PATRAS , port city in N. Peloponnesus, Greece. There were Jews living in Patras in ancient times, as can be assumed from the Hebrew inscriptions found in the local church of St. Anastasius; *Benjamin of Tudela reported the presence of 50 Jews there in the 12th century. Under Byzantine rule the Jews owned land and farms. When the Venetians conquered the town in 1532, they took Jewish prisoners whom they sold as slaves in Italy. Sailors from Naples and Sicily, who attacked Patras in 1595, plundered and murdered Jews. Already in the 16th century there were four synagogues in the city, one Ashkenazi and three Sephardi (two were Sicilian and one was of Iberian origin). Many noted scholars lived there: Moses Alashkar (d. after 1535), author of responsa; Shem Tov b. Jacob Melammed, author of Keter Shem Tov and Ma'amar Mordechai; David Vital, author of Mikhtam le-David and Keter Torah; Jacob ha-Levi (d. 1636), author of responsa; Meir Melammed, author of Mishpetei Ẓedek; and others. Mordecai Ẓevi, father of false messiah Shabbetai Ẓevi, is noted as originating in Patras before moving to Izmir. In the 17th century, during the Turko-Venetian War, when the Venetians captured the city in 1647, the Jews fled the town. Many fell into slavery and were redeemed by the Jewish communities of Italy and Amsterdam. However, a small number of Jews returned to Patras. In the fighting in 1684, Jews fled the city and many reached Larissa. Others fell into slavery and were redeemed by the Jewish communities of Salonika, Italy, and western Europe. Returning in 1715 when Turkish rule was re-established, Jewish merchants integrated into local trade, and with the development of the port they traded with Venice, and Holland. Jewish silk merchants from Patras traveled as far as Persia for their purchases. In the Russian-Turkish War of 1770, the Greek-Orthodox persecuted the Jews, but in the fighting the Ottoman Turkish soldiers barely distinguished between the Jews and the Greek-Orthodox, and almost destroyed the Jewish community. In 1809, the Jews were a small fraction of the population, but nonetheless had an important role in local commerce. The Jewish community ceased to exist at the time of the Greek Revolution (1821–29). The 17 families that were left in the city at the end of the Ottoman Period had fled to Larissa, Chalkis, and Corfu at the onset of the fighting and disturbances. When the Greek government was formed in 1832, Patras became a center for the Jews, attracting them from Zakynthos, Arta, Preveza, and mainly Corfu. In the Greek-Turkish War of 1881, the community temporarily disbanded and fled, but soon returned to the city. At the end of the 19th century, the Greek historian Thomopoulos accused the Jews of dishonesty in their profession as moneylenders and accused them of being responsible for plagues. In 1902, the community consisted of some 15–20 poor families of peddlers. In 1905 the Jewish community was officially recognized by the Greek government. In 1923 there were 40 to 50 Jews living in the town, most of them merchants or commission agents. In late 1943–early 1944, 242 Jews fled from the town in order to escape the Nazis; others were deported when, on March 28, 1944, the Germans apprehended 12 families who had not managed to hide. The city itself, as well as the region, was a place for hiding Jews fleeing from arrest by the Germans in Salonika and Athens. Several Jews from Patras joined the partisans. Vito Belleli was executed by the Germans after being caught as a partisan. In 1946, there were 122 Jews in the city; most were dependent on financial help from the Joint Distribution Committee. In 1948 there were 150 Jews in Patras, by 1958 their number had dwindled to 37, and 19 Jews were registered in 1967. Most of the Jews left for Athens, Israel, and the United States. By the late 1970s, only five families remained in the city. The synagogue was destroyed in 1980, and the remnants of its interior were eventually displayed in the Jewish Museum in Athens.
J. Starr, Jews in the Byzantine Empire (1939), 229; idem, Romania (1949), 73–76; J. Nehama, In Memoriam, ed. by M. Molho, 2 (1949), 57, 164; M. Molho and J. Nehama, Sho'at Yehudei Yavan (1965), index. add. bibliography: B. Rivlin and L. Bornstein-Makovetsky, "Patras," in: Pinkas Kehillot Yavan (1999), 310–18.
[Simon Marcus /
Yitzchak Kerem (2nd ed.)]