History of the Jewish community of Athens

Athens, one of the worlds most celebrated cities, has always been a bustling cosmopolitan capital.

In the heart of the Agora, a mere stones throw from the Acropolis, stood an unusual building believed by some scholars to have been the first synagogue in Greece dating back to the 5th century B.C.E.

During the time of Alexander the Great and in the centuries that followed, Jewish life was concentrated in the northern part of Greece. Not until the 19th century, when Greece gained its independence from the Turks, did a Jewish community begin to grow and prosper in Athens. Legal recognition came in 1889 when the Jewish community was large enough to be formally recognized as a religious minority.

The synagogue at 5, Melidoni St. was built in 1905 to accommodate the growing community that numbered 3000 by the 1940s. Although the Holocaust took its greatest toll on the Jews of Thessaloniki, Athens was also a center of Nazi persecution. The Germans began rounding up Jews in 1943 and in one year, 800 Athenian Jews were sent to the camps.

Many Jews were saved however through the heroic efforts of the Greek Police and Greek resistance. Aided by the Greek Orthodox Church, some Athenian Jews went into hiding and escaped by boat to Asia Minor and eventually to Palestine.

At the termination of the war, the Athens community grew substantially, as a consequence of the resettlement of Jews from communities that no longer existed, combined to the natural attraction of a growing capital. Today, more than two-thirds of Greek Jews reside in Athens.