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Friday, 26 June 2009 12:09

THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF VOLOS

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Ancient historic texts mention that Jews lived in the region of Magnesia, Thessaly and in particular in neighbouring Almyros as early as the 1st century AD. Historians argue that Jews have been living in ancient Dimitriada (today called Volos) since the 2nd century AD. Ancient Jewish tombstones dating back to 325-641 AD, were also discovered in the neighbouring city of Phthiotides Thebes or Achaikes (today called Nea Achilaos).



Jewish gravestone in the region of Volos "Nea Aghialos" (325 A.D.)


In the 12th century, the Spanish traveler Rabbi Benjamin Ben Yonah from Tudela, wrote in his "travelogue" that "Almyros had a flourishing Community of 400 Jews, led by chief Rabbi Shiloh Lombardo and Rabbis Iosif and Solomon".

The presence of Jews in Volos continued throughout the period of Turkish rule and they are mentioned in diplomatic documents of the 16th century. According to newspapers of that time, in 1881, when the city was liberated from the Turkish rule (2.11.1881), a Jewish Community had already been organized. Since then, the community continued its active presence in the commercial, social and spiritual life of Volos.


The first Synagogue was built in 1870 at the centre of the Jewish quarter, replacing an older improvised wooden construction. This beautiful synagogue was blown up by the Germans in March 1943. In 1948 a new synagogue was built in its place but it was destroyed in the 1955 earthquake. In 1960 a new, smaller synagogue, resisting to earthquakes, was built and functions to this day. It is located in the junction between Xenofondos - Platonos - Moisseos Streets.

The Holy Synagogue of Volos after it was destroyed by the Germans in 1944. Photo: Chief Rabbi M. Pesach, the president of the Community Dr. J. Cohen and other Jews.

  



The second synagogue of Volos (1948-1955).








The new synagogue, resistant to earthquakes, functions until today.

 

The first Jewish cemetery was in the "Neapolis" quarter (Filikis Etairias Street). The new one, which is used to this day, is adjacent to the Christian cemetery, in the junction between Taxiarhon and Paraskevopoulou Streets. It covers an area of 4,000 sq.m. and has 700 graves.



The entrance of the Jewish cemetery of Volos.

 


Since 1863, the community ran the first branch of the French school Alliance Israelite Universelle and later the primary community school (1870-1926).
In 1894 a small rabbinical school was established.
In the early 1900's various charity and other Associations of the community were founded, such as "AVAATH REHIM" (1901), succeeded by the Mutual Benefit Society "Agoudat Achim" in 1921. In 1910 the Zionist Association "Poalei Tzion" and later the Sisterhood "Ozer Dalim" were formed. The youth sports team "Hatikvah", succeeded by "Hakoach", and the Scouts' group "Macabee" (1933) were founded. In addition, the community had committees such as "Bikur Holim", "Hevrah Kedoshah", and others.
The Jews were active in the professional and economic development of Volos. Commercial, small and large industries with a large number of employees, were owned by Jews. The large textile industry "Mourtzoukou", the spinning-mill owned by Levi Brothers, Amon & Azouz factory, Isaac Saporta's tobacco warehouse, Baruch-Levy Bank, and other significant enterprises, are amongst the most remarkable examples.
The Jews of Volos contributed to a great extent in the foundation of Charity Institutions, cultural and sports Associations and professional organizations in the institutions in which they participated, such as municipal issues of the city.
In order to honour the local Jewry, the Municipality of Volos named certain streets as follows: "Moisseos Street" (1892), "Palestinis Street" (1922), "Abraham Benaroyiah Street" (1984) and "Archiravinou Moissi Pessach Street" (1993).
In 1920 the Community had about 2,000 members. Gradually, however, this number began to decrease due to emigration to other cities or overseas. In 1940 it had 872 members.

   



World War II

During the period of the Greek-Italian war (1940) 71 Jews were drafted and fought in the front. One of them was killed, five were wounded and two were disabled in battle. Later, the community in general contributed in the entire military struggle.
In April 1941, the city was occupied by the Italian troops, but the Jews did not face an immediate danger. In September 1943, when Italy surrendered to the Allies, Volos found itself under German occupation. During the occupation many Jews, mainly young ones participated in the National Resistance, offering significant services. The first anti-Semitic measures of the Germans were taken in October 1943. The majority of Jews, assisted by the Church, the National Resistance, the State and their fellow citizens, succeeded to flee to the surrounding villages where they were rescued.
During the liquidation operations that the Germans carried out in March 1944, 155 members of the Community were arrested and deported to the Nazi camps where they were exterminated.

   


Liberation and Re-Organization of the Community

When the city was liberated in October 1944, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and philanthropic organizations from overseas (AJDC) contributed in every way to the re-organization of the Community. The earthquakes in Volos (1955) caused great damages to houses, shops and Community buildings. However, both the State and Jewish Organizations assisted the victims immediately and efficiently.
After 1948, emigration to Israel and later to the United States increased. Today the Community has 100 members who continue a harmonic co-existence with their Christian fellow-citizens.
The Community is administered by a Board of five members elected every three years by the Community Assembly that consists of fourteen members. The Board focuses on the caring of the needy, the education of children and sponsors youth programs. It is especially interested in the function of the Synagogue and the strengthening of ties among members, fellow-citizens and local Authorities. These relations are, to this day, excellent. The Synagogue functions every Friday evening and on major Jewish Holidays.

In 1998, the Municipality of Volos, expressing its appreciation for the contribution of Jews to the city and honouring the memory of the victims of the Nazi persecution, erected a Holocaust Monument in Rigas Ferraios Central Square.
Today, the Community, in spite of its small size, continues its course vigorously and actively.
   


PUBLICATIONS IN GREEK

At times the community issued in Greek various publications and texts edited by Raphael Frezis.
In 1994 the book "The Jewish Community of Volos", including its history, was published.

In 1996, a special edition on "The Holocaust of 6,000,000 Jews" was published.

In 1997, another special edition on the "Anniversary of the Uprising of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and in Birkenau Concentration Camp" was published.

In 1998, the Community issued a "Small Edition on the Great Work of AMERICAN JOINT" and a "Brief History of the Jewish Community of Volos" published in Greek and in English.

In 1999 it published the book "The Jewish Press in Greece" that includes all Jewish newspapers and prints that were issued in Greece between 1861 until today. The book includes photos and useful information.

Finally, in the year 2000, a special edition was issued on "
The educational work of ALLIANCE ISRAELITE UNIVERSELLE School"

 

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