Saturday, 19 November 2011

Jews in post-independence Greece

In his book, The Jews of the East, Dr. Ludwig Frankl reports on the miserable state of Jews in post-independence Greece. At the time of Frankl’s visit, Greece did not yet include several major Jewish population centres. Salonika and Rhodes were under Turkish rule, while the Ionian Islands were a British protectorate.

… a few words must be said about the Jews, in Greece, in general. There is nothing to prevent the Jews from settling in Greece; before the law, they enjoy the same constitutional rights as the other citizens; still, very few of them are to be found here. They were numerous under the Turkish Government, and, because faithful to their lawful masters, they took no part with those who fought for liberty, when the latter proved victorious, they were destroyed with fire and sword. On the day of the atonement, in the year 1821, the Greeks captured Tripolitza [Tripoli, in the central Peloponnese], and massacred the whole of the Jews assembled at prayer. The Greek fought with and for the cross; the Jew could not advance with him to battle, and, even when oppressed by the Mohammedan, felt himself more closely allied with him, in religion, through their common belief in the unity of an invisible God.

Only one of the former Jewish communions in Greece survives at the present day – at Chalcis, in the island of Euboea, because it remained longest, till the year 1833, in the possession of the Turks, and was first surrendered, when Greece was declared free and erected into a kingdom. Fugitives from Spain – according to another account which I have received from Mr. Von Hahn, consul at Syra, fugitives from Venice were the first who settled at Chalcis, 600 years ago, and formed a communion, which now contains 300 souls. They speak Spanish and Greek. They are very poor; most of them support themselves as mechanics, or dealers in fruit; the whole community assembles in a miserable little synagogue every morning and evening; their Rabbi’s name is Benjamin Cohen. They have a vote in the election of the Members of the Chamber of Deputies, and there is nothing to prevent any one of them, if possessed of sufficient education, from being chosen a member. They live on the best terms with neighbouring Greeks, among whom they occupy a peculiar position as a colony, and nothing but their poverty prevents them from obtaining land, and directing their attention to agriculture.

Till the year 1854, there were only two Jewish families living at Athens; since that time, eight or ten from the island of Zante have settled here. As yet, they have not formed themselves into a community, and on high feast days, they have divine service in a room engaged for the occasion; when a death occurs, the body is interred in the Christian cemetery.

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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