Jews of Didymoteichio

Jews

The Jews of Didymoteichio

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Jews of Didymoteicho

The small town of Didymoteichio had one of the oldest Jewish communities in Greece. Its presence is first recorded in the 14th century when Didymoteichio was the capital of the Byzantine usurper Emperor, John VI Kantakouzenos. Back then the main languages of the Jews was Greek, however, this changed as Jews from Hungary in 1376 followed by Jews from France in 1394 and Jews for Bavaria in 1470 immigrated to the newly formed Ottoman Empire. These European Ashkenazi Jews were later absorbed by the Sephardic Jews of Spain who came to Didymoteichio in the 16th century and introduced the Ladino dialect. The community was certainly in existence in the 18th century and the Turkish travel writer Evlijah Tsebeli mentioned the existence of a Yaoudiler (Jewish Quarter) in the town. By the mid-19th century the town had a population of about 500 Jews and by 1906 the population according to the Bulletin d’Orient may have had as many as 1100 people.
 
In 1862 a large synagogue was built along Katsandoni Street in the Sephardic style of a square with a dome. The synagogue was repaired and renovated in 1924. This thriving community with financial support of the Alliance Israélite Universelle enhanced its status and by 1911 built a school with 255 pupils attending by 1913.
 
During the Balkan wars, the region was fought over by Bulgaria, Ottoman Turkey and Greece. In 1913, the King of Bulgaria visited the town and stayed at the house of Raphail Behar, a Jewish grandee of the town. His residence later on 8 July 1920 hosted the king of Greece, King Alexander. It was the Gibre family that was the wealthiest member of the Jewish community. The Gibre fortune was based on the trade in silk. Indeed, the Evros region is famous among Greeks for its quality silk making and silk products.
 
By 1941 the Jewish population in Didymnotichio was about 900 souls. Initially the Fascists had reassured the community that nothing would change. However, the superficial calm ended on 4 May 1943 when the Germans suddenly demanded all Jews to assemble at the synagogue. Once all in the synagogue the Germans announced that they were all prisoners of war and that they were to be deported. The following day, the Jews of Didymoteichio, Soufli and Orestiada were taken by train to Thessaloniki, with 80 persons to a wagon. On 10 May 1943 they were taken by train to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of the 900 Jews of Didymoteichio only 33 survived the war.
 
In May 2002, the municipality of Didymoteichio erected a monument on the site of the former synagogue to honor and commemorate the Jewish community.
 

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    Address Jewish Centre and Committee of Greece. Voulis 36; Athens 10557

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    Telephone 00302103244315-8

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    Email hhkis@hellasnet.gr

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