The Jews of Chios

Chios, the island on the frontier of Europe and Asia nowadays is also considered as the isle bordering two different cultures based on two exceedingly contrasting religions: Islamic world, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

And so, many people, both the Chians and foreigners, reckon there was never any other religion followers residing the island.  

 

But let's put all those people right and introduce the Jewish history of Chios including, surprisingly,  more than 900 hundred years of the island's past.   

We go back to the year 1049 when the first Jews are believed to be taken to the island by the Romans. The Romaniotes, as they were called, are a distinct Jewish community, a community different from the Sephardic Jews originated in the Iberian Peninsula and the Ashkenazis dominating both in Central and Eastern Europe. They come on Chios as slaves, however they are freed as soon as the Genoese take control over the island in 1304. The Jews decide to stay on Chios, as it is a good spot for any kind of merchants and financiers. The newcomers linger on in the city of Chios, where inside the Castle they set up a small Jewish quarter later named Ghioudeka. After the Spanish Reconquista of 1492, the Sephardic Jews joined the Romaniotes on the island, and so those two communities had united creating a one big Jewish community of more than 200 families. 

As the Ottomans ruling for four centuries on what nowadays we know as Greece allowed Chians the religious freedom, the Jews, the Christians, as well as the Muslims had lived on the island as an one, well-coexisting society. Life on Chios was idyllic, there was everything one needed at the time: a developed city, foods of all kinds, great economics and merchants' possibilities, and all these captured in picturesque landscape. 

But this idyll could not last forever – everything changed with the start of a chain of wars taking place in the region: the Greek War of Independence, the Ottoman Massacre of Chios, the First Balkan War, the Greco-Turkish War, and finally the Second World War, which effectively ended the Jewish history of the island. Occupied by the Nazi Germany, Chios was no longer a save and peaceful place for its inhabitants.

Many Jews managed to flee to Palestine or the United States, but all those who stayed were taken to the concentration camps in the Central and Eastern Europe. And so, since the War, on Chios there has been no Jewish population; that, however, does not mean we should forget those 900 hundred years of coexistence. Nevertheless, there are not many remaining elements of the community, but both the Jewish Museum in Athens, as well as the Chios Byzantine Museum are the biggest mines of information and remains of the Jews of Chios. And as some anecdotes say, roaming the streets of the Chios Castle a careful observer can notice Jewish tombstones put in between stones of the walls of some houses... Let's have a walk and check it. 

 

Joanna Broniewska

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