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A Greek Town Commemorates Its Holocaust History – Tablet Magazine

A Greek Town Commemorates Its Holocaust History – Tablet Magazine

On the morning of Nov. 11, 2018, a crowd of just about 200 individuals gathered within the middle of Trikala, a Greek metropolis situated some 300 kilometers north of Athens. Conversing primarily in Greek, but in addition in Hebrew, English, Italian, and German, they have been ready at one of many fundamental entrances to the previous Jewish quarter to take part within the unveiling of Trikala’s Holocaust Memorial. Erected to commemorate the town’s 139 Jewish victims, the memorial is a joint initiative of the Trikala authorities and the town’s Jewish group.

“It was an obligation to our citizens, to the Jewish Community, to the memory,” Dimitris Papastergiou, the mayor of Trikala, advised me by way of e mail. The thought first surfaced in his dialog with Victor Venouziou, a local of Larissa who was raised as a part of Trikala’s Jewish group and survived the Holocaust as a result of the villagers of Amarantos—50 kilometers away, it was referred to as Mastroyianni within the 1940s—hid him and his household. Final yr Venouziou financed a monument in Amarantos to thank them. “Within five minutes we agreed that the city and the Municipality of Trikala also had to erect their own monument,” Papastergiou stated.

The monument designed by the municipality, with enter from Trikala’s Jewish group, is within the form of a tear flanked by railway tracks. Within the middle is an olive tree and to the aspect is a column with an inscription in three languages: Greek, Hebrew, and English.

The monument at Trikala. (Photograph: Margarita Gokun Silver)

The revealing introduced collectively members of the Jewish communities of Athens, Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Larissa, Karditsa, Volos, Chalkis, Rhodes, and Corfu, in addition to ambassadors and dignitaries from a number of overseas nations. Organized by the municipality of Trikala with the lively participation of the Worldwide Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, the Jewish Museum of Greece, and the Italian Embassy in Greece (Italy holds IHRA’s 2018 chairmanship), the ceremony was the end result of a three-day Holocaust-remembrance program that included exhibitions, live shows, a e-book presentation, and a documentary screening.

“While Jews are a small percentage of the local population, they are an inseparable part of the history of Trikala, society, and culture,” Jacob Venouziou, president of the Trikala Jewish Group (and Victor’s cousin), stated in his speech at one of many occasions. “The monument reminds us that [Jewish heritage] isn’t something of the past. It is also for the present and the future, an active movement of recognition and defense of cultural and religious diversity, as well as resistance to discrimination.”


The historical past of Trikala goes again to its predecessor, Trike, an historic metropolis based across the third millennium BCE. Thought-about of nice significance due to its reference to Asclepius, the god of drugs, the town hosted many therapeutic temples; received a point out in Homer’s Iliad as one of many Trojan Struggle members; and, within the Mycenaean interval, served as the dominion’s capital. Through the Byzantine Empire in addition to in the course of the early Center Ages, Trikala had its share of rulers and invaders till the Ottoman conquest on the finish of the 14th century introduced a interval of relative stability. The town remained contained in the Ottoman Empire till the 1881 Treaty of Constantinople made it a part of Greece.

Though it’s not clear when Jewish individuals started to settle in Trikala, some sources point out the presence of Jews within the metropolis in the course of the Byzantine interval. They referred to as themselves Romaniotes, spoke Greek with some parts of Hebrew and Aramaic, and labored as craftsmen, merchants, and even silk growers. In 1492, when Isabella and Ferdinand, the Catholic monarchs of Spain, expelled Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, a number of Sephardim got here to settle in Trikala, then already a part of the Ottoman Empire. Later joined by Jewish migrants from Sicily, Portugal, Verona, and Hungary, the group grew and, by the start of the 1900s, it counted near 500 members in a metropolis of about 25,000 individuals.

“It was a stable Jewish community—not big in numbers but viable,” stated Kostas Mihalikis, a historian and the writer of The Jewish Group of Trikala 1881-1940. “Jews were accepted in every sector of social life; [there were] no signs of discrimination.” By advantage of its geographic location, Trikala served as the center level between the Romaniote group of Ioannina to the west and the largely Sephardic communities of Larissa and Volos to the east. “Trikala was the [crossroads] for these Jews,” Mihalikis advised me. “They met here in Trikala.”

With three lively synagogues—Romaniote, Sephardic, and Sicilian—a Jewish faculty, and a month-to-month journal Israel began by Asher Moissis, a well known Greek Jewish writer and group chief, the Trikala Jewish group thrived earlier than WWII. However, in contrast to their neighbors to the north in Thessaloniki, the town’s Jews have been additionally built-in into the native Greek society. They sat on boards of varied establishments, spoke Greek with out an accent, and took part within the political lifetime of the town. This, in accordance with Mihalikis, was one of many causes that Jewish casualties in Trikala and the encompassing areas through the Holocaust have been among the many lowest in Greece.

Initially occupied by Italy, the town’s Jewish residents didn’t endure the identical type of harassment as those that lived in territories beneath German management. With information of persecution and deportations arriving from German-occupied Thessaloniki virtually every day, Trikala’s Jews had time to organize. A few sought and located shelter with Greek households within the mountainous villages, others have been hidden by partisans, and but others escaped to Athens. When Germans entered Trikala after the Italians surrendered to the Allies in September 1943, extra Jews left the town assisted by the Nationwide Liberation Entrance, the primary Greek resistance motion through the occupation of Greece. “One of the reasons people in Thessaloniki couldn’t escape was because it was easy to understand who was a Jew,” stated Mihalikis. “In Trikala [the Nazis] couldn’t understand that [easily].”

For the subsequent a number of months the Nazis tried to lure the Jews again to Trikala. “[The Germans] told them, ‘You do not look like the Jews of Thessaloniki and, therefore, you have absolutely no danger,’” Victor Venouziou informed me by way of e mail. A few got here again pushed principally by starvation, chilly, and troublesome circumstances they’d discovered within the mountains. “The inhabitants of mountain villages weren’t prepared to accommodate such a large number of people. They were poor with little food,” Venouziou stated.

“At [the same] time many Jews believed the lies Germans told them.” On March 24, 1944, these Jews who returned and stayed have been arrested and despatched to Larissa from the place, along with Jews of different surrounding cities, they have been placed on a transport to Auschwitz.

About 300 Jews got here again to Trikala after the conflict however most didn’t keep. To rebuild their lives many determined to maneuver to bigger cities resembling Athens and Thessaloniki or to go away for the USA and Israel. Immediately the Jewish group of Trikala numbers round 40 individuals. Just one synagogue—the Romaniote Kal Yavanim—survived the struggle. At present underneath reconstruction, sponsored by the German authorities with contributions from different Jewish communities of Greece and the Greek Jewish diaspora, it’s a repository of reminiscences of an lively Jewish life within the metropolis in addition to a logo of the group’s hopes for the longer term. “[We] might have only a few people nowadays,” Jacob Venouziou informed me by way of e-mail, “but [we] still keep the same interest in Jewish life.”

Each the municipality and the Jewish group of Trikala hope the brand new monument gained’t endure the identical destiny as different Holocaust memorials and Jewish cemeteries in Greece. The memorial in Thessaloniki has been vandalized a number of occasions since its unveiling in 1997—4 occasions alone final yr; a memorial in Kavala was sprayed with paint two weeks after its opening; and, solely a month earlier than Trikala’s memorial inauguration, the town’s Jewish cemetery was desecrated. With the speed of anti-Semitism the very best in Europe and vandalism towards Jewish websites on the rise, Greece has just lately joined forces with Israel to fight anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and racism.

“This recent attack [on Trikala’s Jewish cemetery] reminds us that perseverance of the historical memory and respect for diversity is a continuous fight against the selective oblivion, prejudice and violence against the ‘other,’” Jacob Venouziou stated in his speech through the unveiling. There’s hope that the brand new Holocaust memorial will contribute to this remembrance. Mihalikis, who teaches historical past in highschool, additionally hopes it’ll stimulate studying. “I regularly take students on walks around the old Jewish quarter and one time our principal came with us,” he stated. “She told me later that close to 30 bystanders gathered to hear me speak. People want to know this history.”

A few blocks south from the place the Trikala Holocaust memorial now stands are the banks of the river Lithaios, whose identify has roots within the historic Greek verb λήθω [litho], which means to overlook. But forgetting is strictly what the city needs to keep away from with this new memorial. “Close to Lithaios river, the river of oblivion,” Mayor Papastergiou stated in a speech, “we keep our memories alive.”


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