Greek-Speaking Jews of Greece - Orientation

Identification. The Greek-speaking Jews of Greece are the so-called remnants of Byzantine Jewry. Today they reside Primarily in the northwestern corner of Greece, in the city of Ioannina, capital of the province of Epirus. These people are thought to have retained cultural traditions that date to Byzantium, with influences from the Sephardic and Italian Jews as well as the Ottoman Muslims. Their language, traditional culture, and liturgical rites are distinct, however, from those of the Sephardic Jews found in other commercial centers of the country. Because the majority of the scholarship on Greek Jewry focuses on the Sephardic, Judeo-Spanish-speaking Jews, this community with its special history and unique cultural expressions is virtually overlooked.

Location. As noted above, the Greek-speaking Jews of Greece are concentrated in the city of Ioannina in northwestern Greece. Before World War II, small family groupings were found in the surrounding villages of Paramithia, Margaritaria, Filiates, Pogoni, and Vostina and the cities of Arta and Prevesa, as well as in Albania. Immigrant communities exist in Athens, Jerusalem, and New York City.

Demography. Reports from travelers in the Balkans in the early nineteenth century recorded the total population of Ioannina as about 40,000 inhabitants, of which approximately 2,000 were Jews. By 1883, that figure had risen to 3,334 with reports of Jewish populations in the mountain town of Pogoni and the port of Prevesa. At the turn of the century, Ioannina had shrunk to 20,000 with the departure of Ottoman troops; at that time the Jewish population numbered 4,000-5,000 individuals. The first three decades of the twentieth century were marked by Jewish emigration from Ioannina because of political, economic, and religious pressures. By 1928, the Jewish population had decreased to 2,000. Fifteen years later, on 25 March 1943, approximately 1,800 Jews were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz. At the close of the war about 200 Jews returned to Ioannina from the death camps, the Greek Resistance, and hiding places in the villages. In 1983, approximately 57 Jews remained in Ioannina.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Greek-speaking Jews speak a regional dialect of Greek with some Hebrew words integrated into their speech. Records of Judeo-Greek, written in Hebrew script, exist. From 1904 to the outbreak of World War II, young people were instructed in French and Hebrew at schools administered by the Alliance Israelite Universelle. Because community members living in New York emigrated in the early decades of the twentieth century, remnants of Turkish words are found in their language.

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