Jews of Drama

Jews

Life and sad story of the Jews of Drama

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Jews of Drama

It is not certain when the Jewish community started in Drama. The is evidence attesting to the presence of Jews to as far back as the Roman period. However, definite mention of Jews in Drama is mentioned by the famous Spanish traveler Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Drama in the 12th century. He mentions that about 140 Jewish families lived in the town. Their numbers were supplemented after the siege and fall of Budapest in 1529 when Jews from Hungary moved south and settled in the town. The Jewish population expanded in the 19th and 20th century thanks in large part to the development of tobacco production and processing. Tobacco companies like Herzog and Commercial were Jewish enterprises. Drama like the other tobacco towns in Macedonia and Thrace greatly expanded during this period. Sephadic Jews from Thessaloniki and Serres moved Drama. The migration waves of Jews from Serres to Drama rose after the destructive fire in the city in 1913, caused by second Balkan War. By the end of the 1920s the town’s Jewish community boasted a synagogue, two cemeteries and a private school. The main district in which the Jews lived was Aghia Barbara with about 300 families, in other words about 1200 members in 1941. Jews belonged to all social classes and mixed and engaged in the life of the town.

On 21 April 1941, thirteen days after the German invasion, Bulgarian soldiers, allies of the Germans,   occupied the areas of Eastern Macedonia and Western Thrace, except for a part of Evros, which remained under the German Administration. King Boris of Bulgaria wanted to change the demographic character of the region and when the population, Jew and Gentile rioted on 28 September 1941 at his brutal and repressive polices, he instigated a series of mass executions and thousands died. Ironically many inhabitants of Drama, including Jews, fled to the German occupied regions.

After these events, the Jewish population decreased to just 592 souls. They were forced to wear the yellow star and signs were posted on the doors of Jewish homes and stores.  The Germans and the Bulgarians signed in Sofia on 22 February 1943 an agreement that the Bulgarians would expel the Jews from the territories they controlled. During the night of 3-4 March 1943, the Jews of Drama were taken from their homes, housed temporarily in the building of the Tobacco Monopoly and then moved by rail to the extermination camps. Only 39 Jews survived the catastrophe of World War II. In 1997 a memorial plaque was placed on the tobacco warehouses where in 1943 the Jews of Drama were arrested and detained. In 1999 the Municipality of Drama, the Administrative Board of the Jewish Community of Kavala and the Central Board of  Jewish Communities in Greece erected a Memorial for the Jewish Martyrs of the Holocaust in the park of Aghia Barbara. This memorial and the Jewish cemetery are the only monuments providing evidence of the Jewish presence in Drama in the past.


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