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Matsas, Joseph


MATSAS, JOSEPH (1918–1986), Greek merchant, partisan, and researcher, the foremost Jewish intellectual in Greece after World War ii. Matsas lived most of his life in *Ioannina and devoted himself to his city, to his Jewish community, and to the research of the Jews in Ioannina and Greece.

Coming from a line of merchants, he owned a glass product store in the heart of the Ioannina bazaar, where Ioanniote Jewish merchants had worked and thrived for generations. By the beginning of World War ii, he had finished his studies in philosophy at Aristotle University in Thessalonika (Salonika) and was teaching high school in a village near Kilkis. When the ghettoization process started in Salonika in late January–early February 1943, the youth of the Jewish community started to flee in small numbers to the mountains in order to join the partisans. The Jews were welcomed by the military arm elas, which belonged to the leftist resistance movement eam (The National Liberation Front), and Matsas was one of the first to leave to join.

After facing great difficulties in escaping from Salonika, crossing rivers and avoiding German-controlled bridges, he reached the partisans. Since he had been a fighting soldier in the Greek army in the Albanian campaign, he was integrated into elas as fighting combatant, together with nine other Jews in a unit of 40 men. At the end of 1943, he went with his unit to Western Macedonia where the allies dropped equipment to them by parachute. In general, his unit lived under difficult circumstances in the mountains of Pieras, Vermious, and Pindou.

After the war Joseph Matsas established himself in Ioannina. In 1945 he was president of the Ioannina Jewish Council and in 1947 Matsas became the secretary of the Jewish community.

Matsas's main scholarly contribution lay in his research on the language, culture, and ancient traditions of the Romaniot Jews of Ioannina. His research into Judeo-Greek was a pioneering and valuable scholarly effort. In Ioannina in 1953 he published Yianniotika Evraika Tragoudia ("Greek Jewish Songs"), which consisted of 16 hymns taken from two manuscripts written between 1853 and 1870, translated into modern Greek. In 1955 he also published Ta Onomata Ton Evraion Sta Ioannina ("The Names of the Jews of Ioannina").

In the field of poetry he researched Judeo-Greek kinot (elegies) from Corfu from as early as the 13th century. He uncovered valuable collections of centuries-old Judeo-Greek *piyyutim from Ioannina and contributed research and documentation to Jerusalem's *Ben-Zvi Institute on Judeo-Greek poetry and language. He published several articles on the unique festivities of the Sicilian Purim celebrated in Ioannina.


R. Dalven, The Jews of Ioannina (1990); Y. Kerem, The History of the Jews in Greece, 18211940. Part I (1985); idem, "Darkhei Haẓalah shel Yehudim be-Yavan be-Milḥemet ha-Olam ha-Sheniyyah," in: Pe'amim, No. 27 (1986), 77–105.

[Yitzchak Kerem]

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