One of the Last Jews of Corfu





Jonas Plaut


In June 2017  I traveled for two weeks to off-the-beaten path Jewish communities in Central Greece. These historic communities have ancient roots and have been in existence for five hundred to a thousand years. I visited the following  cities: Chalkis, Volos, Larrissa, Karditsa, Trikala, Ioannina and Corfu. The Jewish communities in these cities were the subject of extensive research by my father beginning in 1983, which was published in his academic book in 1996. The purpose of this return visit was for me  to compare and contrast what is now (in 2017) with what was then (in 1983).

This was also a father and son journey, a  passing of the torch.  I  learned first-hand about what it takes for both individuals and a community to survive in isolated areas of the Jewish diaspora.  I participated in ethnographic and contemporary history fieldwork by interviewing people, and photographing and documenting Jewish communal life of post-Holocaust descendants living in the rural provinces of Greece.  I met elderly Holocaust survivors, partisan fighters and their offspring born after 1945.  This was my first experience with ethnographic field research and I learned a tremendous amount about both the communities that we visited and, ultimately, about myself.





About the Photos on This Site


The photographs on this website reflect my impressions of the remnants of Jewish life in communities ranging from 10 to 250 resident Jews. My experience was at once educational and fascinating and yet, profoundly sad. I  witnessed first-hand how Jews in Greece today struggle to keep their communities alive 74 years after the Holocaust,  during which  89% of Greek Jewry was murdered in Auschwitz and Birkenau.  What I discovered during my ethnographic survey is this: Jewish survival is reflexive. Keeping alive a community with few Jews in residence  is a difficult challenge that ultimately may not succeed. In each community that I visited, I photographed 500-year old overgrown graveyards, former Jewish neighborhoods, the few remaining Jewish shopkeepers, and the synagogue. Several communities have worked tirelessly to preserve their synagogue. In  Trikala, however, the synagogue is barely standing, its pillars cracking with age and insect infestation. The very small Trikala community is desperate for funds to repair, restore and preserve their synagogue. In contrast, in Corfu, the synagogue is beautifully restored, open every day for tourist visits, and used for the Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The time that I spent with these dwindling Greek Jewish communities made me keenly aware of the far-reaching consequences  of the Holocaust of Greek Jewry.  There are, however, glimmers in several of these communities of a determination to survive.  I learned that through outreach to community members who have left for Athens, Salonika, the United States or Israel, community leaders are determined, at the very least, to historically preserve their buildings and their artifacts.  I was impressed by the perseverance and the spirit of the people I met and photographed.

This body of work will be part of a journal article and a photography exhibit in New York City and Boston in 2018.



Portfolio






Inquiries


All inquiries concerning the photography found on this site should be directed to:

Jonas Plaut
jplaut@earthlink.net

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