What are the Best Athens Greece Jewish Monuments

posted in: Athens, Religion | 2

Updated: January 23rd, 2022 by Travel the Greek Way

A group of Greek Jewish at Athens Acropolis
Greek Jewish family in Acropolis before 1940 – Credit US Holocaust Memorial Museum

In this post, we explore the most important Athens Jewish Monuments, how to get to the Athens Jewish Monuments, historical facts, the nearby archaeological sites, and where best to stay in the center of Athens.

Greece is a profoundly religious country with Greek Orthodox religion representing the overwhelming majority of the country’s population. At the same time, a small number of Greeks are of Jewish heritage and religion. Today, the Athens Jewish population is only a handful of around 2.500 people forming the largest Jewish community in Greece.

Before the war, the Thessaloniki Jewish population was counting 55,000 people. The Thessaloniki Jewish represented the largest Jewish community in Greece and one of the most important in Europe due to its share in the city population.

In a 1951 census, there were listed 1950 Thessaloniki Jewish survivors from the German extermination camps (source: https://www.yadvashem.org/education/educational-materials/learning-environment/salonika.html). The population today is reduced by 50%.

Plaque in Thessaloniki in memory ofn 50.000 killed jews by the germans
Thessaloniki Jewish Cultural Center

Smaller groups are scattered around a handful of other Greek cities. In total, almost 85% of Greek Jewish, around 65,000 men, women, and children were dispatched to their deaths in Auschwitz between 1943 and 1944.

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Jewish Synagogues Athens Greece

Two of the most important Athens Jewish Monuments, the Athens Synagogues, can be found in the Thisio area. Both are operating synagogues, located across from each other in Melidoni st. and only 10 minutes far from Ancient Agora. The older Synagogue in Athens, Etz Hayyim (Tree of Life) is a Romaniote one and was built in 1904. However, it only works during the great holidays.

In 1935, Beth Shalom Synagogue in Athens was built and it is a Sephardic Synagogue.

The Athens Greece Holocaust Memorial

At the end of the pedestrian crossing, at the point where Melidoni str. meets Ermou str., the Athens Jewish Community donated the Holocaust Monument to Athens Municipality in 2010. The specific spot was chosen because, under a ruse of food hand-outs, the Jews of Athens were trapped and captured by the Germans in their adjacent temple in April 1944.

Greek officials offering a wraith in Jewish Memorail Athens
Greek Officials at the Holocaust Memorial in Athens

The terror for the Jewish people of Athens started when the Germans took control of Athens in September 1943. There was active resistance by the Greek local authorities and in particular, by the Orthodox archbishop Monsignor Damaskinos of Athens who was openly advocating in favor of Jews, and the chief of police at the time Angelos Evert who delivered thousands of forged identity cards for Athenian Jews showing them as Christian Orthodox and saving that way many lives.

One of the many similar stories is the Isaac and Ida Angel and their two young sons’ story when they came to Athens in 1940.

In addition, the resistance fighters saved many Jews who fled to the mountains where guerrilla groups were based.

A memorial is held every 27th of January to honor the memory of the Greek Jewish that died during the Nazism occupation.

The Memorial is a broken star of David, with each of the broken pieces representing the lost Greek Jewish communities. It is the work of Greek – American Dianna Magkania.

Greek Jewish Monuments
Holocaust Memorial in Athens (Preveza, Patra, Zakynthos, Agrinio)
Detail of Athens Jewish Holocaust Monument
Holocaust Memorial in Athens (Thessaloniki, Kavala, Drama, Serres, Xanthi, Larisa, Veria, Volos, Chalkida)

The names of the communities-cities are engraved in the marble pieces pointing in the direction where they once existed.

Jewish Synagogue in the Ancient Agora of Athens

Ancient Agora of Athens is a must-visit as it is one of the most important ancient sites in Greece.

Apostle Paul (or Paul of Tarsus) preached in important landmarks all over Greece including synagogues. There is strong evidence that there was a synagogue inside the Ancient Agora of Athens and Apostle Paul had, by all means, visited it for his preaching.

 marble surface  with menorah found in Athens Ancient Agora

The foundations of this ancient synagogue, near the statue of Hadrian at the Old Bouleyterion and Metroon ruins in Ancient Agora have been excavated. The excavations revealed a marble surface on which a menorah and a palm branch are engraved, dated around the 3rd century CE.

 

Related Post: The Complete List of Athens Best Monuments and Landmarks

The Athens Greece Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum in Athens, Nikis 39 st., in Plaka (open 9.00-2.30am) is another very important Greek Jewish Monument.

It was built in 1977 to collect, preserve, research and exhibit material remnants of 2,300 years of Jewish life in Greece.

Its collection, which is constantly enriched, consists of tens of thousands of original objects, photographs, documents and archives, and includes a variety of interesting material from the daily and religious life and historical course of Greek Jewish Monuments.

The Jewish Museum is quite close to Acropolis Hill and Parthenon.

Giousouroum Flea Market in Monastiraki

Greek Jewish Monuments
Giousouroum Family – Kathimerini

Bohor Giousouroum, a tailor in trade, moved with his family from Kyhtnos island to Athens in 1863. Soon after, he opened an attire shop in Ermou and Karaiskaki street. He would remake used clothes or antiques and sell them at Avissinias Square (Monastiraki Flea Market) and that way he made himself famous in the specific trade.

As a result, the whole area was named after him, a name that still exists even today. A walk around the Giousouroum market is much worth it as all kinds of antiques and second-hand items (some in total disrepair) are sold together.

General view Athens Monastiraki Acropolis
Monastiraki and Plaka in Athens

The vibrant market attracts all kinds of different people, of diverse religious symbols and temples. Most importantly, you can find small traditional taverns where mostly Greeks go.

Jewish Graves in First Cemetery of Athens

The oldest Jewish cemetery of the Athens Jewish Community occupies a total area of 2,500 sq.m. within the First Cemetery of Athens.

The graves date back to the early 20th century; after World War II, the cemetery reached full capacity. It is enclosed by a wall and is protected by security personnel. It offers limited interest to a visitor interested exclusively in Jewish graves.

However, the First Cemetery of Athens is the most prestigious cemetery in Greece where all the famous Greeks have been buried. It is a very large park – cemetery, housing some very impressive pieces of art like the “Sleeping Maiden” of Giannoulis Halepas. Many graves-tombs replicate famous ancient Athenian monuments or motifs.

It is located within walking distance from the backside of the Temple of Zeus. I would recommend you walk through Mets to get to the cemetery, you will love the beautiful stroll in this old Athens area. The entrance is free.

Athens Jewish Cemetery in Nikaia

Jewish-Cemetery-Athens-Greece

The second cemetery and much more interesting for the Jewish Community of Athens occupies 20,000 sq.m. within the Third Cemetery of Athens at 7 Pireos St. in Nikaia (a western suburb of Athens).

It became active after World War II and is still in use today, although the remaining space is very limited. It is enclosed by a wall and is protected by security personnel like most Greek Jewish Monuments.

Jewish Community of Athens (JCA)

Taly Mair, director of the Jewish Community of Athens (JCA), in an interview, said:

“After the Second World War, the Athenian Jewish population was mixed. We had Romaniotes, Sephardim, and a few Ashkenazim.

We operate on all religious holidays. The Community and the Synagogue have maintained their consistency and have vigorously avoided any schism.

The Synagogue is open to all Jews of any community or perception. We all pray together in the same unique Synagogue of Athens. We also welcome non-Jews and present to them a religion that is close to Christianity, but sometimes unknown to them. We are a Greek community“.

The Synagogues are built in a small street where Kerameikos archaeological site ends, a few minutes walk from Thission and Ancient Agora peripheral fence.

A truly amazing place with other Athens Jewish Monuments.

Jewish & Athens Highlights – Private tour from Athens

Parthenon Temple north side in Acropolis of Athens a sunny day
Northern Side of Parthenon Temple

The Jewish & Athens Highlights full-day private tour will take you not only to every single Jewish monument but also all to the best landmarks in Athens. Check Viator for availability and prices for your Private Jewish Tour

Kosher Restaurant in Athens

Kosher diverse  food
Kosher Food – Gostijo

There aren’t many Jewish food places in Athens but Gostijo “is the one and only Kosher restaurant in Athens, offering a journey through the Mediterranean flavors of the Sefardi Jews”, according to his Facebook page quotes.

Where to stay in Athens

Looking for the Best Hotels near old Athens Plaka and Acropolis Parthenon?

Or would you like to stay at a beachfront hotel (Athens Riviera)?

Perhaps you are more in-budget hotels interested?

Whichever your preferences I have collected the best options for your staying in Athens below:

How to Get to Greece

Santorini balcony with olive tree and sea view with yachts

Like most visitors to Greece, you will probably have to fly to Athens or Thessaloniki International Airports to get to your final destinations.

For the Cheapest, Fastest, Best Worldwide Flights, I highly recommend the Kayak or Skyscanner search engine site.

If you prefer to avoid the hassle of public transport and wish for some luxury pampering, you should book a private transfer with English speaking chauffeur from Athens International Airport to Piraeus Ferries. Check availability and prices on Viator here

A Message from Evgenia

I hope I have inspired you to visit the Jewish Monuments in Athens, Greece. If you need local help with organizing your visit, please leave a comment below or join my informative and entertaining group on Facebook. Thanks!
Evgenia
Travel the Greek Way

Some of my Favorite Travel Resources for Greece

  • Airflights: Cheap/Fast/Best Worldwide Flights from KAYAK or SkyScanner search engine site
  • Map of Athens Metro
  • Booking.com: I use Booking.com because I can get the best deals, have info on hotels and Airbnb’s alike, with breakfast or not, free cancellations, and great prices!
  • Ferries to the Greek Islands: Book your ferry transfer with FerryScanner or FerryHopper, and get the best prices in the market with no hidden fees
  • World Nomads Insurance: I feel insecure traveling to another country without having even the most basic of insurances. Insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft and cancellations
  • Best car rental prices – Guaranteed. RentalCars.com
  • Get Your Guide: For all your day or multi-day tours and city guide needs, I use Get Your Guide
  • iVisa: For any questions, you may have about your documents, passport if you need a visa, a new photo, or any visa-related matter, iVisa is your man (or woman!)
  • Emergency Numbers Anywhere in Greece: AMBULANCE 166 – FIRE 199 – POLICE 100EMERGENCY NUMBER 112

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2 Responses

  1. ANDREA HELEN GILBERT

    Eygenia thank you so much for this complete article! Even I learned a few things. I am always thrilled to see the Holocaust Memorial. It is the best of its kind, especially since it was so sensitively researched and designed by my best friend DeAnna Maganias. The restaurant Gostija is run by the Chabad of Greece with the charming Rabbi Mendel Hendel and his wife Nechama. There is a small shop inside the restaurant with Israeli packaged food and they supply and deliver all Jewish holiday foods and candles.
    Thanks again!

  2. Evgenia Mataragka

    Thank you very much, Andrea, for your kind input and I am very glad you enjoyed the post. I also learned quite a few things about Greek Jewish while researching for the post and I am happy I did. Great tip about the Gostija restaurant and the shop!