SPYRIDON VLACHOS (1873-1956)
In 1928, the old and once populous Jewish community of Ioannina numbered 1,963 members (9 per cent of the population). On 25 March 1944, 1,850 members of the community were deported. Just 163, including those who escaped deportation, survived.
Spyridon Vlachos (1873–1956) served as Metropolitan of Ioannina from 1916 to 1949. He distinguished himself in the in the struggle of the Northern Epirotes. He played an active role in the Greek Army’s surrender after the German offensive, thus avoiding troops being taken captive. In 1949, he was elected Archbishop of Athens.
Support and solace
The deportation of Ioannina’s Jews was followed by the looting of their belongings. Metropolitan Spyridon had the Torah scroll and other religious objects removed from the Old Synagogue and placed in safekeeping, in the diocesan offices. He also had sewing machines removed from Jewish homes, along with any valuable costumes, so that these could be given to their owners when they returned. As the losses were great, some sewing machines remained unclaimed, behind the Ioannina Synagogue, for many years. Metropolitan Spyridon and Mayor Dimitris Vlachlidis averted the destruction of Ioannina’s Old Synagogue by the Germans on the pretext that they intended to convert it into a public library. Both men were awarded the ultimate honour by the Jewish Community of Ioannina with the inscription of their names on a marble plaque at the synagogue.
“We shall always remember that Your Beatitude took under your safekeeping at the Holy Diocese of Ioannina the scrolls of our Sacred Bible and other articles of the Holy Synagogue there, which after liberation Your Beatitude returned to the few Jews who had survived. For all these deeds we thank you with all our heart.” Extract from a letter by Chief Rabbi Moshe Pessah (10 June 1949)
Photini Constantopoulou and Thanos Veremis, Documents on the History of the Greek Jews: Records from the Historical Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Athens, 1998, p. 390.
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