Athens First Municipal Cemetery – Jewish Section
The roots of community in Athens stretch back to antiquity. Jews had already settled there by the second century B.C.E. and inscriptions testifying to the presence of a community date from the first century C.E. Athens was home to the largest Romaniot community (i.e., dating from the Byzantine period) on the Greek mainland. No records of Jews in Athens can be found from the 4th to 14th centuries. Only in the 15th century were a number of refugees from the Spanish Inquisition found there. In the 17th century, Shabbetai Zvi visited and mingled with the local Jews, while an account written by a French traveler in 1650 mentions 15-20 Jewish families. An organized community of Romaniot, Sephardi, and Ashkenazi Jews was founded in the mid-19th century. Max Rothschild, a scion of the Frankfurt Rothschilds, settled here in 1833. His son Karol became the first president of the Jewish community. The community then grew in size and influence, absorbing numerous Sephardi immigrants from Izmir, Istanbul, Chios, and various Aegean islands. The Jewish population in 1887 was 250. A synagogue (the “Old Synagogue”) was built at some point from 1904-1906. Zionist organizations were established after 1913. The Jewish population in 1913 numbered around 500. In 1923, a Jewish school was opened. According to the 1928 census, Athens was the fifth largest Jewish community in Greece (1,578 Jews), after Salonika, Kavala, Janina, and Corfu. On the years preceding the Holocaust, although there were some 3,000-3,500 Jews in Athens, there were no Jewish welfare organizations or schools. From 1941 to 1943, the Jewish population grew to 8,000-10,000, as thousands from the German and Bulgarian occupation zones fled to Athens. Among those were 3,000 Jews who fled Salonika. In summer 1941, the community was officially dismantled, but secret committees assisted the Greek underground movement. In 1944, a few hundred Jews were captured in the synagogue. They were taken to the Haydari transit camp and were joined by their families and other Jews. Only 1,300 Jews were deported from Athens to the death camps. After WWII, some 5,000 Jews returned to Athens. About 1,500 immigrated to Palestine. The community was reestablished and by 1991 was the largest Jewish community in Greece, with 3,000 Jews.
The exact period of the cemetery’s establishment is unknown, but it was most likely founded in the 15th century. There were likely several Jewish cemeteries in Athens. This is due to the fact that Athens has had a large Jewish community for centuries. There may have been separate cemeteries for the Romaniot, Sephardi, and Ashkenazi Jewish communities in the 19th century.