IOAKEIM SIGALAS (1881-1965

The Jewish community of Didymoteicho
Didymoteicho’s Jewish community numbered 740 members in 1928 (8.5 per cent of the total population). Ahead of the Germans’ taking of the city, many Jews crossed the Evros River, among them Rabbi Alkabes. Most, however, stayed and, as a result, lost their lives at Birkenau, where they were deported on 5 May 1943.

The prelate
Ioakeim Sigalas served as Metropolitan Bishop of Didymoteicho and Orestiada from 1928 to 1957. As the titular bishop of Apollonia, he had served as
locum tenens of the metropolitan diocese of Kerasounta (Giresun), where he was arrested by the Turkish authorities and narrowly escaped death. Earlier, he had officiated under Ioakeim of Pelagonia in the adverse conditions of the Macedonian struggle.

Support and solace
When the order was given to round up Didymoteicho’s Jews for deportation, on 4 May 1943, Ioakeim intervened with the German authorities, pleading with them to “avoid any cruelty and inhuman treatment of them”.

The next day, when the town’s Jews were taken from the synagogue to the train station, Ioakeim, as described by his successor, deliberately crossed their path and “amid tears, wished them ‘good luck’. They, also crying, bid him farewell as they were led to the place of their torment.”

Testimony
One of Didymoteicho’s few surviving Jews, Dr Markos Nachon, later recalled: “At this moment, supposedly by coincidence, the bishop, with his great bravery that never abandoned him, walks through the Jewish neighbourhood. No one has any illusions about the true purpose of his stroll. The Jews understand that he has come into the city to bid them farewell and show his support. Many of them, in a gesture of thanks, kiss his hand for the last time.”

Markos Nachon, Birkenau: The camp of death, Thessaloniki, 1991.

 

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