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June 8: The Jews of Crete, At One Blow

June 8, 2013

GRC-EtzHayim-b4-rest-facadeThe Greek tanker Tanias was torpedoed and sunk by a British submarine on this date (some sources say the early hours of June 9th) in 1944. The ship was commanded by the German military and held several hundred Greek and Italian prisoners of war, as well as all 263 Jews of Crete, including many children, who were being delivered to the Greek mainland for transit to a concentration camp in Poland, likely Auschwitz. All the people aboard the Tanias were drowned; their British attackers were pursuing a policy of torpedoing all enemy ships emerging from Crete’s harbors, which were known to transport German troops to the mainland. Today, there is barely a minyan of Jews living in Crete, the vestiges of a small community that existed on the Mediterranean island for more than 2,000 years.

“Dr. Nikos Stavroulakis, a Jewish art historian, museum designer and curator, author, theatrical costume designer, artist, cookery writer and much more besides, who had returned to his late father’s house in Chania, persuaded the World Monuments Fund and some wealthy donors to back a plan to rebuild Etz Hayyim. On 10 October 1999, after five years’ work, 350 people assembled to witness the rededication of the synagogue.” —Antony Lerman, Guardian