Jews of Serres

Jews

Life and sad story of the Jews of Serres

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Jews of Serres

The famous 12th century traveler, Rabbi Benjamin Ben Jonah, from Tudela, Spain, visited the region of Eastern Macedonia around 1162 and noted the existence of Greek-speaking Romaniote Jews. After 1453, The Ottoman Sultant, Mehmet the Conqueror encouraged emmigration to his new capital, Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, and many Jews from Serres went to live there. However, the Jewish population of Serres was supplemented by new Jewish immigrants from Spain, the Sephadic Jews. The Sephardic Jews soon absorbed the Romaniote Community, and their own culture and   Kabalistic tradition soon dominated the Jewish community. They built the Great Synagogue, Ka’hal Gadol, as well as a Rabbinical library, a religious school and a primary school.
 
In 1896 Serres was connected to the railway line, and this gave the town and added economic impetus. But unfortunately the Serres was destroyed by fire duing the Balkan wars and many Jews left the wrecked city and settled in Drama and Kavala. During the inter-war period the town recovered.  Jews contributed to the town’s cultural life and it is worth mentioning that the first importers of cinematography in the town were the Jewish businessmen, Simantov, Ovadias and Kabilis.
 
During Second World War, Serres was occupied by Germany’s allies, the Bulgarians. In his book "Chronicle of the Jewish Community of Serres", Haralambos Vouroutzides writes that in the summer of 1941, when the occupying Bulgarians demanded that the Jewish Community of Serres should join the city’s Bulgarian Club, with a view to eventually changing nationality, the city’s Jewish Council answered: ‘We were born in Greece. Greece is the land of our fathers. We are Greek. We will not change our nationality for any reason or for any gain’. Unknown to the Jews the Bulgarian collaborator regime had signed a agreement on 22 February 1943 to deport the Jews under their control in Greece. In Bulgaria itself the authorities were unable to deport the Bulgarian Jews due to local resistance. On the night of 3-4 March 1943, the Jews of Serres were rounded up, assembled in a tobacco warehouse and then taken to Treblinka camp and the gas chambers. Only 3 of the total Jewish population of about 476 managed to survive, and that is because they were not in the town that fateful March night.
 
The old Jewish school is still standing. Behind to had been the synagogue. It still functions as a school and is knowns as "the Jewish school". A marble signpost was hung by the Municipality of Serres in the former Jewish school, in a special ceremony that took place on 5 March  2000, to honour the 476 Jews of Serres, "for the unjust and inhumane extermination of the flourishing Greek Jewish Community of Serres on 3 and 4 March 1943
 
by the fascist Bulgarian occupation forces". The Municipality took one more initiative, which was to
 
hold special events annually to commemorate the Holocaust of the Jews of Serres. A Commemorative plaque on the former Jewish school which today houses the 6th and the 16th primary schools of Serres.
 

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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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