This years memorial service on June 28th was especially notable as we had just completed the sarcophagus in the south courtyard of the synagogue where a special delineation (eruv) had been made in the 18th century to create a small burial site – eventually for four rabbis. Several weeks ago we were asked by the Archaeological Service to assist in identifying several skeletal remains that had been found in the vicinity of the now destroyed Jewish cemetery. It was not difficult to ascertain that indeed they were Jewish burials – to the number of 15. Through the assistance of the Director of the Archaeological Service, Dr. Michsel Andreanakis and one of his team. Mr Vasillis Varouhakis, the delicate matter of assuming responsibility for the remains was accomplished very quickly and with a quite notable absence of paper work and bureaucratic hassle.
The very absence of any names on the large flat stones covering the burials indicated that they had been carried out between 1941 and 1944 when during the Nazi Occupation of Hania it would have been impossible to have proper stones cut in Hebrew. Possibly the undersides had been inscribed with names for later identification but these had all been lost. As we have no Jewish cemetery we initially sought the assistance of the Salonika Jewish Community whose president Mr. David Saltiel, offered assistance in having them buried there. In the end, however, it was felt more appropriate that they remain in Hania and a solution was found in recourse to the ancient Jewish practice that lasted well into Hellenistic times, of family sarcophagi. There was sufficient space in the area where the rabbis are buried for the construction of such a ‘container’ and thus the bones from each burial were deposited in white linen bags, and numbered according to where they had been found in the cemetery. The edifice measures about 1,80 x 1.60 and has been sealed and white washed and shortly a plaque with verses taken from Ezekiel will be put up – in Hebrew, Greek and English that reads ‘I will put my breath to enter into you and you shall live again. I will lay sinews upon you and cover you with flesh and form skin over you. And I will put breath into you and you shall live again, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” Surmounting the sarcophagus is a small niche in which has been embedded a copy of a gilt glass Hellenistic Jewish ‘seal’ with a depiction of the Temple and Menorah. The original was found in the Jewish Catacombs of Rome. This copy was a gift of Mrs. Louisa Klein.
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