Italy, who had occupied the former Ottoman-controlled islands in the Aegean Sea (the Dodecanese Islands) in April-May of 1912, gained full sovereignty over these islands after the Lausanne Treaty was ratified on July 24, 1923. The islands' residents, however, were permitted to choose between Turkish and Italian citizenship and many of the Jews, who had peacefully settled in Rhodes following their expulsion from Spain at the end of the 15th century, opted for Italian citizenship. But the Jewish community in Rhodes was subject to the same regulations imposed on Italian Jews by the Falco Law of 1931 that mandated the centralization of Jewish institutions under a national umbrella and placed the Jewish leadership under direct government control.
Since its inception the fascist regime had targeted Aegean Jews as instrumental to its Mediterranean expansion and granted them some benefits - including the creation of the Rhodes Rabbinical Academy - in exchange for their loyalty. The entire population of the island was now subject to Italianization, which included the mandatory use of the Italian language. Jews, who up to that point had lived with a combination of Ottoman customs and the sphere of influence of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, now adopted theItalian language and culture as their own.
The anti-Semitic laws of 1938 were extended to the Dodecanese and - as in the rest of Italy -local police conducted a new census of the Jews, which included 2.500 individuals whose civil rights now came under attack: teachers and students of all ages were expelled from schools, clerks were fired from public offices, individuals were forced to sell their properties - far in excess of any threshold prescribed by law, and retailers were compelled to open their stores on Saturdays. The local newspaper Messaggero di Rodi, importing an ignominious anti-Jewish campaign, began printing the same articles - insulting and demonizing Jews - that had already appeared in the Italian press. The tone was set on September 5, 1938 in an editorial with the noteworthy heading: To Hell with Jews. The Jews of Rhodes, like those in Italy, had been reduced to second-class citizens.
On September 11, 1943, the Italian military command - comprising some 30,000 troops - surrendered to a small German military force commanded by Lieutenant-General Ulrich Kleeman. Though now under German military control, the civil administration remained in the hands of the Italians who - under pressure form the local branch of the fascist party - took the oath of loyalty to the Italian Social Republic.
Nine months would pass before the Reich Security Head Office (RSHA) - now in direct charge of managing the persecution of Jews in every occupied country - turned its attention to the Jews of the Aegean islands. Having received a complete list of all Jews from the Italian carabinieri, the Germans began to plan the deportation. But in the early months of 1944, a British airstrike on the port of Rhodes hit the Jewish quarter, forcing the Jewish population to move to the interior of the island where it would be now difficult, if not impossible, to round them up.
On July 13, 1944, the German command and the Italian administration issued a decree ordering Jews not to leave the city of Rhodes and, if they had, to remain solely in certain mandated villages of the interior. On July 18, the Germans ordered all male Jews age over 16 to present themselves at the Italian Air Force headquarters with their identity cards and work permits. After successfully gathering all the men by this ruse, the German command then invited Jewish women and children to present themselves in the next 24 hours. By July 20, 1944, the entire Jewish community was in German hands, and unable to escape. Only 42 Jews with Turkish citizenship were released under pressure from the Turkish consul - on the basis of the neutrality of his country.
On July 23, 1944, the entire Jewish community, among them children, pregnant women and the elderly, was transported to the port where three boats were waiting for them. On that day, the centuries-old presence of Jews in Rhodes came to an end.
The boats were bound for the port of Piraeus. After many hours, they docked in the small harbor of Kos where a fourth ship, carrying Jews who had been arrested there, joined the transport. Their terrible journey ended on July 31, 1944. The prisoners were brought by truck to Haidari prison, where they were brutally interrogated and mauled by their persecutors, who were looking for coins and jewels. Some died in Haidari, for lack of medicines or from beatings.
On August 3, 1944, the Jews of Kos, Rhodes and Athens were loaded onto cattle cars and sent to Auschwitz, where they arrived on August 16. After selection, more than thousand people were sent to gas chambers.
The excruciating journey from the Dodecanese to Auschwitz is recalled in the film Il viaggio più lungo (The Longest Journey) directed by Ruggero Gabbai and written by Marcello Pezzetti (Rome Shoah Museum) and Liliana Picciotto (Contemporary Jewish Documentation Center).
This website includes the names of all the Dodecanese Jews who were identified as deported, even if they died during the journey to Auschwitz. This research was particularly difficult because of several coincidences of family names and because grandsons were usually given their grandfathers' names. The list of Aegean Jews published in the Libro della Memoria was based on that provided by Hizkià Franco, who managed to survive by escaping to Turkey. For the compilation of the online database Alberta Bezzan, of CDEC, cross-referenced Franco's list with Italian census documents and newly discovered police and municipal records. Based on this new research, the number of Jews who were deported to Rhodes is considered to be 1815. Only 178, of whom a few had managed to remain on the islands, and some had escaped death in the camp, survived.