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XANTHI Print E-mail
Friday, 12 June 2009 10:59

THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF XANTHI

    Although it has not been determined when Jews first settled in Xanthi, it is obvious that descendants of Spanish Jews - Sepharadim - lived in the city, like in other neighbouring Jewish Communities. This argument is supported by the fact that the Jews of the city spoke the Judeo-Spanish dialect "Ladino" until World War II.

    Based on data from the "Consular Authorities of Thrace", the vice-consul of Greece had sent a report dated December 14, 1907, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to which the Prefect of the region had approved of the establishment of a "Jewish Community in Xanthi". At that time 234 Jews and 84 temporary residents lived in the city, in a total population of 15,122, out of whom 6,214 were Christian, 8,200 were Muslim, 442 were Bulgarian, 119 were Armenian, 78 were Greek Vlachs and others.

    On May 9, 1924 the Community, represented by David Arditis, Abraham Tabach, Abraham Bellos and Yehuda Cohen, purchased a plot of land of 1,350 m2 worth 132,000 old drachmas or the equivalent of 616 gold pounds, in order to build a Synagogue and a Community Center. The site was on the junction of Anatolikis Thrakis Street and Stavrou Hadjistavrou Street. The foundation stone was placed on July 10, 1924. On the outside, the plan of the building resembled the Synagogue of Budapest, but some said that it was more like the one in Adrianoupolis. The two-storeyed Community Center was built next to the synagogue. The Jewish school was housed on the ground floor, the headmaster's office on the first floor and the Community Center on the second floor.

    Most Jewish houses were in the poor neighbourhood "Pournali" or "Pournari", today called "Remvi". The wealthier Jews lived in "Ano Poli" ("Upper town"). The cemetery is still on Xanthis - Diomidias Street, beyond the railway lines. It is fenced but deserted. It includes a few graves dating after 1923.

    During the Asia Minor War of 1922, it is estimated that the population of the Community increased by 700 people. Social and religious life became more active in the following years. In 1922 Isaac de Botton issued the Zionist newspaper "La Fuerza" - Power - and in 1924 he published the periodical "El Progresso" - Progress - with the following logo: "Instrument of Defence of the Jews of Xanthi". Finally, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Hebrew University, Botton issued "Leumi" - "National" - in 1925. All three publications were in "Ladino". Apart from the Zionist Association, other groups are mentioned, such as the Jewish Boy Scout chapter "Macabee" in 1927, the theater company of the Jewish youth, whose plays the local Press highly praised, and the Music and Sports Association.

    The Hebrew school was attended by 114 pupils, and employed 17 instructors. French and Hebrew were taught in addition to other lessons. In 1934 the community had 1,100 members in a city of 35,912 residents. It was recorded that before World War II the number of Jews was reduced due to emigration to other Greek cities and other countries such as France, Israel, the United States, and so on. Three big tobacco companies of Xanthi belonged to Jews: "Commercial", "Herman Spearer", and that of David Arditis, which manufactured cigarettes. Other trades that Jews were involved in were flour industry, textile commerce, ready-made clothes, haberdashery, leather dressing and other industries. Until 1934 Leon Amarilio was municipal Councillor and in 1938 David Attas was Chairman of the Community. Although Jews led an exclusive social and religious life, they organized cultural events, plays, dancing parties and lectures in which their fellow-citizens participated and as a result, friendly relations developed between the two groups. The Jews were considered peaceful, law-abiding, patriotic, hard-working and progressive.

    During the Bulgarian Occupation in 1941 the Jews were forced to wear the yellow badge - the Star of David - and were forbidden to practice their professions in commerce and industry. At midnight of March 4, 1944, the Bulgarians arrested the 550 Jews of the city and assembled them in a tobacco warehouse on 1, Salaminas Street. Only 6 of them succeeded to escape. On March 18 and 19, 1944, they were deported - via Bulgaria - to the Nazi death camps where all of them were exterminated in the crematoria. The Bulgarians looted Jewish homes and shops and violated Jewish properties.

    The Community was totally destroyed since no one returned to Xanthi, and the few survivors settled in other cities. The Community lost 99% of its population.

    In 1963 the Community Center was sold to the Boy Scouts and in 1992 the Synagogue was torn down. An apartment building was constructed in its place. Nothing except the cemetery with a few graves was left to remind of the Jewish presence in the city.

    On March 3, 2001, the Municipality of Xanthi organized a cultural event in memory of the Jews and the following day a memorial plaque was placed in a wall in the tobacco warehouse on 1, Salaminas Street, to remind the residents of the passage and the sad end of the Jewish Community of Xanthi.

    Within the framework of these events, the book by Mr. Thomas Exarhos, "The Jews in Xanthi" was presented. The book was published by the Cultural and Development Center of Thrace.



 
 

Snapshots from the unveiling of the
memorial plaque in the tobacco warehouse

 

 
 

Gravestone in the Jewish
cemetery of Xanthi




 
 

Snapshots from Mr. Exarhos' book presentation
 

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