ATHENS – The Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens commemorated the Jews of Crete with the opening of an exhibition of objects and personal items from the community that lived on the largest Greek island for 2,300 years, until May 1944, when the “Nazis rounded up the island’s Jewish population and forced them onto the tanker Tanais, subsequently mistaken for a German war ship and sunk by the British,” the Times of Israel reported.
The ship was en route to Auschwitz, “but on June 9, as the ship approached the port of Piraeus, the commander of a British submarine spotted what he assumed was a German military vessel and ordered the firing of four torpedoes,” the Times reported, adding that “the Tanais sank and nearly all of the 300 Jews aboard drowned, ending the existence of a community that had lived in Crete uninterruptedly for 2,300 years.”
The exhibition opened last year to coincide with the grim 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Tanais and included “artifacts gathered from Jewish families who left Crete before the war,” the Times reported.
Dona-Lilian Kapon said that “my mother luckily moved in the 1930s to Athens, where she and my father were hidden by Greek friends,” the Times reported, adding that her “family heirlooms include centuries-old Jewish ritual objects handed down by her grandparents.”
“Among the exhibit’s most poignant relics are the notebooks of Jewish children safeguarded by Christian neighbors,” the Times reported.
“When the children were told that they had to go away, they were worried that they would lose their school books so they gave them to friends,” Museum Curator Christina Meri told the Times.
Also on display is an essay written by a schoolgirl, the Times reported, “several months after the deportation, a young Katina Syngelaki described the departure of her Jewish friends in an essay for her school.”
Syngelaki wrote, the Times reported, “My good schoolmate, completely devastated, is giving me instructions: ‘Dear Katina, save my school books!’… One after the other, our neighbors were leaving… An old respectable woman who was blind was forced to move on as quickly as possible, obeying the orders of the barbaric invaders…
“When the sun rose, the neighborhood was completely empty of people. Outside the house entrances of those unfortunate people stood the beasts of a European country… Looking now at the books which escaped destruction, my eyes in tears, I promise to always keep them in memory of my good schoolmate who tried so hard to become better and better in her studies… Eight days later, a number of cars parked at a small distance, to empty the synagogue of its valuables… Oh, they were Greeks, our brothers, whose sons fought by our sides…”
In 1996, “a group of Greek Jews undertook the reconstruction of the Etz Hayim synagogue” in Chania, Crete, the Times reported, adding that “today there are once again weekly services for members of the small but growing number of Jews who have returned to live in Crete.”
According to a news release on June 13, the Jewish Museum of Greece will reopen for the public on Wednesday, July 1, following a decision by the Board of Directors, in order to complete the necessary technical and hygienic adjustments that will ensure the safe return of the public, according to instructions of the Ministry of Health, National Public Health Organization and the Ministry of Culture.
All necessary safety measures will be observed, such as, among other things, controlled flow of the number of visitors and controlled duration of their stay in order to avoid overcrowding, use of non-medical masks and antiseptics, disinfection of exhibition spaces twice daily, suspension of use of the touch screens, and safety dividers in high traffic areas, while the option of online payment is also being prepared. At the same time, the operation of the library has been suspended until further notice, while the public and researchers will be able to submit electronic applications and only in exceptional cases will access be allowed, following prior, special arrangements made by telephone or e-communication.
The Museum’s permanent exhibition will be open to all, with new, contactless information on the exhibits. The temporary exhibition presented at the museum is entitled, Like Nails must the Words be Hammered: The Oral History Archive of the Jewish Museum of Greece, and will be open to the public, subject to controlled visit duration, while the use of the computer terminals located in the temporary exhibition area has been suspended until further notice.
The new hours of the Museum are as follows:
Monday-Friday 9:30 AM-2:30 PM
Sunday 10 AM-2 PM
More information is available via email: [email protected] and online: jewishmuseum.gr.