Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Jewish Area in the Old Town

Below is some info reproduced from the Online Portal Kol haKEHILA, dedicated to the study and the preservation of the Greek Jewish Heritage Monuments. It has to be noted though that maintenance works started in 2002 and have progressed really well. The preservation works are already included in the list of Corfu's actions in the UNESCO effort.


Exterior of the Scuola Greca, Corfu

Historical Data: The Scuola Greca Synagogue was built during the 17th century in the Venetian architectural manner. It is the only synagogue remaining on the island of Corfu out of three that existed before World War II.

Area/Capacity: 500 sq. m./ 700 persons

Actual Condition: It is maintained by the small Jewish Community of Corfu in relatively good condition.

Necessary Restoration Works: Works of regular maintenance are needed.

Estimated Cost: $14,000 US


Historical Data: The Jewish Cemetery of Corfu contains tombstones of historical interest. Area/Capacity: 11,000 sq. m.
Actual Condition: The cemetery is in relatively good condition. It is surrounded by a wall. Necessary Restoration Works: Restoration works are necessary for some of the oldest tombs. Estimated Cost: $28,000 US

Remembering the Jews of Corfu - By Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos

On June 9, 1944, three days after the landing at Normandy, overriding German high Command orders, the Gestapo on the island of Corfu rounded up close to 1,800 Jews in the Old Fortress, from where they were sent on small, requisitioned boats to Patras and from there to Athens, where they were put into cattle cars. Their final destination was Auschwitz-Birkenau. Most never returned. Ninety-one percent of the Jews of Corfu perished in the Holocaust. This year on June 10, 2001, on the anniversary of their deportation, a memorial to the lost Jews of Corfu will be unveiled. Corfiote Jews from around the world will gather to pay respects to their lost relatives and friends. The story of the Jews of Corfu has always been fascinating: a mixture of strong willed Romaniotes and a large influx of "Pugliese" from southern Italy. Two separate communities lived side by side, with separate synagogues, separate languages, diverse customs, not even willing to share a common burial site. Although never large in number, the Jews of the island seemed to present an economic challenge to the Christian population. The "Blood Libel" on the island of Corfu in 1891, although thought to be politically motivated, demonstrated how easy it was to inflame the Christian populace, and successive Greek governments. The repercussions, both economic and emotional, were still being felt on the island some fifty years later, when Corfu Jews were deported. The Jewish population of Corfu was for most part poor. The most common occupations were porter, laborers and venders. There were those few who owned shops, most small in size, supplying the needs of the community. Heavy bombing had taken place on the island and many Jews, along with many Christians, were homeless, seeking shelter with relatives and friends. Some were fortunate to find safe shelter outside the city, and with the help of local Christians, were not within the city of Corfu when the June 1944 deportations took place. About 200 Jews on the island survived this way. These were poor, hard working, strong-spirited Jews. The more affluent had left in 1891, leaving a void, not only in the Jewish Community, but also in the Christian one. The Jewish Community missed their leadership and guidance, the Christian community their economic expertise. There were a small, mostly descendants of wealthy Italian Jews, who preserved a culture and refinement, reminiscent of more affluent times. They collected art, went to concerts on the Esplanade and engaged in the literary and cosmopolitan offerings of the island. Walking through the streets of the Old City of Corfu, through the "Jewish Ghetto", one can still feel the presence of this vital community. There are still some Jewish owned shops on Palaologos street. The "Scuola Greca", the Greek Synagogue, is nestled near the edge of the Jewish Quarter, as the area became known after the ghetto gates erected by the Venetians were torn down. Signs of the bombings of World War II are still present. The shell of the second synagogue can still be seen and many former homes are only facades. The present community numbers about 80 and the synagogue usually remains locked. An increase in Israeli tourists has led to occasional services, but these are rare since there is no rabbi on the island. The Jewish Community of Corfu has commissioned a prominent sculptor to create the Holocaust Memorial. The total cost is approximately $35,000. The Jewish Community of Corfu has pledged $10,000 towards the monument and the Municipality of Corfu has donated the land in the square directly outside the Jewish Quarter, along with $5,000. It is hoped that the remainder will be raised by Corfiote Jews in the Diaspora and other interested individuals. As part of the preparations for the unveiling of the Holocaust Memorial, the Association of Friends of Greek Jewry is hoping to have a complete list of all those Jews from Corfu who were deported in June of 1944. Unfortunately no complete list exists. We have been able to compile the family names: Akkos, Alchavas, Amar, Aron, Asias, Asser, Bakolas, Balestra, Baruch, Ben Giat, Besso, Cavaliero, Chaim, Dalmedigos, Dentes, Ftan, Elias, Eliezer, Eskapas, Ferro, Fortes, Ganis, Gerson, Gikas, Israel, Johanna, Koen, Kolonimos, Konstantinis, Koulias, Lemous, Leoncini, Levi, Matathias, Matsas, Minervo, Mizan, Mordos, Moustaki, Nachon, Nechamas, Negrin, Osmos, Ovadiah, Perez, Pitson, Politis, Raphael, Sardas, Sasen, Serneine, Sinigalli, Soussis, Tsesana, Varon, Vellelis, Vivante, Vital and Vitali. A plaque will be placed at the base of the monument with the family names of those lost.
(By Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, the president of the AFGJ )

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