Nothing is known of either an ancient or medieval Jewish community in Kavala. In the ensuing centuries, Kavala fared badly. On several both from the land and the sea, and in 1185 it was burned to the ground by the Normans. In the 14th century, it was burned again under the Catalans and afterwards was caught in the chaos of the final years of the Byzantine Empire.
Stable conditions were only established after the Pax Ottomanica. Kavala appears to have been give its first Jewish community (at least recorded in history) when large numbers of Hungarian Jews were brought here after the fall of Budapest in 1529. Later, Sephardi Jews from Salonika from and Adrianoupolis (Edirne) arrived to enlarge the community. We know little of the process of “Hispanization” of the Ashkenazi Jews of Kavala other than that it was effective: by the 19th century, the community was Spanish speaking and conformed to the Sfardi rite.
Kavala became a very important town and port after the introduction of tobacco cultivation and processing in Thrace. Its warehouses were famous and the Jewish community was active in both the production of tobacco and its export. A new and quite spacious synagogue was built in 1885. By 1900 the community numbered over 2,500 persons.
During the Balkan wars, Kavala suffered two horrendous periods of Bulgarian occupation to be followed by a third in 1942-44. During the last, the Bulgarians attempted to force Jews in Thrace to accept Bulgarian identity (official Bulgarian citizenship) in their attempt to “Bulgarize” the region. The Jews adamantly refused. As a community, they considered themselves to be Greek. As a result, together with the other Jews of Thrace, they were severely restricted in their movements and activities as early as 1941. They were arrested in 1943, and sent by convoy to the city of Lom on the Danube River, and placed on boats for the journey north. Their fate is still a matter of contention. Many are known to have drowned when the overloaded boats sank. The majority, however, were handed over to the Nazis in Vienna and from there sent to Treblinka for extermination.
At the end of the war, the surviving Kavalan Jews succeeded in reestablishing a semblance of a community. The old synagogue had been destroyed, but a small oratory served the community’s needs. It is not very active anymore, but a Jewish cemetery still exists there.
Jewish community Headquarters – 23 P. Mela St. Tel: 251 223 526
Jewish villa – houses today the municipality, in the city’s main square
Jewish cemetery – situated in the outskirts of the city, it includes graves from the early 19th century
Based on Jewish Sites and Synagogues of Greece –
Nicholas P. Stavroulakis and Timothy J. DeVinney – Talos press