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40 years of active presence

Sunday, May 28, 2023

    HISTORICAL BACKGROUND – The antisemitic events of 1891

    After the union of the Ionian Islands with Greece, the constantly improving of the standing of the Corfiot Jews, both financially and culturally, irritated the island’s Christians. The most pronounced expression of those tensions were the antisemitic disturbances of 1891, the “Jewish Events”, or “Ghezera de novant’ un’” as they were called by the community’s members, the antisemitic disturbances of 1891. Sparked by the murder of an eight-year-old Jewish girl on 13 April of that year, the “blood libel”, a medieval slander that unfortunately had still persisted, was resurrected. The Jews were accused of killing the young girl, who was supposedly not Jewish, but Christian, as a human sacrifice in order to use her blood in rituals. The fact that Greek Orthodox Easter was approaching, a time when antisemitic outbreaks were common, and the matter of Jewish emancipation and civic rights had been raised in the upcoming elections, stoked tensions. An incensed mob invaded the Jewish quarter, burning some houses. The rabbi’s home was pelted with stones, while the cemetery was desecrated as well. The police cordoned off the whole quarter but the situation became so terse, that it took a British fleet, anchored off the island, to persuade the government to send in troops from mainland Greece to restore order. This was achieved over a month later, on 20 May. These unfortunate events, which claimed the lives of between 17 and 22 local Jews, and also spread to the island of Zakynthos, where five Jews were killed, marked a turning point for the Jewish community, which began to decline. By the end of the year, many families had moved to the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, Italy and France. The community, once 6,000 strong, would go on to dwindle to around 2,000 people by 1941.

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