The Jewish Community of Didymotiho was one of the oldest Jewish communities of Greece and the largest one in the Greek Thrace.
During the reign of the usurper Emperor John VI Katakouzinos, who was crowned King of Rome in Didymoticho, a Jewish - probably Greek speaking Romaniote - community had already formed there.
When the city came to Ottoman hands, the Jewish population started increasing, due to the arrival of Ashkenazi Jews from Hungary in 1376 and from France in 1394. In 1470 Jewish fugitives from Bavaria came to the city.
However, the Ashkenazim were soon absorbed by the wave of Sephardic Jews who formed a new community called Demotica in Ladino.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, due to several reasons - one of which was economic recession - the community existed but was small in size, according to the description of the Turkish traveller Evlijah Tselebi, who, listing the quarters of the city, mentions one called Yaoudiler - (the Jewish quarter).
In the middle of the 19th century the Jewish population was about 500 people and according to a statistic study of 1906, published in Bulletin d' Orient, in Kaza of Didymoticho, 1,110 Jews lived there.
In 1862 a new Synagogue was built to replace the old temporary one, in the area of the Turkish school on modern day Katsandoni Street. It was built in Sephardic architectural style; it was square and had a dome. In 1924 this synagogue was entirely renovated.
In 1897, the modern stream of Alliance Israelite Universelle brought financial and educational support from France. In 1911 a new school building was built and in 1913 it was attended by 255 pupils. After 1924 the school belonged to the community. The instructors were the Greek scholar Iosif Pesach, Elias Barzilai (later chief Rabbi of Athens), Samuel Nahon and Iosif Reitan.
In the beginning of the 20th century the Jewish Community of Didymoticho thrived. It is worth mentioning that in 1913 the tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria who visited the city, stayed in the splendid home of Raphail Behar. King Alexandros of Greece also stayed there on July 8th 1920, the day before the Greek troops marched into Eastern Thrace.
The Jews of Didymoticho were in commerce, small industries and some were craftsmen. The Gibre family prevailed financially and socially, since many of its members were in silk trade.
Generally speaking, the incorporation of Didymoticho to the Greek state in 1920 accelerated the development of the Jewish community and its members increased until World War II. By that time the Jewish population of Didymoticho was 1,000 people. In April 1941 the Nazis invaded the city. Some Jewish families had succeeded to flee to relatives' homes in Turkey. Very few succeeded to escape to Palestine; the Turks sent most of them back to the Greek islands where they shared the fate of the other Greek Jews.
During the two following years, the Jews' properties were looted, their homes were requisitioned and the Nazis - using their favourite method - threw them off guard; the Jews went on living without knowing that they were on the list to Auschwitz.
On May 4, 1943, 731 Jews from Didymoticho and 180 from Nea Orestiada were arrested, squeezed into cattle-vans and transferred to Thessaloniki. Then, they were deported to Auschwitz, never to come back.
In 1985, not one single Jew lived in Didymoticho, and in 1987 the Jewish Community of Didymoticho was officially dissolved.
On May 2002, the Municipality of Didymoticho erected a Monument in the memory of the Jews who perished during the Holocaust. The Monument is placed on the site of former Synagogue.
The deportation of Jews from Didymoticho.
(From the archive of the Jewish Museum of Greece)
The home of the silk merchant Eliezer Gibre,
known as "cocoon house".
(Photo from the archive of Mr. Thrasyvoulos Papastratis)