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Research

© Historical Archive of Crete

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Hania Community Research

Jewish communities in Greece outside of Athens and Thessaloniki have rarely found their way into modern historical studies. With the exception of Salonica (today’s Thessaloniki), once the largest Jewish community in Greece, most other Greek Jewish communities have not, as yet, been the focal point of any detailed historical study. Jewish Crete is such a case. Although the tragic circumstances of the destruction of the Cretan Jewish community, as a whole, in June 1944 have been reconstructed to a significant extent, nevertheless, our knowledge of the island’s Jewish communities in the years prior to this event remains fragmented at best.

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The ongoing research at Etz Hayyim seeks to address this gap in our collective knowledge. It focuses on the Jews of Hania, Crete’s largest pre-war Jewish community in the 20th century, and aims to elucidate this community’s life in the troubled decades before the Second World War.

© Jewish Museum of Greece

A sample biography: Leon Betsikas / Λέων Μπέτσικας (1917-1944)

Leon Betsikas was born on 3 March 1917 in Hania where he lived with his parents, Raphael and Perla and his four sisters, Hrysoula, Anna, Sterina and Sara in the former Jewish Quarter, Evraiki, close to Etz Hayyim Synagogue. Records indicate that Leon was recruited into the army at the start of the Second World War and soon found himself at the Albanian frontline in 1940. In 1941, Leon left the army and joined the rest of the Betsikas family and their relatives, the Trevezas family, in Athens following their escape from Hania during the German Occupation of Crete. However, soon afterwards, Leon and his father were arrested, with Leon being deported to Auschwitz where he arrived on 18 April 1944. He was eventually brought to Mauthausen-Ebensee on 25 January 1945 where he died on 24 April 1945, less than two weeks before the liberation of the camp by American troops. Among his surviving family members, his death is remembered as having been caused by him consuming a large amount of food which his starved stomach could not digest- a common cause of death for numerous concentration camp inmates at the time of liberation. However, the files of Mauthausen concentration camp list Leon Betsikas’ death as dating to before the liberation. Therefore, the circumstances surrounding his death must be further investigated.