Proof on the presence of Jews in Drama and in the broader region of Macedonia is based on historic evidence of various eras such as the Roman period in the Kingdom of the Phillips and the Byzantine and Ottoman period in Serres, Drama and Kavala. The Jews always participated in the growth and vigorous commercial movement in the region.
The Spanish traveller Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Drama in the 12th century, provided evidence on the presence of Jews by mentioning 140 families. After the fall of Budapest in 1529 the Jewish community of Drama was joined by more Jews who came from Hungary.
Later on, between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the settlement of Jews in Drama was associated with the development of rural and urban areas into tobacco production and processing centers. The tobacco companies of the region, such as Commercial and Herzog (which were owned by Jews), attracted multi-ethnic groups, including many Jews from various parts of the Ottoman Empire, mainly Spanish Jews from Serres and Thessaloniki that was the greatest Sephardic center in the Balkans since the 15th century. The migration waves of Jews from Serres to Drama were increasing after the destructive fire in the city in 1913, caused by the Bulgarian occupation authorities during the second Balkan War.
When the War ended in the region the Jewish community increased steadily at least since 1920; new members were coming to settle permanently; community institutions were organized; the community had a synagogue, two cemeteries and a private school (after 1925). According to a 1925 document of the chairman of the community, Perahias, about 300 Jewish families (1,200 members) settled mainly in former Turkish quarters, in the center of the city and in the area of Aghia Barbara. They belonged to all social classes but the merchants of the community were the most powerful. As of 1925 the first commercial co-operations were formed between Jews and Gentiles. This marked a period of development of economic and social relations between the two groups.
The old Jewish school of Drama.
It no longer exists.
World War II
World War II broke out while the Community was still flourishing and was building a Synagogue at the center of the city. In April 1941 the Germans let the control of the region between Serres to Alexandroupolis to their Bulgarian allies. The members of the Community, being Greek Jews, were hard hit both by the anti-Greek and anti-Semitic measures of the Bulgarian authorities. In the Wansee conference of Berlin in January 1942 the Nazis decided the extermination of the European Jewry. In the summer 1942 the German and Bulgarian authorities began discussing issues concerning the fate of the Jews. They discussed the deportation of all Jews from the Bulgarian territory.
In January 1943 the Bulgarians suddenly announced that they agreed only on the deportation of Jews from the occupied territories of Greece and Yugoslavia. On February 22 an agreement was signed on the "deportation of the first 20,000 Jews from the newly acquired Bulgarian territories", leading to the illegal arrest of Jews in the Bulgarian occupation zone in Greece and Yugoslavia on the night of March 3, 1943.
The tobacco warehouses in Drama where
the German and Bulgarian Occupation
Authorities had detained the Jews of the
region before deporting them to the death
camps in March 1943.
The Jews of Drama were assembled in the tobacco warehouses of Aghia Barbara and, after three days on trains, they were transported to temporary concentration camps in Southern Bulgaria, like all Jews of the Bulgarian occupation zone in Greece. On March 20 and 21, 1943, the Bulgarians and Germans escorted them by train to the Bulgarian port Lom, on the banks of Danube, and on riverboats to Vienna, under atrocious conditions. The final destination of these worn out people was the concentration camp of Treblinka in Poland, where they arrived in early April and had a tragic death, probably immediately.
According to official German documents, in March 1943, 1,096 Greek Jewish families with 681 children under the age of 10, in other words a total of 4,273 people, were deported from the Bulgarian occupation zone and none of them survived. The tragic end of the Jewry of Northern Greece is a case of total annihilation. The policy of the Nazis and their collaborators claimed a heavy toll on the country and the Jewry.
In 1948 only 39 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust returned to Drama. The decimated community could not function again and was dissolved. In 1997 a memorial plaque was placed on the tobacco warehouses where in 1943 the Jews of Drama were arrested and detained. In 1999 the Municipality of Drama, the Administrative Board of the Jewish Community of Kavala and the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece erected a Memorial for the Jewish Martyrs of the Holocaust in the park of Aghia Barbara. This memorial and the Jewish cemetery are the only monuments that give evidence of the Jewish presence in Drama in the past.
The Memorial of the Jewish Martyrs of the Holocaust inaugurated in 1999.