Fate of Nations: Ioannina’s Jews (excerpts)

I had planned to go to church last Sunday, but I found myself heading to synagogue after being invited there by two colleagues who share my guesthouse in Ioannina.

Within a short time, I was following them as we wended our way in downtown Ioannina towards the old castle and the synagogue inside.

Inside the ramparts, we turned left and came upon the old building and its white, neo-classical entrance.

We had arrived early to the service, so we passed time walking around and inspecting the building.

Aristotle, caretaker the synagogue, told us after our walk that the building dates from 1854. The outside shows its age outside, but the inside is bathed in soft, pastel-like white light.

Around the interior walls are plaques with names of Jews who were rounded-up and away by Germans in 1944 and perished in the Holocaust. Over 1850 names. Children. Aunts. Uncles. Fathers and mothers. Grandpas and grandmas. Sisters, brothers, and friends. All here. All dead. […]

One man opted to say a few words (in perfect Greek!) and referred to the six million Jews who perished in World War II, including those from Ioannina.

“The egg of the serpent has appeared again,” he intoned, referring to the Chrysi Avgi party. “And there is only two things we can do. One, remember the past. And, two, do whatever in our power to fight this scourge. I am afraid things are going to get worse but we must draw courage from this battle!”

The man’s speech lasted all of three minutes. Sweets were next passed around, and then we headed for a short service at a memorial just outside the castle walls.

It was sunny and bright, the first time in a few weeks, lending a natural warmth to the proceedings. As we walked, Elefthera, from Albania, married to a local Greek, told me that her country was the only one that hid her Jews from the Nazis.

“Albania is one of the few countries that don’t need visas to visit Israel!” she offered as a result. […]

-Taso Lagos


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