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ARTA Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 July 2009 09:21

THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF ARTA

    The Jewish Community of Arta was one of the oldest ones in Greece. The first source of information on the city is the "Itinerary" of the Spanish traveller, Rabbi Benjamin ben Yonah who travelled to Greece in 1173. The "Itinerary" mentions 100 Jewish families that lived in Arta, developing a significant spiritual and religious activity. This activity was enhanced during the "Despotate of Epirus", when Michail Komninos granted the Jews liberties for their economic and political growth.

    At the same period the first Synagogue, "Greca", was constructed. The Jewish cemetery was used on the spot called "Petrovouni" on Peranthi hill, on an area of 10,000 m2, allotted by Saint Theodora, Michail Komninos' wife.

    The economic life of the Jews continued growing until the Serbian Emperor Stefan Doussan began persecutions against them in 1346.

    When Arta was sieged by the Turks in 1449, the Jews enjoyed religious and economic freedom. Later, (1480-1494) the Jewish Community became larger since it was joined by Jews from Apulia and Kalabria as well as by Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain (1492). The newcomers were a separate community, they founded the "Pulieza" Synagogue, a Hebrew school and charity associations and at the same time they gave rise to a "noble competition" with the local Romaniote Jews.

    The Jews lived in the center of the city, in "Ohthos", (River Bank), "Tsimenta" (Cement) and "Roloi" (Clock) quarters.

    When the French architect - engineer Fousereau visited Arta in 1780 he wrote that 200 Jews lived there. In 1806 Poukeville mentioned that the city had 1,000 Jewish residents and according to Licque in 1807, 50 Jews lived in Arta. When the city was liberated from the Ottoman rule (June 23, 1881), the Jews maintained their religious and economic freedom and according to a census of that period they numbered 800 people.

    The Jews of Arta were pious, deeply religious, law abiding and co-existed peacefully with their Gentile fellow-citizens. In 1881 a journalist in the newspaper "Mi Hanesai" ("Do not Disappear") quotes: "… Apart from Gentiles, many Jews live permanently in Arta. They willingly carry out all their civil obligations according to the law. In their Synagogues I have seen evzones praying; they were elegantly and gallantly dressed in a fustanella (kilt). They were Jewish soldiers… Due to this, and due to a personal experience later on, one can obviously explain the truly admirable harmony between Gentiles and Jews in the city. Everyone agrees on the business acumen of the latter …".

    The Jews of Arta were involved in various professions. For example, some of them ran 5-6 commercial stores, smaller shops, leather shops and glassware stores; others were professional lamp-makers, butchers, peddlers and dress-makers. There were also two Jewish teachers, one doctor and one civil servant. In 1911 a big commercial limited company was formed under the firm name "Iohanas - Ganis - Hadjis & Co". It dominated the market for many years.

    The usual family names for the Jews of Arta were Mionis, Iohanas, Sabas, Ieremias, Mizan, Eliezer, Politis, Koulias, Ganis, Sousis and so on.

    The Community ran a Jewish school on Philellinon Street in the Jewish quarter. It was comprised of two big rooms: the one was used as a storeroom for food and crop (that was distributed to the needy at wintertime). The other room was divided in two parts. One part was used as a classroom and the other was an assembly hall and a lounge for cultural meetings. Greek and Hebrew languages were taught by two instructors. The school was attended by Jewish and some Gentile pupils. One more school was built in order to cover the needs of the Community. During the War of Asia Minor both Jewish schools housed refugees.

    In 1920 the Jewish Community of Arta was recognized as a "Public Entity" and participated in all municipal events. In the 1939 census the Community was comprised of about 500 members and during the German Occupation it had 384 Jews.

    On the night of March 24, 1944, most Jews were arrested by the Nazis and were deported to the Nazi death camps. Very few succeeded to escape. One Jewish family that was hiding in the village Komeno, Arta, had a tragic fate as the Nazis slaughtered its 317 inhabitants, including Zakinos Ieremias 42, his wife Eftyhia 37, and their daughter Kaiti, 5.

    When the War ended 30 prisoners from the concentration camps and 28 Jews who had succeeded to escape to the surrounding villages came back. The Community had lost 84% of its population. The old Romaniote "Greca" Synagogue and the other community buildings were almost ruined. The Community was dislocated and relief was unavailable. The Jewish survivors started moving to other cities in Greece or emigrated overseas. In 1959 the Community was dissolved and later the Jewish cemetery was expropriated and the site where the Synagogue once stood was allotted to the Municipality.


   

The old Romaniote "Greca" Synagogue,
ruined after the German Occupation.


 
   

The former Jewish school of Arta (1946).
 

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