The Holocaust in Ioannina

 

On March 25, 1944, the Jewish Community of Ioannina, Greece, was rounded up and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of the 1,960 deported, 1,850 would never return. They would perish in the Nazi death camps.

 

The Jewish presence in Ioannina was an ancient presence, according to many going back to the destruction of the Second Temple. The Jews who lived in the city were Romaniote Jews, Greek-speaking Jews who had absorbed the Hellenistic culture. At the beginning of the 20th century, many had immigrated to the United States, mostly to the Lower East Side of New York City, among them the founders of our Kehila, Kehila Kedosha Janina (the Holy Congregation of Ioannina), naming their synagogue after the city they had left behind. The community in Greece was always a poor community and the reasons for their immigration were mainly economic, to offer a better opportunity for their children.

 

At the beginning of World War II, the Jewish community of Ioannina numbered about 2,000. Most were small business owners. Many were poor. Families were large and patriarchal: marriages were arranged. The community was conservative in nature and religiously observant. Their daily life revolved around their synagogues and the Jewish religion. There was little upward mobility: young men automatically entered the professions of their fathers, almost none continuing their education after high school. Young women ended their education even earlier and remained at home until married, with only a handful actually working outside of the house, usually in domestic occupations, such as seamstress.

 

In 2003, we were fortunate to acquire archival material from the Jewish Community of Ioannina, including the complete list of those lost in the Holocaust. The timing was almost prophetic as we approached the 60th anniversary of the destruction of the community. Listed were not only the names and ages, but often the professions of those lost. The decision was made to publish a memorial book and as much information as we had on the small Jewish Community of Ioannina. When available, additional material has been added from the Community Archives. Everything possibly has been done to assure accuracy and as broad a picture of the community as possible.

 

War hit the community in 1940, as Greece entered World War II fighting off the attempted Italian invasion on the Albanian Front. The young men of Ioannina served their country with pride, some sacrificing their lives for their country. As of April of 1941, Ioannina was in the Italian Zone of Occupation, as the Germans divided Greece among their allies. Comparative calm set in. Life went on as usual. Marriages took place and babies were born. Some, very few, sensed danger, especially after word of the deportation of the Jewish community of Salonika reached the small city of Ioannina, and fled the city for Athens. Most stayed. It was not easy to leave. There were many young children to think of. A few young men went to fight with the Resistance Movement in the mountains, but many returned when the Germans entered the city during the summer of 1943 and threatened reprisals against their families. With the capitulation of Mussolini in September of 1943, Ioannina came under German control. The days of the community were numbered. Now, it became almost impossible to escape. The end would take place on a cold March day, March 25th, Greek Independence Day, which that year also coincided with the onset of Pessah. In the cold of the morning, with snow on the ground, only given time to gather a few possessions, the community was roused out of their beds and gathered together on the shores of the lake they loved so much. The Jews of Ioannina would then be placed on trucks and taken to Larissa, where they would be kept for over a week before being placed in cattlecars and sent to the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. They would arrive on April 11, 1944. Most would go directly to the gas chambers.

 

What was their crime? What terrible offense had they committed that warranted their execution? They were Jewish. Simple people who had eked out a living in the small city on the Lake, Yanniotes who had worshipped their God, raised their families in the faith of their ancestors and hoped for nothing more than that their peaceful life would continue undisturbed. The elderly who had worked at their simple, but honest, professions who now deserved the right to enjoy their grandchildren in their waning years. Young married couples starting their families, many carrying infants in their arms. Children, oh so many children; children who had played on the cobblestone streets of the kastro, thrown pebbles into Lake Pamvotis and dreamed the simple dreams of children.

 

It was a painful process to produce this list and it will be painful to read it. So many were lost: so many children who had never been given the chance to fulfill their potential were wiped off the face of the earth, children for whom there was not even the time to give them names and are listed as such. Great care has been taken to record each name. For many, this will be the only reminder that they once inhabited this earth. As painful as this process was, it was something that had to be done. Many times I stopped in pain, and anger, unable to continue, but prodded on by the realization that I owed this to those listed on the pages.

 

We are deeply indebted to Leon Kabeli, who gathered these names, originally for the walls of the synagogue in Ioannina where each name is engraved in stone, and then so graciously shared them with us to enable us to publish the Memorial Book and, now, to make these names accessible on the Internet.

 

Names listed are based on the Greek spelling. Therefore, names such as Cohen will appear under “K” since there is no “c” in Greek and the name was spelled “Koen”. There are also no “Confinas” or “Confinos” since both names were spelled “Koffinas” and were most likely changed in pronunciation when coming to the United States.

 

There are also times that there were two names for the family. This was due to the way the Romaniotes named (Solomon ben Samuel, etc). Very often, the name that had become the surname for the family was only used for municipal records but the family was known by another name.

 

We have included whatever information was available to us. In many ways, we are fortunate (if such an adjective can be used in these circumstances) in having so much available information. Where there is no mention of age or relationship (or occupation) it is because we did not have this information.

 

It is said that a measure of a people is how they remember their dead. We have so many to remember. Hopefully, we have measured up to this task. This list is published with love, love for a community that is no more, for a community that met its untimely demise during the Holocaust, a community that we will never forget, and one we hope we have helped to be remembered for generations to come. May each of their individual names be inscribed for Eternity.

 

Click here for additional deportation photos from Ioannina. Please let us know if you recognize anyone.
These photos are not to be reproduced without the permission of the Bundarchives in Koblenz
and Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum

 

 

Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos
Museum Director: Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum

 

Ioannina Greece Holocaust victim list, sorted alphabetically:

[ A ]  [ B ]  [ C - D ]  [ E - G ]  [ H - I ]  [ J - K ]  [ L ]  [ M ]  [ N ]  [ O - S ]  [ T - Z ]

Those born in Ioannina but deported from Athens:

[ A - Z ]