KOMOTINI Print
Friday, 12 June 2009 11:02

THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF KOMOTINI

    A few historic data have been found on the first settlement of Jews in Komotini. In his work "Acharnes", Aristophanes mentions delegates of the King of Thrace Sitalkis to Athens, who, according to ancient commentary texts, were Hebrews (see Acharnes, col. 162, comment 1, Fexis Publishers). Another proof of the Jewish presence in the region are the signposts found in the ancient city of Maroneia, 30 kilometres away from Komotini.

    During the 16th century the Jewish Community of Komotini had absorbed immigrants from Adrianoupoli and Thessaloniki and was therefore comprised mainly of Sephardic Jews as opposed to other cities of Thrace where the communities were Romaniote.

    Until the 18th century the Jews of Komotini developed textile, silk and wool trade and later on tobacco industry.

    The Jewish quarter was next to the city walls (which is the Citadel today) and the synagogue was built in the 18th century in the modern day Aftokratoros Theodosiou Square.

    In the beginning of 1900 the community had 1,200 members.
In 1910 the school of Alliance Israelite Universelle began functioning in Komotini. Greek, French and Hebrew languages were instructed.


    The population of the Jewish community decreased during the Balkan Wars (1912-13), as many members settled in Thessaloniki, Istanbul, etc.

    The Jews of Komotini, who had always lived in harmony and had developed friendly ties with their fellow citizens, welcomed the liberation of the city by the Greek Army in 1919. Co-operation began as soon as the Ninth Greek Division and the French Troops settled in the city in October 1919; the Jewish homes were considered the most appropriate ones in order to host Greek and French officers.


   

Karasso Street in Komotini


    In May 1920 the Greek Army remained in the city permanently. This co-operation not only continued but developed into a real friendship, especially when Henry Morgendau, Chairman of the Committee for the Rehabilitation of Refugees appointed by the League of Nations, arrived in Komotini. Since he was of Jewish origin, Morgendau was offered hospitality by the Jewish Community.

    During that time the Jewish Community ran a cultural center, charity associations, women's organizations, youth organizations such as the music and sports association "Achdout". The Jews participated in the cultural and spiritual events of the city. They also participated in theatrical plays by Racine, translated into Greek, for example "Esther" and "Athalie". The charity fund "Avadim" was responsible for distributing food and clothing to the needy. This fund also sponsored the Community Center which was constructed on a site next to the Hebrew school.

    During World War II Komotini was under the Bulgarian zone of Occupation. On the night of March 3, 1943, the Bulgarian collaborators of the Nazis arrested 819 Jews of the city and, like the Jews of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, deported them to Treblinka concentration camp where they were exterminated. Only 28 of them survived the Holocaust.


   

The interior of the Synagogue of Komotini, destroyed during the War


    The Synagogue which suffered great damages during the War, was later destroyed and with the passing of time it was ruined to the ground. The War not only wiped out the Community itself, but also the Synagogue of Komotini, which was especially interesting from the architectural point of view, maybe unique in the Balkans. Its dome dominated the area and its interior was composed of a row of columns that supported the roof in a circle. A separate door led to the women's section. The Bimah was at the center underneath the dome and the Eichal (the Sanctuary where the Torah scrolls were kept) was against the eastern wall of the building.


   

Exterior view of the Synagogue of Komotini, which no longer exists


    Nothing escaped the destructive War. The Jewish Community of Komotini was officially dissolved in 1958 due to lack of members.