XANTHI (Ksanthi, Xanthie, Eskedje ), city located in northeastern Greece in the region of Greek Thrace between Drama and Cuomotini. This town in the past has had the reputation for producing the best tobacco in the world.
At the beginning of the 20 th century, several Jewish families came to the city from Adrianople, Didymoteikhon, and Salonika. In 1913, they established a Jewish community there. The Jews spoke Judeo-Spanish and only in 1926 did they establish a synagogue. In 1924, the Jewish community represented by David Arditis, Abraham Tabach, Abraham Bellos, and Yehuda Cohen purchased a plot of land for a synagogue and community center at the junction of Anatolikis Thrakis Street and Stavrou Hadjistavrou Street. The basilica of the synagogue was influenced by the Reform synagogues of Europe and the Great Synagogue of Edirne. Next to the synagogue was a two-floor community center, where the school was on the ground floor, the first floor was for the office of the headmaster, and the second floor housed the community center. The Sephardi Jewish community of Xanthi was a central cultural community for the Jews of Thrace.
In 1913, after the Balkan wars, Xanthi was annexed to Bulgaria. In 1913, there were 1,290 Jews in the area of Xanthi. Under the Bulgarians, a branch of the organization Hahistadrut leSafa veLeTarbut Ivrit (The Federation for the Hebrew Language and Culture), which was founded in Bulgaria in 1914, was started in Xanthi. In 1918, in Xanthi a branch of Kadima was formed for the dissemination of the Hebrew language and culture and to educate toward Jewish nationalism through Hebrew language, Hebrew literature, Jewish history, and Ereẓ Israel geography classes. The branch also organized literary evenings, hikes, and parties, started a library, and translated material from Bulgarian and Hebrew to Judeo-Spanish. It had 55 members, most of whom were graduates of the Jewish French Alliance Israélite Universelle school system.
Many of the Jews were tobacco workers, artisans, and small merchants. The Jewish community had two philanthropic organizations: Agudat Bikur Holim and Agudat Nashim, a women's organization.
After World War i, in 1919, Greek sovereignty replaced Bulgarian rule. During the Bulgarian retreat, the Bulgarians accused the Jews of having received the Greek army joyfully. One of the Bulgarian newspapers exploited this accusation and attacked all of Bulgarian Jewry. In 1919, there were 70–74 Jewish families (some 300–350 people). During the Asia Minor war of 1922, the community had 700 members. At the beginning of the 1920s, it was estimated that 250 Jewish families lived in relative prosperity. Most Jews lived in the poor neighborhood of Pournali or Pournari, the wealthier Jews lived in Ano Poli (Upper Town).
In 1910, Mois Bassat, an anti-Zionist assistant principal of Alliance Israélite Universelle schools, changed his outlook, became a Zionist, and was chosen as president of the new B'nai Zion Zionist league in Xanthi.
In the early 1920s, the Zionist organization B'nai Zion was active, led by the dentist Isaac de Botton. From time to time, the organization raised money for the Jewish National Fund. In 1922, Isaac de Botton edited the Judeo-Spanish Zionist newspaper La Fuerza. In 1924, he published the Judeo-Spanish periodical El Progresso. The periodicals wrote on local and regional events, and news from the Jewish world. On the occasion of the inauguration of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1925, he issued Leumi (National) in Judeo-Spanish. In 1922 the youth of the community organized into the Zionist HaTikva sport organization. In the mid-1920s, a Jewish scout troop organized in Xanthi, and they eventually allied with the Salonikan Jewish Boy Scout Chapter Maccabee. There was also a Jewish youth theater group, which was highly praised in the local press, and a Music and Sports Association. The community also had the club Cercle Israélite.
In 1923, Yitzhak Daniel was named the honorary president of the Jewish community, and David Arditti was president. Another six men were on the Executive Committee, as well as the chief rabbi Haim ben Avraham and school principal Yitzhak Meshulam. The Executive Committee determined community dues, and appointed members to committees that dealt with Bikur Holim, the synagogue, and education. The community received an annual allotment from the municipality for operating expenses, and the Ministry of Public Education via the governor general of Thrace contributed an annual sum for religious institutions and communal education. The next communal rabbi was Avraham Haviv for most of the 1920s, followed by Rabbi Raphael Nissim Latin.
In the early 1920s, the new Jewish school had 44 boys and 67 girls. The students paid tuition and there were teachers for Greek and French. Yitzhak Meshulam was the principal. In the absence of Hebrew, which was criticized in the Zionist organ La Fuerza, it was decided to give the management of the school to the Alliance Israélite Universelle, and Avraham Benveniste of Salonika was hired to be principal and French teacher. In 1924, 150 children were enrolled in the school. In the early 1930s, during the depression, the construction of a school ran into financial problems, and in 1934 the Bank of Athens proposed to sell the school structure in a public auction. The community went into action, found financial help from private businessmen like Karl Shefer, and businesses, and managed to pay the bank. The new principal was Vitali Matalon, who also taught French. The Zionists demanded that Hebrew be taught and that it be taught by members of the Zionist organizations Hatze'irim Hayehudim, which was founded in 1934 and had 80 members, and HaTikva. In 1936, after a court case involving the Jewish community and the widow of the deceased, the community finally received the estate of the tobacco worker Yitzhak Daniel, who died in 1924. A large sum of 1,200,000 drachmas was to be divided as follows: 200,000 for the building of the synagogue, 500,000 for the land for a synagogue, and a scholarship fund of 500,000 for scholarships for two students annually.
In 1937, during the Metaxas dictatorship in Greece, the school received an increased allocation from the government, and solved the school's water shortage problems by putting in a water system. On the other hand, the same nationalist government in the same year ordered that weekly hours for the instruction of Judaism be cut, including the teaching of Hebrew, religion, and history. In 1938, the community was further enraged when, within a few days, the government ordered the school to collect all religious books, i.e., prayer books, weekly Torah portion lessons, holiday maḥzor prayer books, psalm books, Midrashim, and commentaries on Me'am Loez.
Three major tobacco companies in Xanthi belonged to Jews: Commercial, Herman Spearer, and David Arditis' company, which manufactured cigarettes. Jews also worked in the flour industry, the textile trade, ready-made clothes, haberdashery, leather accessories, and other industries.
In 1934 Leon Amarilio sat on the Municipal Council, and in 1938, David Attas was president of the Jewish community.
In 1934 the community numbered 1,100, but by World War ii the community only numbered 120–140 families (600 people).
In April 1941, Xanthi was occupied by the Bulgarians, allies of the Nazis, who already decided in December 1940 to implement anti-Jewish legislation and the Nuremberg laws. The Bulgarian military forces began pillaging and plundering the Jews.
The Jews were compelled to wear the yellow Star of David, and they were forbidden to work in their professions in commerce and industry.
Jews had to mark their homes with a sign stating they were Jews. They could not leave the city and they had a nightly curfew. Gangs robbed Jewish stores and there were random checks in Jewish houses. Communication with the outside world was blocked and the Bulgarian government confiscated Jewish property. On February 22, 1943, the Bulgarian commissar for Jewish affairs, Alexander Belev, came to Xanthi to supervise deportation plans and preparations. At midnight March 4, 1943, the Bulgarians arrested 550 Jews in Xanthi and took them to a tobacco warehouse on 1 Salaminas Street. Only six escaped from the internment. The day of the arrest, the local tobacco merchant Yehuda Perahia was in Cavalla and managed to escape to Salonika. They were transferred to Drama by trucks and from there they were loaded on trains to Dupnitza in Bulgaria and were exposed to horrid conditions. Then on March 19, 1943 they were sent to Lom by train and from there taken by boat to Vienna and then sent by train to Treblinka where they met their deaths. The Bulgarians looted Jewish homes and shops. After the liberation, Yehuda Perahia returned to Xanthi and resumed his job as the head of a commercial tobacco company. He eventually donated his Judeo-Spanish newspaper collection from before World War ii Salonika to the Ben-Zvi Institute Library in Israel. He would pray in Cavalla on holidays. In the 1960s the members of the family of Jak Cazes left the city to migrate to Israel.
In 1963, the community center was sold to the Boy Scouts. The dilapidated synagogue building in Xanthi was sold in 1992 and demolished in 1995. The cemetery is still on Xanthis-Diomidias Street beyond the train tracks. It is walled, but abandoned, and contains a few graves dating after 1923.
On March 3, 2001, the Municipality of Xanthi organized a memorial event for the annihilated Jews and the next day a memorial plaque was put in a wall in the tobacco warehouse at 1 Salaminas Street, to remind the local residents of the forced exodus of the Jews from there, their removal from the city, and the end of the Jewish community. Thomas Exarhos' book in Greek on the Jews of Xanthi, published by the Cultural and Development Center of Thrace, was presented within the framework of the special events.
B. Rivlin, "Xanthi," Pinkas ha-Kehillot Yavan (1999) 381–388; E. Messinas, "Preserving Jewish Heritage in Greece," in: Archeology, September 23, 1998; "The Jewish Community of Xanthi," at: www.kis.gr/xanthi-en.html; T. Exarchou, I Evrai stin Xanthi (O kosmos pou chathike alla then ksechastike) (2001).
[Yitzchak Kerem (2nd ed.)]