Spotlight on Greece’s Jewish history

Norman Seligman and Dr Stavros Kyrimis throwing plates at the launch of the Jews of Greece exhibition at the Sydney Jewish Museum on October 24. Photo: Giselle Haber

THE launch of the Jews of Greece exhibition at the Sydney Jewish Museum on October 24 was literally a smashing success.

More than 150 dignitaries and guests enjoyed Greek dancing, an exhibition tour and got to see Sydney Jewish Museum CEO Norman Seligman and Dr Stavros Kyrimis, the Consul General of Greece in Sydney throwing plates.

The exhibition, on until February 18, shines a much-needed spotlight on the little-known 2,500 year Jewish history of Greece through stunning, atmospheric photography by Emmanuel Santos and a fascinating documentary by Carol Gordon and Natalie Cunningham.

The Melbourne residents worked together in Jewish communities and historic sites across the Greek mainland and islands in 2013, capturing rare footage of Jewish elders and Holocaust survivors who had incredible stories to tell about their heritage.

“It was very rewarding for us to do, as many of these stories have never been told before,” Gordon said.

“When I first travelled to Greece I felt a really strong connection to the country, and learning about its Jewish history became a lifelong passion.

“And it is such a massive history – Jews lived and flourished in Greece from the time of Alexander the Great through to the rise and fall of the Roman and Ottoman empires and the creation of the modern Greek state.

“At one point the population of Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, was almost 50 per cent Jewish, to the extent that most of the city’s shops and the docks were closed on Saturdays – but sadly it was decimated by the Nazis.”

87 per cent of Greece’s Jews were wiped out during the Holocaust.

Today the country’s Jewish population is about 5,000, mainly located in Athens, Thessaloniki and Larissa.

Gordon said because there was so much turmoil in Greece after the war, the nation’s Jewish history became lost.

“It is only in the last eight years or so that it has started to be recovered.

“When the exhibition was shown in Melbourne (at the Jewish Museum of Australia) earlier this year, people discovered something they’d never known about before – and that’s my aim for this ongoing project.”

The exhibition also features information panels, explores Greek Jews of Romaniote, Sephardic and Ashkenazi backgrounds, and covers Hellenistic Greece, the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, the Holocaust and the present day.

Santos said he “wanted to create a particular colour palette, and mood, in the photographs to suit each section of the exhibition”.

“Each one tells its own story.”

The museum’s head curator Roslyn Sugarman said the exhibition would not have been possible without the generous support of the Consulate General of Greece and Australia’s Greek and Jewish communities.

Jews of Greece is on at the Sydney Jewish Museum until February 18, 2018.