew. When the capital of the Roman Empire was moved to the
east by Constantine the Great, in the 4th century, and the Empire,
now known as the Byzantine Empire, took Christianity as the state religion, the
first anti-Jewish laws were written, but life for Jews in Byzantium was never as
restrictive as that in the west. Jews could own land, engage in most
occupations, and with very few exceptions, continue to practice their religion
and build their synagogues.
With the fall of Byzantium in the 15th
century, most of what is now Greece came under the Ottoman Empire. Initially,
the Jews that lived there were Greek-speaking, Romaniote Jews, who traced their
ancestry back to the Roman Empire, and used a liturgy that was a mixture of
Greek and Hebrew. With the influx of Sephardic Jews after the Expulsion from
Spain, in 1492, the composition of Greek Jewry changed. Most of the Romaniote
Jews were absorbed by the Sephardim. Judeo-Espanyol became the lingua franca of
the Jews of Greece and Salonika, a port city in the northeast of Greece, became
the most populous city of Sephardic Jews in the world, a distinction it would
hold until its demise in the Holocaust.
At the onset of Greece’s entrance into
WWII, there were close to 80,000 Jews in Greece. They worshipped in 70
synagogues, spreads throughout the country, with over 36 synagogues in Salonika
alone. After the destruction of the Holocaust, only 10,000 Jews would remain,
and all but 11 of the synagogues would be destroyed.
There are only 5000 Jews in all of Greece now: 3000 in Athens, 1200 in Salonika and small communities numbering under 80 in other parts of Greece.
Bedford, Robert. An Introduction to Literature on the
Holocaust in Greece, Sephardic Historical
Bowman, Steven. Jews in Wartime Greece, Jewish Social
Constantopoulou, Photini and Veremis, Thanos. Documents
Fleischer, Hagen. Greek Jewry and Nazi Germany, The
Kambanellis, Iakovos. Mauthausen, Kendros Publishers,
Levy, Dr. Isaac Jack. And the World Stood Silent,
Matsas, Dr. Michael. The Illusion of Safety, The Story
Mazower, Mark. Inside Hitler's Greece. The Experience
of Occupation 1941-1944, Yale University Press, 1993.
Messinas, Elias. The Synagogues of Salonika and Veroia,
Plaut, Joshua Eli. Greek Jewry in the Twentieth Century
Stavroulakis, Nikos. The Jews of Greece, Talos Press,
Stavroulakis, Nikos and DeVinney, Timothy. Jewish Sites
Copyright © 2002 Edward Victor