Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, who visited the region of Eastern Macedonia around the 12th century, noted the existence of a Greek speaking, Romaniote community in Serres. In the 15th century, a significant number of Jews emigrating from Spain and Portugal settled in the town. The Sephardic Jews soon absorbed the old Romaniote community, bringing new customs and traditions. They built the Great Synagogue, “Ka’hal Gadol”, as well as a rabbinical library, a religious school and a primary school.
By the late 19th c., the town of Serres was in economic decline. However, as soon as the city acquired a railway link a period of prosperity and development began for both the city and its Jewish community. During the Balkan Wars the city was burned and reduced to ruins. The Jewish community started dwindling and its members dispersed. Many of them moved to Drama and Kavala.
In the inter War period, in spite of its decrease in population, the Jewish Community of Serres remained active. The Jews of Serres were mostly tobacco workers, shop owners, tobacco merchants and well-known businessmen. Before World War II the Jewish population of Serres numbered 600 people. On 3th March 1943, the Bulgarians arrested the town’s Jews and imprisoned them in a tobacco warehouse. A few days later they began their journey to Treblinka, a journey with no return. Only 3 Jews survived the Holocaust.
Today, almost nothing remains of the thriving Jewish Community of Serres. The old Jewish School is still standing. The Synagogue once stood in its backyard. Today it is a primary school, known in the city as “the Jewish school”. In 2000 the Municipality of Serres erected a marble plaque in the former Jewish school, to honor the Jews of Serres.
(The contect is part of the Jewish Museum’s of Greece digital multimedia app “The Jews of Greece: 2,300 Years of History and Tradition”)