Tevet kai Shevat katse
kamme rehat. Only a remnant of Greek Jews have survived who can
fully understand this proverb. It contains three different languages
spoken in the Mediterranean, and reflects the interwoven influences
on the Greek Romaniote Jewish culture. Judaeo-Greek and Turkish idioms,
expressions and proverbs colored the spoken language of the Jewish population
in Romaniote communities such as Ioannina, where 1,870 Romaniotes lived
at the eve of the Second World War. The life of these communities, which
dates back to antiquity, as well as that of the numerous Sepharadic
and few Ashkenazic communities in Greece, is portrayed in the Pinkas
Hakehillot-Yavan, The Enyclopaedia of Jewish Communities: Greece,
that has just been published by Yad Vashem.
Tevet kai Shevat katse kamme rehat: In the months of Tevet and
Shvat you should sit (katse kamme) and rest (rehat). Tevet and Shvat,
two months in the Jewish lunar calendar, correspond to the months of
January and February, months during which the northern city of Ioannina
was covered with snow, its lake frozen. During the winter season, business
was slow, and the city’s residents could rest in the warmth and comfort
of their homes. In the winter of 1944 however, the Jews of Ioannina
were under German occupation, and aware of the mass deportations of
the Jews of Salonika a year earlier, could find no rest. On March 25,
early on a Sabbath morning, in the heavy snow, the Jews of Ioannina
were taken to a concentration camp in Larissa, from where they were
later transported in railroad cattle cars to their death in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
"Fewer than 50 Jews remain in the once thriving Jewish community of
Ioannina. Their distinctive Judaeo-Greek language, songs, piyyutim
(religious poetry), minhag (ritual) and customs have, with a
few remaining traces, been destroyed with them," says Dr. Bracha Rivlin,
historian at Yad Vashem, editor, and author of the Pinkas Hakehillot
- Yavan. "Today Ioannina Jews live outside the Kastro (fortress)
on the site of the former synagogue on Max Nordau street. Eliya studied
and taught at the Alliance school of the city," recalls Joya
Aroyo, Ioannina-born Holocaust survivor now living in Tel-Aviv. Only
the synagogue Kal Kadosh Yashan inside the Kastro survived the
war. The wooden seats, mostly empty even on the high holidays, and the
1,838 names carved on marble plaques hanging on the walls, give witness
to the people’s loss.
En este mundo sufrimos porque semos Jidios. En otro mundo sufriremos
porque no fuemos buenos Jidios. "In this world we suffer because
we are Jews. In the world to come we will suffer because we were not
good Jews." Indeed, Salonika’s Sephardic community suffered greatly
because of its Jewishness. Only 1,950 Jews, out of a population of 56,
000, survived the Holocaust. David Howell, a Salonika-born Jew who left
Greece before the war, and lives in Tel-Aviv, recalls life in Salonika.
"At home, we spoke French and Judaeo-Spanish (Ladino), my mother
spoke no Greek. I went to the Alliance school and was a member
of HaKoah, the Jewish boy scouts. I prayed at the destroyed Siniora
Fakima synagogue, formally known as Beit Shaul." The older generation
of the 1,000-member Jewish community of the city-port of Salonika still
speak Judaeo-Spanish. A few of the melodious canticas and romances
(songs and ballads) have been adopted by Greek singers, but the majority
can only be found in museum recordings.
The Jewish population of Salonika grew extensively under the rule of
Sultan Beyazit II, who invited the Jews to the Ottoman empire, at the
time of their expulsion from Spain and later Portugal. With the supposed
influx of 20,000 Sephardic Jews in 1492, culture and business blossomed,
and a wealth of religious, social and educational services was established.
In 1512, Don Yehuda Gedalia opened the first printing press in the city.
"Each Jewish community in Spain and Portugal transferred its microcosm
to Salonika. synagogues, carrying names such as Castile, Aragon, Catalonia,
Lisbon, Gerush Sefarad and Portugal, served as centers of communal life
along with the school, Talmud Torah, Beit Din, hospital, charity center
and burial society," says Dr. Bracha Rivlin who, together with the Chairman
of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev, attended the unveiling of
the Holocaust monument in Salonika in November 1997.
Today there are no more than 5,000 Jews living in Greece and a few remaining
Jewish sites to tell the story of the community.
Pinkas Hakehillot - Yavan recounts the history of the
Greek Jewish communities from antiquity until the present. With more
than 70 entries on Jewish communities in Greece, an appendix on Albania,
and maps and period photographs, the Pinkas illustrates the rich
life that once was and is no more. Pinkasei Hakehillot project,
receives support from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and
its Executive Vice-President, Dr. Jerry Hochbaum. Pinkas Hakehillot
is one of Yad Vashem’s most important projects commemorating the Holocaust.