Exploring ancient roots of Romaniote Jews in Greece

i24NEWS

2 min read
Then-German president Joachim Gauck (C) delivers a speech during a visit to a synagogue in Ioannina, Greece, on March 7, 2014.
SAKIS MITROLIDIS / AFPThen-German president Joachim Gauck (C) delivers a speech during a visit to a synagogue in Ioannina, Greece, on March 7, 2014.

'Holy Land Uncovered' host Emily Frances takes us on a tour of the Ioannina Jewish community

It is said that Jews have lived in Greece since the time of the Second Temple and documented evidence describes Jewish people living there continuously for more than 2,000 years since the time of Alexander the Great.

The community in Ioannina is the oldest in all of Greece.

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Emily Frances, host of "Holy Land Uncovered" on i24NEWS, recently took viewers on a tour of the historic synagogue there, the heart and soul of the Romaniote Jewish community.

"We know very well that after the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews came to the Greek area and started their own communities. They tried to keep their own rich tradition. That is a very important element of our identity," said Dr. Moshe Elisaf, mayor of Ioannina.

The mayor told Frances that the Romaniotes have their own unique customs that are different than other diaspora Jewish groups.

Elisaf is on a mission to keep alive the history and traditions of the Romaniote community.

The Jewish community of Ioannina flourished during the 15th and 16th centuries when Greece was under Ottoman rule, allowing an influx of Sephardic Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Spain. By the turn of the 20th century, Jews made up 20 percent of the city's population of 20,000. But by the end of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1920s, the majority left and immigrated to Israel and the United States.

Then the Nazis came knocking, and those that remained were sent away and murdered during the Holocaust. The community of almost 2,000 were rounded up on March 25, 1944, and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

The community lost 92 percent of its pre-war population, one of the highest in Europe. After the war, only 160 members returned.

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