It is believed there was a Jewish presence in Athens as early as the 6th century B.C. The ruins of an ancient synagogue were discovered in the Ancient Agora of Athens. It consists of a part of the mosaic floor and an engraved plaque depicting the “seven-branched lamp” with a branch of myrtle. Archeologists estimate that these findings date from the 2nd century A.D. and justify the existence of a developed Jewish Community.
During World War II Italy was given control of Athens by Germany. On Sept. 8, 1943, Italy surrendered to the Allies. Athens was then occupied by the Germans.
The head Rabbi Barzelai together with the Archbishop of Athens, Archbishop Damaskinos contributed to the rescue of around 66% of The Jewish population of Athens. They were given false identification papers and hidden in Christian homes.
On April 2 1944, approximately 1200 Jews were sent on freight trains to Auschwitz. Approximately half of the group were incarcerated in Auschwitz and the rest were killed in the gas chambers and crematoria.
Athens was liberated by the Allies on Oct. 12, 1944, and gradually the people who escaped arrest, and later on concentration camp survivors, began to return to Athens.
Today, Athens is the centre of Greek Jewry with a population of around 3500 people.
Photos by Emmanuel Santos
Back to Communities page