Zakynthos (Zante) is an island in the Ionian Sea that bears strong traces of Jewish presence.
Historical background and sites
There is no documentary evidence of a Jewish presence prior to the 16th century: In 1522 there were 30 Jewish families and a Synagogue in the island. Until 1712, the Community had two synagogues, the “Zante” Synagogue (sfaradi) and the “Cretan” Synagogue that took its name after the Jews from Crete who had settled in Zakynthos when Crete was occupied by the Ottomans in 1669. The “Zante” synagogue suffered serious damages during the earthquake that shook the Ionian Islands in 1953; the “Cretan” synagogue is completely ruined today.
During the 18th and early 19th centuries, more Jews arrived to the island, mainly Romaniotes fleeing the havoc that raged in the Peloponnesus during the rebellion of Ali Pasa and then the Greek revolution of 1821.
As Greek-speaking Jews, they very quickly asserted their predominance and Ladino was made obsolete.
During the Nazi Occupation, the Germans asked from the Mayor of the island, Mr Loukas Karrer, and from the Metropolitan Bishop, Chryssostomos, to hand them over the list of the Jews of Zakynthos. Thanks to the strong refusal of these two men to do so, the Jews were rescued, hiding in the remote villages of the island. In a gesture of gratitude, the Jews of Greece erected a monument in memory of the these two brave men in the area of the courtyard of the old Synagogue. One may visit this monument on 44 Tertseti Street.
In 1947, a large number of Zakynthinote Jews made Aliya (immigrated) to Israel and still others moved to Athens. In 1952 the island was struck by a sever earthquake and the entire Jewish quarter and its 2 synagogues were destroyed. Not long afterwards, the remaining Jews moved to Athens.
Today Zakynthos no longer has a Jewish community, but the visitor may visit the cemetery, which is located in the Rouveli area, and includes gravestones of great historic significance.
Based on Jewish Sites and Synagogues of Greece –
Nicholas P. Stavroulakis and Timothy J. DeVinney – Talos press