Holocaust Monument

Holocaust Monument

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The old, Romaniote synagogue, the so-called “”Greka,”” was an elongated rectangular building near Monopoliou Square on Filellinon Street. Today, only a part of the wall, a remnant of memory, has been preserved in its place.
Its foundation dates back to the 13th century during the heyday of the Despotate when the ruler Michael II Komnenos Doukas gave the Jewish community freedoms and privileges that led to its prosperity. At the same time, the Jewish cemetery began to function on a large piece of land, on the hill of Peranthi, which was given to the Community by Queen Theodora, later a saint. At that period, only the old “”Romaniotes”” Jews still lived in Arta and all of Epirus and most parts of Greece, living among Greek populations since their 3rd century BC migration. Τhe Romaniotes Jews had been beneficially integrated into the local communities. The designation “”Romaniotes”” (we would call them Greek Jews today) refers to the Byzantine years and the endonym “”Romania”” used by the inhabitants of the time to identify themselves. It is not known when the synagogue was referred to as “”Greka””. It is, however, a word deriving from a western linguistic idiom that essentially identifies the same characteristic, that of Greekness. In addition, such names are given, mainly to distinguish the monument from another like it. These reasonings lead to the possible view that the synagogue took its name, during the Turkish occupation, from the Sephardi Jews who arrived in the area at the end of the 15th century, exiled and persecuted from Puglia, Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula. They likely named the old synagogue of the Romaniotes “”Greka”” to distinguish it from their newly built one, the “”Pouglieza,”” from Puglia, clear allusions to the two communities’ countries of origin.
The old synagogue remained active until the 24th March 1944, when it was discontinued, along with the historic Jewish Community, most of whose members were arrested and deported to German concentration camps. The end of World War II found the synagogue abandoned and almost destroyed. 30 survivors of the death camps and 28 Jews, who had fled to the surrounding villages, found it impossible to resurrect the Community, which had lost 84% of its population. The few remaining people settled in other areas, and by 1959 the Community had officially ceased to exist.
The Jewish cemetery was expropriated. The old Romaniote synagogue “”Greka”” was sold for a small amount to the association “”Skoufas”” and was later granted to the Municipality. In a comment by Mr. Thomas Dafnos, a resident of Arta, published on a website with archive photos, it is mentioned: «The board of directors of the Jewish-Israeli Community of Arta, during its meeting on the 30th December 1956, granted to the historical association “”Skoufas”” the sacred building of the synagogue, with an area of approximately 300 sq.m., to house the Philharmonic and the theater hall.
“”Skoufas”” as a small sample of gratitude, then allocated 3,000 drachmas to help the suffering Israelis of Arta.
Later, the Municipality and EOT expropriated the space, and with the money of the compensation, “”Skoufas”” started the construction of the venue that exists today, above “”Byzantio”” cafe.»
The city of Arta annually honors the memory of the lost Jews. In recent years, the Municipality of Arta, with the assistance of the Musical and Philological Association “”O Skoufas,”” organizes multi-day commemorative events for the victims of the Holocaust in an effort to preserve the historical memory of the Jewish community that played an essential role in the long history of the city. In addition to representatives of local organizations and residents of the city, descendants of the Jews of Arta, rabbis and representatives of Jewish associations, and other official organizations of Greece and abroad are present at the commemorative events. The program of events includes announcements, photo exhibitions, guided tours, tours at the Old Jewish Quarter, music events, and a memorial service with the laying of wreaths at the Holocaust Memorial.
The Monument of the Jewish Martyrs is located outside the Castle Gate near the clock tower. Its central side shows a low relief of the menorah (seven-light lampstand), whose semicircular components are depicted as wreaths.



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