The most important Jewish site in Ioannina is the "Kahal Kadosh Yashan" Synagogue in the Old City, described in another article here. But this is not the only Jewish tourist site. Here are other Jewish and general places worth visiting in Ioannina:
The Old City of Ioannina is surrounded by a wall similar to that of Jerusalem. One of the gates in the wall of Ioannina is called "Gate of the Jews". From the gate we will walk in the street around the wall called Krymante. On the corner of Sutchu Street is a monument to the Jews of Ioannina who were murdered in the Holocaust.
We leave the main street and the monument and begin to wander down Sutchu Street. Here was one of the Jewish neighborhoods until the Holocaust. "The houses remained exactly as they were in 1944 when the Nazis took away the Jews," says guide Allegra Matza.
In 1942, the Germans ordered to mark the Jewish homes with a red cross. The color has faded long ago, but almost every house nowadays has signs that it was Jewish-owned. For example, above the stone lintel in one of the houses, we see the letters ב"ה. On the doorpost of another house we see in Hebrew "שנת סתר לי 1900". There're many more in this area.
Next to it is a two-story yellowish house with Magen-David (David shield) beneath the windows of the second floor. This abandoned and neglected house is now owned by the Jewish community. The house belonged to a wealthy Jew who had died without relatives, and in his will he left his house to the Jewish community to rent it out, so that the rent payments would be devoted to dowry for poor Jewish brides. Greek law requires that the will of the deceased be fulfilled exactly as it is written. Today, there are no poor Jewish brides in Ioannina who need a dowry. Therefore, it is neglected. A similar situation is seen in another houses on the same street, devoted to a senior home.
The house down the street was the Alliance school. Its establishment constituted an educational revolution in Ioannina because it was the first time girls were allowed to attend school. At the beginning of the last century, the Jewish community in Ioannina was divided into two groups: the modern religious "Alliances" and the conservative ultra-Orthodox group. There was another very small group of Zionists named "Ameley Zion".
Joseph Elia Street was named after a famous Greek poet who was a religious Jew. On this street was built a synagogue "Kahal Kadosh Hadash". The Nazis destroyed the synagogue. After the war, a residential building was erected on its ruins for Holocaust survivors. Four of them still living there today. The offices of the Jewish community are also located on the ground floor.
I walk through the streets of the neighborhood and see many testimonies of Jewish life. Here is a stone lintel with a Mezuzah socket, an entrance door with Star of David, and so on. I imagine these streets full of children wearing Kipa and giggling with Tzitziyot sticking out of their shirts. But … everything was destroyed in the Holocaust.
Inside the synagogue, in a room that served as Talmud Torah and now serves as a storeroom, there are many stone slabs, I thought were tombstones. But no. It was customary to set a stone on top of the doorpost on which the owner of the house and the year of its construction were written. In Jewish homes did so too, sometimes in Hebrew. A stone like this is also located on the entrance wall of the synagogue. When gentiles invaded the Jewish homes that were sent to Auschwitz, they removed these stones and smashed them.
Among the builders who were hired to renovate these houses, were also people of integrity and professional pride. They carefully removed these stones and brought them to the synagogue. Sometimes they did it at nights, and left the stones by the gate of the synagogue.
The Holocaust period and Kurt Waldheim
At the beginning of the Holocaust, the Jews of Ioannina lived complacently. The Germans kept their vigil by saying they would be safe, as long as they paid taxes. In Ioannina they heard about the deportation of the Jews of Salonika in 1943, and were glad that they had been saved. But on the "Sabbath Hagadol" on March 25, 1944, the Germans entered the homes of the Jews and dragged them out. In Ioannina there was no railway, so 1,800 Jews were loaded onto 94 trucks that took them to Larissa, where they were loaded onto train to Auschwitz.
Few Jews who were not in their homes were saved from this shipment. One of them was Joseph Mazza, Allegra's father. He was a university student and a member of the partisan underground. On Friday noon he was at his parents' home, then went to activity in the partisan camp on the mountain. Monday morning he went down to the university, where he first heard about the deportation of the Jews. He rushed to his home, but no one from is family was there.
One of the Wehrmacht commanders in Ioannina in charge of the deportation was Kurt Waldheim. He later became Secretary of the UN and Austrian Chancellor. His Nazi past was revealed thanks to the Jews of Ioannina.
From time to time the Germans would place a small barrel in the entrance of a Jewish street and ordered to fill it with jewelry and gold. Kurt Waldheim forbade the Jews to look into his face. One of the boys who brought his family's jewelry to the barrel, looked into the eyes of the despicable Wehrmacht officer, who whipped him with a whip. For the rest of his life there was a scar on his cheek. This young man managed later to survive Auschwitz, and returned to Ioannina.
fourty years later, In the 80's, Greek newspapers published pictures of the new president of Austria, Kurt Waldheim. His face seemed familiar to the Holocaust survivor, but he could not remember where from. One day he remembered that Waldheim was the cruel officer who had whipped his face in 1944. He shared this with his friends in the Jewish community, who did not know what to do with this information. Yosef Matza, the father of Allegra, reported to his friends in the Joint and to the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and Yad Vashem. This is how his crimes were revealed.
From every corner of our walk through the streets of the new city, we will turn east until we reach Lake Panvottis. Along it there is a nice promenade. In the evenings, there are mostly young people who spend their meetings and drinks and games.
We can sit down on one of the benches along the boardwalk or in one of the cafes and taverns. The lake has an island, which now houses some of the rich villas and good fish restaurants. Throughout the city and along the promenade are many statues. The municipality organizes guided art tours among most of these statues. There are also gallery tours. There are also culinary tours of tasting and scents.
The Municipal Museum
We will continue our walking on the promenade to the south, until we reach a gate in the wall, enter the old city again, and turn left on the first street. The Ioannina Municipal Museum also has a Jewish wing, on the right side of the entrance. Jewish clothing, typical Jewish dresses, Parochet curtains, Megillat Esther and religious objects, as well as inscriptions and "Aleph" are displayed. The rest of the museum has various displays from the Ottoman period.
Inside the Old City there are two fortresses on the wall. In the southern fort there was a military camp. Today there are museums for silversmiths and a museum for the Byzantine period.The story behind it: The Queen of Greece asked her husband for a palace like the palace of Ali Pasha's wife. The palace was built for her, but before its completion her husband was deposed from power. They rather used it as a military hospital.
The palace also has a Jewish aspect. In the front of the building, the Nazis gathered some of the Jews, and deported them to Auschwitz crematoria. On the building there is a small sign that indicates this.
Near the palace we see a kind of fence that looks like a large cage of birds. Inside it is the tomb of Ali Pasha, who was a beloved ruler of Ioannina. His tombstone is as small as a child's, because it is buried headless. Ali Pasha was the representative of the Turkish Sultan. He ran the area efficiently, and had close contact with the French. They wanted to acquire territory from the Turkish Empire in this area, and Ali Pasha was willing to discuss it. When the Sultan heard about it, he sent soldiers to execute Ali Pasha. The soldiers cut off Ali Pasha's head and took it back to Constantinople to prove that mission accomplished. The body of Ali Pasha without the head was buried here, and the tombstone is adjusted to the size of the body.
The Jewish cemetery
Hundreds of years ago the Jews established a cemetery outside the city. The oldest gravestone there dates back to 1426. Since then the city has grown and spread to the north, until residential neighborhoods began to surround the cemetery as well. In the last decade there was a plan to demolish the Jewish cemetery in order to build residential neighborhood on its place. There was a public struggle, which ended four years ago with the solution that the Greek Ministry of Culture received the cemetery area under its auspices and undertook to protect it.
The gravestones are lying on the ground. Bushes and trees are hiding the tombstones. It is very difficult to read the text on the old tombstones. High trees are growing there. There is a deathly silence, except for the shrieks of birds shivering with the presence of guests like us.
In front of the entrance gate to the cemetery there is an area of new graves from the last century. Among them is a high memorial to the victims of the Holocaust from Ioannina. This tombstone has been desecrated many times by Muslim vandalists. Nine years ago, even the Christian people of Ioannina were fed up, and organized a demonstrators of human chain holding hands and encircling the cemetery. Since then there have been no more desecration of graves.
Till hundred years ago Jews and Muslim and Christian lived in Ioannina in good neighborly relations. In the population census at the beginning of the last century there were 15,000 residents in the city, about 5,000 of each religion. They used to visit each other on the religious holidays of each community. The Jews spoke Greek. The holy books were written in Greek language, but in Hebrew letters.
From the glorious Jewish community of Ioannina, only fewer than 40 people remain today. Most of them are over 50-60 years old. Some of them are famous professors at the local university, and are considered experts in nuclear physics, computers, and more. Prof. Moshe Eliasaf is a world-renowned medical expert. "All the younger generation of our children and grandchildren have left here, and now they live in Israel and in New York," Allegra concludes.
Today, it is easy to get to Ioannina for a trip or vacation thanks to TUS Airlines new line from Israel to Ioannina twice a week.