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40 years of active presence

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

    THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF IOANNINA 1945 – to present day

    There were 181 people in the Jewish community of Ioannina when World War II ended. Of these, 112 were Death Camp survivors and 69 survived by being hidden in the homes of Christian people or by taking to the mountains, where some fought with the Resistance. Despite the efforts of resistance members and the Christian clergy, those who returned found their property in rack and ruin, their homes deserted and their shops looted. In addition to the practical problems of finding shelter, medical care and settling back into society, there was the crushing emotional upheaval of returning to a decimated community.

    The Jewish Community of Ioannina was a community with no elderly people, one that had lost a huge chapter of its collective memory and traditions. A gaping hole that would be hard to fill.

    A new Jewish Community Council was formed almost immediately with Iosif Koen as its president. The council immediately established contact with international organisations like the American Joint Distribution Committee, and Greek ones such as the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, asking for moral and material support for Holocaust victims, especially orphans, widows, single young women and those whose livelihoods were in ruins. Many survivors immigrated to USA, others to Israel. The Janina Relief Fund which was set up by Jews from Ioannina who had immigrated to New York needs to be mentioned for its help in the community’s recovery; it demonstrates just how strongly the members of this community stood by one another. The Synagogue was soon rebuilt, the cemetery put to rights, the Jewish Primary School re-opened, and life started to regain order.

    Internal migration, mostly to Athens for professional or educational reasons, continued for a few more decades. Today there are 50 Jews in Ioannina and they live in the old Jewish quarter. The old Kahal Kadosh Yashan synagogue still stands and religious festivals are still celebrated there led by a specially-invited rabbi.

    The Jews of Ioannina still maintain ties with their Romaniote past, and do their best to nurture the awareness that they are the inheritors of a unique tradition that has reached them through many centuries.

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