The Jews of Rhodes and Their Annual Homecoming

August 19, 2015 | Gavin Rabinowitz
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In July 1944, Nazi Germany sent boats to the Aegean island of Rhodes to take its approximately 1,700 Jews to Auschwitz. Now, surviving Jews from Rhodes and their descendants gather on the island every summer to celebrate their past and commemorate the destruction of their community. Gavin Rabinowitz writes:

[Many] descendants of the Jews of Rhodes . . . return to the island for family functions like bar mitzvahs and weddings. And, in recent years, dozens of Rhodeslis families visit each year for cultural events and memorial services that mark the anniversary of the Nazi deportation. . . .

[A] vibrant, cosmopolitan Jewish community of traders and craftsmen [once] lived in the Jewish quarter of Rhodes, la Juderia—a warren of narrow cobblestone alleys behind the great stone fortress walls and moat of the old port city. . . .

The Jewish community of Rhodes traces its history back to the 2nd century BCE, but most of the community members were descendants of the Sephardi Jews expelled from Spain [in 1492] and spoke Ladino in their daily lives. The community largely thrived under Ottoman rule, reaching a [demographic] peak in the 1920s with some 4,000 Jews, a quarter of the total town population. It had four synagogues, a Jewish school, and a yeshiva.

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