The Historic Jewish Quarter Walking Tour

The Historic Jewish Quarter Walking Tour offers an original way to explore this centuries-old former Jewish neighbourhood, Evraiki, through a one-hour self-guided tour. Designed by the staff at Etz Hayyim Synagogue, this walking tour follows a route – featuring ten stations – set out on a map depicting Evraiki in the 19th and 20th centuries. Two of the buildings included on our route no longer exist (stations 3 and 8), while the house numbers on the map do not necessarily correspond to the present-day house numbers, but are based on the house numbers in the historical records. Each station listed on the map is accompanied by a story about the buildings and their former occupants. These stories bring to life the once vibrant but now almost forgotten Jewish presence in the heart of Hania’s Old Town. The map was created especially for this project by British-Cretan artist George Sfougaras, based on historical aerial photographs and maps.

Hania Jewish Quarter Walking Tour

0 – Introduction:
The Jewish Presence in Crete
Video link

1 – Etz Hayyim Synagogue
Kondylaki Street – Video link

2 – The Rabbi’s House
39 Kondylaki Street – Video link

3 – Beth Shalom Synagogue
Kondylaki Street – Video link

4 –  The Sarfati family
43 Skoufon Street – Video link

5 – Leon Betsikas
Corner of Skoufon and Parados Portou Streets – Video link

6 – The Kounio Family
13 Skoufon Street – Video link

7 – An Eyewitness Account of the Arrest of the Jewish Community
28 Zambeliou Street – Video link

8 – Former building
at the Northern End of Kondylaki Street
Video link

9 – End of Kondylaki Street
on the Harbour-front – Video link

10 – Santrivani Square
Video link

Introduction: The Jewish Presence in Crete

Jewish communities have existed in Crete since the 2nd century BCE when Jews from Eretz Israel/Palestine and Egypt first established settlements on the island following the conquest of the Near East by Alexander the Great. These communities are called Romaniote, connoting their Greek-speaking, Hellenistic cultural and social context. By the Umehe Roman conquest of Crete in the 1st century BCE, Jewish communities were thriving in most of the major cities including Gortyna, Kissamos, Hania, Rethymnon, Knossos and Sitia. During the Second Byzantine period (962-1204 CE), these communities were not permitted to live within walled cities such as Hania, but just outside the walls, as close as possible to the main city gates which offered protection in times of danger. In the Venetian period (1204-1645), Cretan Jews maintained already established urban communities in the three major cities of Heraklion, Rethymnon and Hania where they later lived in ghettos called zudecca and worked as grocers, artisans, tanners and butchers, as well as traders of silk, metals, dyes and leather, among other professions. In the Ottoman period (1645-1898), Crete’s Jewish communities were afforded some degree of religious autonomy. In towns like Hania, the former Venetian ghettos were opened and Jews were allowed to settle in adjacent quarters where they were permitted to buy and legally inherit property for the first time. In the 19th century, a series of revolts against Ottoman rule and clashes among the different religious groups in Crete led many Jews – together with Christians and Muslims – to emigrate elsewhere. At the beginning of the German Occupation of Crete (1941-45), most of Crete’s Jews, numbering about 350 members, were living in the old Jewish Quarter of Hania where they increasingly faced a raft of restrictions imposed on their daily lives. It was not until 20 May 1944 that the community was arrested to be deported to Auschwitz. However, they did not reach their final destination because the ship “Tánaïs” carrying them from Crete to Piraeus was torpedoed on the way.

The Evraiki Neighbourhood

In Hania, the Jewish quarter most likely dates to the Second Byzantine period and was located to the southwest of the ancient walled town on Kastelli hill. It was not until the 16th century that the neighbourhood was incorporated into the considerably expanded walled city under the Venetians. At this time, the Jewish quarter was defined by four streets: Kondylaki, Portou, Skoufon and Zampeliou with Kondylaki, the main street of Evraiki, closed off at both ends by large gates which were supposedly locked at night. The ghetto was dissolved under the Ottomans, and although Hania’s Jews continued to occupy Evraiki, this area was also inhabited by Christians and Muslims who worshipped in nearby mosques and churches. While Hania was, in this sense, a multicultural town, Evraiki was predominantly Jewish until 1944, even though some Jewish families lived outside Evraiki in districts such as Dikastiria, Koum Kapi, Nea Hora and Halepa from the late 19th century onwards.

Parodos Kondylaki Street: Etz Hayyim Synagogue

Etz Hayyim (Hebrew for Tree of Life’) is the only synagogue today in Crete, having been revived almost 50 years after the deportation of the island’s Jewish community in June 1944. It is both an active synagogue and a community and cultural centre that is supported by a multinational and multifaith community (Havurah). The building dates to the 15th century and was at first a Venetian Catholic church situated in the heart of Evralki. Damaged in the 1530s during one of the Ottoman attacks on the city, the building was acquired by Hania’s Jewish community who then converted it into a synagogue in the mid to late 17th century after the eventual Ottoman conquest of Crete. Prior to the Second World War, Etz Hayyim, a Romaniote synagogue, together with Beth Shalom, a Sephardic synagogue, served the needs of Hania’s Jewish vish community. Once the community was deported in 1944, Etz Hayyim was looted and in due course fell into ruin until the mid-1990s when Hania resident Nikos Stavroulakis sought the interest and funding to the synagogue. This process took three years and was headed by Nikos under the aegis of the World Monuments Fund in cooperation with the Central Board of Jewish Communities of Greece (KISE). Etz Hayyim was officially rededicated on 10 October 1999 and has since become a fixture in the religious and socio-cultural life of Hania as a place of prayer, study, recollection and reconciliation. Above all, Etz Hayyim is the only remaining testament to a rich Jewish heritage and tradition on the island that lasted for over 2000 years and which almost came to an abrupt end in 1944. As the synagogue today welcomes both Jews of all affiliations, as well as non-Jews, Etz Hayyim is also the only active reminder of the once multifaith, multicultural society of Hania and Crete.

39 Kondylaki Street: the Rabbi’s House

Close to Etz Hayyim Synagogue, Kondylaki Street is the main thoroughfare in Evraiki, running southwards from the harbour-front to Lando Bastion. In the past, Kondylakl was referred was the “large Jewish Area” (Megáli Evraiki) in which Jews of all social classes lived Including the Chief Rabbi of Crete Avraham Evlagon (1846-1933), and later the last Rabbi of Hania Ilias Osmos (1873-1944) with their respective families at number 39. Today, there is no number on the house, but it can be distinguished by its pale blue façade.

In the mid to late 19th century, this property was owned by Abraham Cohen and was sited opposite Beth Shalom Synagogue at the southern end of Kondylaki with the Franciscan Catholic church positioned directly behind the building. In 1877, the church was restored and substantially enlarged as a result of Cohen donating the garden of his house to the church for this purpose. The Cohen family then moved into a newly-constructed villa in a new part of town and their house in Evraiki was subsequently used to accommodate Evlagon and his family. Born in Constantinople, Evlagon was appointed as Chief Rabbi of Crete in 1876 by Ottoman Sultan Abdul Aziz to steer the dwindling Jewish presence in Crete through a tumultuous period of what essentially amounted to civil war between Cretan Muslims and Christians. In daily life, however, Evlagon maintained good relations with both Muslims and Christians around the island including their heads of administration and performed various services for them. In the years following the semi-independence of Crete which was declared in 1898, his role became increasingly difficult as many of Crete’s Jews began to emigrate in large numbers. As a consequence, Jewish life from this time onwards was concentrated in Hania. In 1913, the island was officially united with Greece and Evlagon ceased to be a legally defined Ottoman appointee, although he continued his role of Chief Rabbi of Crete until his death in 1933.

Ilias Osmos came from the island of Zakynthos and settled in Hania in 1900 when he was initially engaged by the city Jewish community as a Hebrew teacher before taking on some of the duties of Evlagon in 1912. After Evlagon’s death in 1933, Osmos eventually took over as the Rabbi of Hania. He developed close ties with some of the dignitaries of the city, among them Richard Georg Krüger, who served as the German Consul from 1902 until the beginning of the German Occupation in 1941. In March 1944, two months before his arrest along with the community, Osmos was present alongside some senior Nazi officials at the funeral service of Krüger at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Hania. Osmos lived at 39 Kondylaki with his wife and four of their five children, together with their grandchildren, until the arrest and deportation of the community in May 1944. The entire family, seventeen individuals in total, perished when the Tánaïs steamship sank on 9 June 1944.

Kondylaki Street: Beth Shalom Synagogue

Opposite the Rabbi’s house is the former site of Beth Shalom Synagogue; now a shop. The depiction of this building on the map is based on an aerial photograph taken in 1937. As the larger of the two synagogues in Hania, until 1941 Beth Shalom was located next to the community kindergarten (no longer in use by the 1940s) at the southern end of Kondylaki.
Even though no visual records of Beth Shalom exist before the late 19th century it is widely believed that this building was constructed sometime in the 15th century as a Sephardic synagogue, following the arrival of Sephardic immigrants from Spain, North Africa and Italy. Extant records indicate that the building had fallen into a state of disrepair by the late 19th century and required extensive renovations which were funded with the support of French Jews through the Alliance Israélite Universelle. The renovation was carried out under the direction of Italian architect Nicolo Mancuso who also restored the nearby Catholic church on Halidon Street. The synagogue was rededicated with a service on 4 May 1880 and electrical lighting was later installed sometime afterwards, as seen in a photograph of Rabbi Evlagon with an electrically lit menorah.
It was also in Beth Shalom Synagogue that Evlagon received King Constantine of Greece who visited Hania to mark Crete’s union with Greece in December 1913. The King visited the synagogue and also attended religious services at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral and the main mosque of the city, Hugar Mosque. In May 1941, the synagogue suffered considerable damage during the German bombardment of the city prior to the Battle of Crete and was subsequently torn down during the Occupation.

Skoufon Street: The Sarfati family

According to the 1940s house numbering, 43 Skoufon Street was then the residence of the Sarfati family: Nisim, Sara and their five children. The oldest child, Soultana, was born in 1926 and according to the testimony of one former classmate, many of her fellow students had a crush on Soultana, the “beautiful evraiopoula [Jewish girl] … who stole our hearts”. Soultana died from pleurisy in 1942 and her grave was the last one standing in the Jewish cemetery after its destruction by the Germans in the 1940s. The rest of the family perished on the Tánaïs ship in June 1944.

Corner of Skoufon and Parodos Portou Streets: Leon Betsikas

Also on Skoufon Street was the residence of the Betsikas family (house number unknown). Raphael and Perla had five children: Leon, born on 3 March 1917, and his four younger sisters Hrysoula, Anna, Sterina and Sara. Records indicate that Leon was recruited into the army at the start of the Second World War and soon found himself at the Albanian frontline in 1940. In 1941, Leon left the army and joined the rest of the Betsikas family and their relatives, the Trevezas family, in Athens following their escape from Hania during the German Occupation of Crete. However, soon afterwards, Leon and his father were arrested, with Leon being deported to Auschwitz where he arrived on 18 April 1944. He was eventually brought to Mauthausen Ebensee on 25 January 1945 where he died on 24 April 1945, less than two weeks before the liberation of the camp by American troops.

13 Skoufon Street: the Kounio Family

According to the 1940s house numbering, 13 Skoufon Street (now a hotel) was the house of the Kounio family: Leon, Doltsa and their three daughters Sarah, loudita and Boulissa. Documents show that Leon died in 1942 from heart disease, while the rest of the family perished along with the community on the Tánaïs ship in 1944. On a spring morning in 2000 in the recently reopened Etz Hayyim Synagogue, Nikos Stavroulakis was visited by an elderly woman holding a photograph of two young girls, Sara and Ioudita Kounio. The woman had lived in Hania, but had left for Athens during the war. She was now searching for her childhood friends, the Kounio sisters, not knowing what had happened to them. Nikos provides an account of this meeting:

“[The visitor] was in her late 70s… [and] explained that she was from Athens and was not Jewish… In 1943, she had lived in the ‘small’ Jewish Quarter that occupied the eastern side of Skoufon Street, just behind Etz Hayyim. Apparently, her family had only moved there after the Occupation had begun in 1941… Not long after arriving, she met two young Jewish girls with whom she became very close… but then her family found the means for leaving Hania. She had never returned to Crete until … recently [when] she came… to the synagogue. She wanted only to know what had happened to her two friends… While she was asking me [these questions], she opened an envelope and took out a photograph of two young girls… I turned over the picture and found an inscription, ‘From your dear friends Sara and loudita’ with no date. The picture had been a going-away present and so could be dated to 1943. We sat for some time and I explained what had happened in some detail… [and] began to go through the lists. I found them very quickly. They had lived on Skoufon Street at number 13 – the daughters of Leon and Rachel Kounio. Leon died during the war and his widow had lived on in the house with the three daughters, Sarah, Ioudita and Boulissa. All four of them perished.”

and so for some time and I explained what had happened in some detail… [and] began to go through the lists. I found them very quickly. They had lived on Skoufon Street at number 13 – the daughters of Leon and Rachel Kounio, Leon died during the war and his widow had lived on in the house with the three daughters, Sarah, loudita and Boulissa. All four of them perished.”

Outside Evraiki: Places of Interest

Jewish Cemetery

Positioned along the walls of the southern courtyard at Etz Hayyim Synagogue are some tombstones that were recovered from the site of the former Jewish cemetery once located outside the Venetian city walls to the west of the Old Town in the modern Nea Hora district. Hania’s Jewish cemetery was situated on a plot of land that extended southwards from the sea-front for a distance of 200 metres and was open on all sides. The personal memoir of Chief Rabbi Evlagon, written in the 1920s, offers some detail about the cemetery at the end of the 19th century. He describes its parlous state after decades of insurrections and social unrest, with its desecrated tombstones and the windblown sand from the nearby seashore covering many of the graves. In 1900, a wall was built to enclose the cemetery with financial aid from the Chief Rabbi of France Tsadok Hacohen. During the German Occupation, the cemetery was largely destroyed. In the 1960s, a school was built on parts of the site, the land having been provided by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KISE), and it was with pupils from this school that the first intercultural program at Etz Hayyim Synagogue was conducted in 2009.

In the same year, Nikos Stavroulakis was asked to identify some skeletal remains that had been found on the site of the demolished Jewish cemetery by the Greek Archaeological Service in Hania. It was easy for him to establish that the remains were Jewish. The absence of any inscriptions on the large flat stones covering the burials suggested to him that they most likely dated to the war period. As such, it would have been impossible to engrave these tombstones with dedicatory inscriptions in Hebrew during this time. In the end, it was felt that the skeletal remains stay in Hania and, accordingly, they were placed in an especially-made white-washed ossuary now located in Etz Hayyim’s southern courtyard.

28 Zambeliou Street: An Eyewitness Account of the Arrest of the Jewish Community

28 Zambeliou Street was the home of the Antonakaki family who were witnesses to the arrest of the Jews of Evraiki by the Wehrmacht on the morning of 20 May 1944. Anthoula, the witness whose testimony is part of the USHMM Collection, describes the following events: “When [the Jews] were on their way out, when the Germans took them, we went to the window, our mother took us to the window… and she was waving at them, they were passing below our window and they were waving as well and they said ‘Goodbye our dear neighbour, we won’t see you again: Honestly, even though was only a child, I’m still moved.”

“All the Jews of Canea have been arrested and their possessions plundered. They were taken to prison with change of clothing and six days’ food. A number of beggars were collected under German orders to plunder the Jews’ possessions, while propaganda pictures of the popular anti-Semitic agitation were taken. After this the beggars were driven off and the Germans seized their plunder.”

Former building at the Northern End of Kondylaki Street

Walking along Zambeliou Street to the corner of Kondylaki street you are now standing at the site where a building once stood (included in the map as a white structure with number 8). Today, visitors to Evraiki can make their bow to way along Kondylaki and Douka Streets directly to the Venetian harbour-front. However, the neighbourhood was closed to the sea until after the Second World War. The ‘ghost building’ shown on the map at the northern end of Kondylaki blocked the north exit to the harbour-front which might have been crucial to the expediency of the arrest of around 200 Jews from Evraiki early in the morning of 20 May 1944. It seems that some of them were led on foot to an area next to the Market Hall (Agora), while others were forced onto trucks. After their arrest, they were all held at Agyia prison near Hania for about two weeks before being transported to Heraklion.

Tánaïs Monument at Koum Kapi

them were led on foot to an area next to the Market Hall (Agora), while others were forced onto trucks. After their arrest, they were all held at Agyia prison near Hania for about two weeks before being transported to Heraklion.

Tánaïs Monument at Koum Kapi

In October 2013, a memorial monument for the victims of the sinking of the Tánaïs ship on 9 June 1944 was unveiled under the aegis of KISE and the Municipality of Hania. The monument commemorates the Cretan Jews, Cretan Christian members of the resistance and Italian prisoners of war who perished when the German-flagged ship was sunk by a British submarine. The monument is situated in the Koum Kapi neighbourhood of Hania just outside the eastern city walls. An ecumenical memorial service for all victims takes place at the site every year in May or June.

Ishakis Residence

In the early 20th century, this house was built by an Italian family who lived in Hania. When they moved to Italy in the early 1920s, the house was bought by Leon Ishakis, a prominent Cretan Jewish merchant who also had ties to Italy and who lived in this house with his family. Although he died shortly before the war, his family continued to occupy the property until the arrest of Hania’s Jewish community in May 1944. Given that no surviving members of the Ishakis family could be traced after the end of the war, the building was therefore bequeathed to the Greek state and today it houses the Historical Archive of Crete.

End of Kondylaki Street on the Harbour-front

Standing on the harbour-front facing the sea, you can look across the harbour to the old Küçük Hasan Pasha Mosque. Next to the mosque are some cafes, one of which used to be the ‘Caprice, a well-known coffee establishment co-owned by a Jew and a Christian before the Second World War. The Jewish partner was a member of the Koen family who lived in Evraiki with his parents and seven siblings. The father died sometime before the war and the mother during the early war years. One of their sons attempted to keep the café operating throughout the war, but he was arrested along with the Jewish community and perished on the Tánaïs in June 1944. After the war, only three of the eight Koen children survived, one of them an Auschwitz survivor.

Santrivani Square

Until the 1950s, Santrivani Square was the centre of Hania life where public gatherings took place and where ships entered the harbour and passengers and goods disembarked. Shops served the daily needs of the locals, and musicians gathered around the tavernas and cafes. Two prominent Jewish families, the Minervos and Konstantinis, owned shops that can be recognized in some old postcards and photographs. During the war, the families moved to Athens where most members survived in hiding. On the fateful day of the arrest of the Jewish community, almost all community members were loaded onto German military trucks in this square. The remaining members were forced to walk on foot to the area on the eastern side of the Agora.

Other Jewish Residential Areas: Koum Kapi, Nea Chora and Chalepa

Koum Kapi, Nea Hora and Halepa are three suburbs located outside of Hania’s walled Old Town in which a number of Cretan Jewish families resided.

In Koum Kapi, lossif Venturas and his family lived on Spartis Street which holds the same name today. During the war, the family managed to escape to Athens and survived in hiding. lossif went on to become a well-known writer and poet who memorialized the drowning of the Cretan Jewish community in 1944 in his elegiac poem “Tánaïs.”

Nea Hora, where the Jewish cemetery was situated, was a neighbourhood comprising both Christian and Jewish residents. An account provided by a former Christian resident of Nea Hora recounts the sudden arrest and detention of her Jewish neighbours, the Minervo family, on that fateful morning in May 1944.

Halepa, to the east of the walled Old Town, was perhaps the most multicultural district of Hania with a mixed Christian, Jewish and Muslim population. Many of Halepa’s residents were diplomats, heads of foreign military services and wealthy local families who lived alongside a number of working class families engaged in leather artisanship or the domestic service of wealthy households.