History of Greek Jewry
The first Jews arrived in Greece more than 2300 years ago. They were called Romanian Jews because at that time the Greeks called themselves Romans, the Jews spoke Greek and even wrote Greek with Hebrew letters.
The Spanish Jews came to Greece after the expulsion of Spain in the 15th century, they founded communities and synagogues in various cities in Greece and known as the Thessaloniki community, the Spanish Jews brought with them various customs and traditions and the Ladino language.
The independence of the Greek state from the Ottoman Empire in 1821 was a turning point for Jewish communities. In the Peloponnese peninsula, where the revolution broke out, the Jews were massacred together with the Turks because of the close contact they had with the Ottoman administration and entire communities were wiped out.
The Greeks made efforts to continue and “smooth” the country. This was not a problem for Romanian Jews who already spoke Greek and adopted Greek customs, but it was very difficult for Spanish communities in northeastern Greece including Thessaloniki, which was conquered by the Greeks in the Balkan Wars of 1912/3.
Making the Greek language the official language, setting Sunday for a rest day instead of Saturday, and other decrees made it very difficult for Jewish life. In addition, in 1913 a large fire broke out that destroyed much of the Jewish quarter in Thessaloniki, a blow from which the community did not recover. Jews began to move to Athens, where the economy developed, or leave the country to Israel, Europe, South Africa or the United States.
During World War II, when Italy (1940) and Germany (1941) attacked Greece, many Jews fought in the ranks of the Greek army. During the occupation, most Jews were sent to extermination camps, an unimaginable 87 percent of the pre-war Jewish population was murdered in camps, and many of the communities were almost completely wiped out.
Greece’s Jewish population declined even further after the end of World War II, due to immigration, mainly to Israel and the United States.
Currently only about 5,000 Jews live in Greece, the largest community is Athens with about 3000 Jews