The History of the Jewish Community of Rhodes
The settlement of Jews in Rhodes is
mentioned for the first time in the Book of
Maccabees and it dates back to the 2nd century B.C.
Proof of the Jewish presence in Rhodes has
remained immutable for many centuries. The
narrow, arched, paved medieval alleys of the "Juderia"
(Jewish) quarter bear until today Jewish symbols. The
historian Josephus also mentions the Jews of the
island in the 1st century A.D. Later historic texts
confirm their presence during the 12th century. In
1116, the Spanish traveller Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela
visited the island and wrote in his "Itinerary" that he
found 400 to 500 Jews living there. This number
increased significantly when, in 1280, Jews from
Aragon joined them.
German Occupation -Holocaust
An Italian Rabbi traveller, who visited Rhodes in
1467, quoted in his letter still preserved in Florence: "I
have never encountered a Jewish Community in
which everyone, from the eldest to the youngest, is so
intelligent… they have long hair and look like
princes. The Knights of Hospitalers of Rhodes visit
the Jewish homes regularly in order to admire the
The Jews of Rhodes were also known to have been
ardent defenders of the city against the Turks in 1480.
After the Turkish attack against the island, only 22
Jewish families survived. In spite of their fear of
Turkish attacks, they managed to stand strong and
continue with their lives. In the 16th century many
Jews were expelled from Rhodes after a resolution
passed by the Council of the Knights. A little later new
Jewish families arrived from Thessaloniki, and as a
result, Rhodes became a significant Sephardic center.
Thanks to the establishment of many Synagogues
and Rabbinical Schools and to the flourishing
commerce during the four centuries that followed, the
Jewish Community gained a special position. Wealthy
textile and silk merchants co-existed with gunsmiths,
craftsmen, bookbinders and weavers.
As of 1888 the educational program of the
Alliance Israelite Universelle School began to operate
thanks to the donations of Edmond Rothchild. The
boys’ and the girls’ school started functioning in 1901
and 1902. The school was destroyed in the bombings
The Jews of Rhodes lived in two quarters, had two
Synagogues and the travelers who were visiting the
island talked about their piousness and their concern
with theological issues.
In 1941 there were about 1,800 Jews living in
Rhodes. They had four Synagogues. The "Shalom"
Synagogue, on the junction of Dosiadou and Simiou
Streets, as well as the ancient Jewish cemetery,
survived World War II. The Synagogue was originally
built in the 12th century, was destroyed during the war
between the Turks and the Knights and was rebuilt in
the end of the 15th century.
From September 1943 until July 1944, while the
Germans were arresting and displacing Jews all
over Greece, no measures were taken against the Jews
living in Rhodes. This eased their initial fears and gave
to the members of the Jewish Community the false
impression of peace and hope that nothing serious was
going to occur. Only a few young Jews, risking their
lives, dared to escape in shaky boats to the Turkish
coasts. The rest waited and hoped.
Post War Period
In the meantime, the Nazis were preparing their
criminal plan for the displacement and the
elimination of the Jews. In mid-July 1944, the
German Command ordered the Jews to reside solely
within the confines of the city of Rhodes or in the
villages of Trianta, Kremasti and Villanova (now
known as Paradisi). These were the places were they
had fled in order to escape the bombardments, in a
distance no more than twelve kilometers from the
A few days later, on 18 July 1944, a German
officer turned up at the house of the president of the
Jewish Community and told him that, according to
the orders of the German Commander, all Jewish
men over 16 had to appear the following morning in
the old headquarters of the Italian Air Force. They
had to bring with them their identity cards and their
work permits. This trick made everyone believe that
they would be gathered in order to be sent to forced
In the next morning, two SS officers, who were
sent from the "Rosenberg Command" in Athens,
walked into the room accompanied by an
interpreter. With brutality and threatening, they
grabbed the documents from the hands of the Jews
gathered in the room. They assigned the president of
the Community the task to inform the women to join
their husbands within 24 hours, otherwise they
would be shot. They also had to carry with them all
their belongings: jewelry, gold sovereigns, banknotes,
a few personal items and food.
In the confusion that ensued, and in their
ignorance, the women could do nothing but to obey
the order. On 20 July, almost all the Jews of Rhodes
had been captured and were held in this improvised
concentration camp. The Germans started, with
immense brutality, taking everything valuable from
them. In the meantime, the Germans were
plundering the houses of the Jews that had been
hastily deserted. The Italian High Command was
forced to issue an order according to which all Jewish
real estate and assets were confiscated in favour of
the Italian State.
At this point one should mention the
humanitarian stance shown by the Turkish consul,
Selahettin Ulkumen, who intervened to save not only
Turkish nationals but whole families as well, even at
the remotest proof of their Turkish citizenship. He
managed to save from the Nazis approximately 40
Jews who would have otherwise been led to death.
For his acts, he was awarded after the War the title of
"Righteous among the Nations" by Yad Vashem.
The order for the departure came at noon of
Sunday 23 July. An endless queue of Jews set off.
They were more than 1,600 men, women, children
and elderly. Some were dragging their sad
belongings, others were carrying them on their
backs. Some were not walking fast enough. The
guards, who were following the file accompanied by
wild Alsatians, were beating them with their rifle
stocks. Heads down, they passed through the city.
The streets were empty as the Germans had sounded
the alarm for air attacks. Once they arrived at the
port, they were thrown in three very old cargo
vessels. The presence of Jews on the island, which
dated many centuries back, ended on that sad day of
the summer of 1944.
The course from Rhodes to the port of Piraeus
was horrible. It was terribly hot and the vessels were
so full that those in the cargo hauls could not go up
even to get some air. Seven persons died in the course
of the voyage and their bodies were thrown in the
They arrived at the port of Piraeus on 31 July
1944 and were immediately taken to Haidari, where
they were ruthlessly humiliated. The Red Cross was
not allowed to give them food and water until 36
hours after their arrival. The women were separated
from the men. They were stripped in the most
barbaric way to make sure that they had no more
jewelry on them.
The Germans in an apparent attempt to break
their morale were beating men, women and children
sometimes to death. During the three days of their
stay in the Haidari camp, another ten of the Jews of
On 3 August, after having extracted their gold
teeth and glasses, the Germans led the Jews in animal
wagons. They put 65 persons in each wagon and
sealed the doors. That was the last "consignment" of
Jews from Greece. The trip to Poland lasted 13 days.
About 100 people died during the trip and their
bodies were thrown in the fields along the rail lines.
They arrived in Auschwitz on 16 August and,
after the horrible "selection" procedure, 1,200
persons, those who were judged too weak to work,
were immediately sent to the gas chambers and the
crematoria. The remainder was sent to forced labour
in quarries, in coal mines and in the railways. The
women were raped, sterilized and used in inhuman
experiments, with no mercy.
Despite their short stay in the camp, most died of hardships, weakness and diseases. Only 150 survived: 120 women and 30 men. It is worth mentioning though that even after their liberation by the Allied forces, many of them died of exhaustion as they had become living skeletons.
Before the War, the Jewish Communities of Rhodes and Kos numbered 1,900 members. After the liberation their total population was not more than 200 persons.
Source: Text and Photos from «The Holocaust of Greek Jews: Monuments and Memories», Central Board of Jewish Communities of Greece, Athens, January 2006, except specified otherwise.
On August 6th, 1946, Gabriel Charitos is elected First Mayor of a free Rhodes, after 600 years of occupation.
In memory of his fellow Rhodians, the members of the Jewish Community, he names the central square of "La Juderia" to "Square of Jewish Martyrs", the unanimous resolution of the then City Council of Rhodes, being the first official recognition of the Holocaust on behalf of a Greek authority.
Gabriel Haritos, as the Mayor of Rhodes, was the local partner for the proceedings for the initial talks between Israel, Egypt and Jordan, under the auspices of United Nations, at the Grande Albergo delle Rose (Hotel of Roses) in Rhodes from January 12 to April 4, 1949.
These meetings resulted to the agreements for the seize of fire on February and April 1949, also defining the borders of the newly founded jewish state with Egypt and Jordan. These defined borders were active till the Six Days War of 1967.
Today there are about 40 Jews living in Rhodes,
who practice their religion in the Synagogue of the
Community. However, it is worth mentioning that the
Synagogue is also open to the public that visit it
because of its great historic and architectural interest.
In 2002 the Municipality approved the erection of a
Monument of the Victims of the Holocaust in the
Jewish Martyrs square, in the place where the Jewish
quarter used to be. The Jewish cemetery of the island
is still preserved.
Jewish Community of Rhodes
Simiou & Dossiadou, Medieval Town, 851 00, Rhodes, GREECE
Tel. +30 2241022364, 2241073039 | FAX +30 2241070964
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