Kos – a Jewish community in the Aegean Sea

The Corona pandemic has changed my life – like that of many others. I worked from home for over half a year. What hit me hardest: I couldn’t travel. In the first half of October, however, a time window opened up. I traveled to Greece with two friends – first to Athens, then on to the island of Nisyros. On the way back we had half a day to explore Kos – once the home of a Jewish community.

My first stay on Kos must have been about 30 years ago. I remember sitting on my hotel balcony overlooking the old town and seeing a church, a mosque and a synagogue in a short distance from one another. Now I have finally visited the synagogue. A lovely Art Deco style building, built in 1935 to replace the synagogue that was destroyed in an earthquake in 1933. Since there is no longer a Jewish community, it is now used by the municipality for cultural events.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to get into the synagogue. The key is kept in the mayor’s office. For days, however, the person in charge did not respond to calls from a friend who tried very hard to arrange something for me. On site, I was brusquely rejected at the town hall – there was nothing to see in the synagogue anyway, I was told, and the mayor’s office was not working until Monday – that was on a Thursday.

The two Jewish cemeteries – an “old” and a “new” one – are located outside of the city center close to each other. While the new cemetery is well maintained, the old one is in poor shape. Nobody seems to care about the old cemetery. Parts of its walls have collapsed.

The website of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece provides information on the long history of the Jewish community of Kos, dating back to the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Their end is also described there:

On July 22, 1944, the Jews from Kos and Rhodes were crowed on three cargo ships to the port of Piraeus. Once there, they were forced on trains and were deported to Auschwitz. During the Holocaust, all members of the Jewish Community of Kos perished. Only one person survived the Holocaust and returned to the island.

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