Saturday, 19 November 2011

Jews in the Ionian Free States, 1850s

The Ionian Islands had been a Venetian outpost for almost five hundred years. They fell to France when Napoleon occupied Venice in 1797. They were briefly occupied by the Russians before being returned to France in 1807. The British took the islands in 1809. Once Greece became independent in 1830 the Greek islanders wanted to join that country, which did not actually happen until 1862.

The report below is from the last days of British rule. No longer on one of the world’s major trade routes, between Venice and the Ottoman Empire, bullied by the majority Greek population and perhaps aware the British are leaving, the small Jewish community was in a sorry state.

Mr. Chazan spoke of the very sad condition of the Jews in the Ionian Free States. There were four thousand of them in Corfu, and two thousand in the Island of Zante. Most of them are engaged in trade; only a few support themselves as mechanics. Scarcely any of them are in comfortable circumstances, and notwithstanding the proud title, Ionian Free States, and the Protectorate of England, they neither enjoy liberty not are they free from oppression.

Jewish children are mocked at in the schools, girls altogether excluded. The Jews of Zante had just drawn up a representation to the Government, begging that their deplorable social condition might be ameliorated.

“Better a learned heather than a high priest who is an idiot,” quoted Mr. Chazan, from the Talmud.

Source: The Jews of the East, written by Dr. Ludwig August Frankl, an Austrian doctor, and translated by Rev. P. Beaton in 1859

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