On March 30, the Jews of Ionnina came to commemorate the 70h anniversary of the destruction of their community by the Nazis. Ionnina is located in Northeastern Greece and was once the center of Romaniote Judaism. Neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic, Romaniote Jews, emerged from the first Jewish communities of Europe. Records indicate the first Jewish presence in Greece dating back to 300 BCE. They spoke their own language, Yevanic, or Judeo-Greek, a version of Greek infused with Hebrew and written with the Hebrew script.
After the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492, many Sephardic Jews found refuge in the Ottoman Empire that then ruled Greece. Soon, Sephardic communities sprang up, most notably in Thessaloniki, known as the Jerusalem of the Balkans. The preexisting Romaniote communities were absorbed into the larger, Sephardic Ladino-speaking ones that eventually became largely synonymous with Greek Jewry. In the isolated islands and mountains, the Romaniotes remained the dominant tradition, and Ioannina was the largest of these communities. With the break-up of the Ottoman Empire in the 20th century many Romaniotes immigrated to North America and what would become Israel. By the beginning of World War II approximately 2,000 Romaniote Jews were in Ionnina. On March 25, 1944 the Nazis rounded up the Jews and transported them to Auschwitz. Only 112 Ionnina Jews survived Auschwitz and another 69 escaped the roundup.The names of the town’s 1,832 Jews who were murdered are carved on marble tablets on the walls of the synagogue.
Several other small communities that identify with the Romaniote tradition continue to exist in places like Chalkida and Volos, however, most live in Athens today.
The Canadian ambassador to Greece, Robert Peck, was instrumental in helping organize the commemorations, noting the lack of available information about the Jews of Ioannina. At Ambassador Peck’s urging the (Vancouver) Simon Fraser University Media Lab designed a website detailing Ioannina’s Jewish history and an app The app and website, "Ionnina's Jewish Legacy: Yesterday and Today" was launched on March 25 and may be viewed at: http://www.ioanninajewishlegacy.com/ The website has a listing of the "extinct" Jews from Ioaninna—it is all in the Greek language but a translation service such as Google translate should help.
To read more about this commemoration and Ioannina’s Jewish History and Romaniote Jews see: http://tinyurl.com/kuo6bkd Original url:
Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee