ZANTE (Gr. Zakynthos or Zakinthos ), city on the island of Zante, the main southernmost island of the Ionian Islands of Greece. Moses *Basola, who passed through Zante in 1522, found about 30 Jewish families and a synagogue. *Elijah of Pesaro mentions in 1563, 20 heads of families of Sicilian and Portuguese origin, mostly wealthy merchants engaged in maritime trade between Venice and Constantinople. The Jews lived in a ghetto which was closed at night. From 1518 they had to wear the Jewish *badge.
The first known rabbi of the community was Joseph Formon, born at Serrai (Seres), in Macedonia, who headed a rabbinical school before being appointed to Zante. During the 17th century R. Jacob b. Israel ha-Levi was the rabbi of Zante. In 1686 the Jewish community numbered about 1,000 people. There was a *blood libel in Zante in 1712. There were two synagogues in the town, one named the Zante Synagogue and the other Candia. The latter was built in 1699 by natives of Candia at a slight distance from the ghetto, destroyed in 1712, and rebuilt in 1716. The Jews engaged in crafts and commerce. As a result of the blood libels and the decline in commerce, they abandoned the town. After some time Jews from Corfu, Crete, Constantinople, Izmir, and other places settled in Zante. They lived under the English from 1815–64. It was forbidden for them to belong to artisan guilds and trade associations and to take part in the political life of the island. In 1891 the Jewish population numbered between 200 and 300. During the Corfu blood libel and ensuing riots of that year, violence erupted in Zante. Although the troops defended the Jews, the mob attacked four Jewish families outside of the Jewish ghetto. Four people were killed, and 11 were injured. One soldier was killed defending the Jews and three Christians were killed when the troops shot at the crowd to defend the Jews.
At the outbreak of World War ii the Jewish population numbered 270. With the German occupation many of them sought refuge in the mountains, some 70 to 80 remaining in the town. When on September 9, 1943, the Germans demanded that the Jews of Zakynthos be drafted for forced road work, they were quickly represented by the Righteous Gentiles Metropolit Chrystostemos and mayor Lukas Karrer (the Jewish community president being incapable of doing so), and relieved of the arduous task. The German commander Lut demanded Jewish communal lists, but the two dignitaries claimed that they were the only Jews on the island. The Jews dispersed throughout the island and until the liberation, some 30 of them died of starvation. A deportation boat arrived from Corfu, but there was no room to add local Jews; the Jews were still dispersed, however, in the countryside villages. The Jews were never deported and though there are numerous theories, none have ever been proven or documented. They include Lut's having a Greek girlfriend who influenced him not to harm the Jews, edes leader Katevatis threatening Lut continuously with revenge if the Jews were deported, and Metropolit, claiming to have known Hitler from their student days in Munich, reportedly sending a telegram to Hitler requesting him not to deport the Jews. Even at the end of the German occupation in August 1944, Jews were still being pursued in the most remote corners, and not arresting and deporting the Jews of Zakynthos is a highly unusual phenomenon in Nazi-occupied Greece and Europe.
The convoy of Jews that was sent from Corfu to death camps in Poland in June 1944 was too large to permit a halt in Zante and so the Jews there were saved. Those who had fled subsequently returned in September of that year, but shortly afterward a large number of them immigrated to Ereẓ Israel on the illegal immigration boat Henrietta Szold in August 1946. They were stopped by the British in the Bay of Haifa and deported to Cyprus, but allowed to come to Ereẓ Israel in December 1946. In 1948 there were 70 Jews in the town, but after the 1953 earthquake most of the Jews left for Athens or Israel. In the 1980s the last Jew died, and the Greek Board of Jewish Communities in Athens oversaw the synagogues and cemetery.
C. Roth, History of the Jews in Venice (1930), passim; I.S. Emmanuel, Histoire des Israélites de Salonique (1936); A. Milano, Storia degli ebrei italiani nel Levante (1949), passim. add. bibliography: D.H. Stravolemou, A Heroism – a Vindication, The Survival of the Jews of Zakynthos in the Occupation (Greek; 1988), 31–35; B. Rivlin, "Zakynthos," in: Pinkas ha-Kehillot Yavan (1999), 117–23; Y. Kerem, "The Survival of the Jews of Zakynthos in the Holocaust," in: Proceedings of the Tenth World Congress of Jewish Studies, Division B, vol. 2 (1990), 387–94; idem, The History of the Jews in Greece, 1821 – 1940, pt. 1 (1985), 473.
[Simon Marcus /
Yitzchak Kerem (2nd ed.)]