In April/May 1912 Italy occupied the Aegean Islands which belonged to the Ottoman Empire. After the ratification of Lausanne Treaty on July 24, 1923 Italy obtained from WWI winning powers final sovereignty on the islands. The residents were recognized as having the right to choose between Turkish and Italian citizenship. Jews, who were a small, centuries-old community which had peacefully settled in Rhodes after the expulsion from Spain at the end of XV century, opted for Italian citizenship and subsequently adopted Italian culture and language.
In 1938, Italy adopted anti-Semitic laws and extended them to Dodecanese; these Fascist anti-Jewish laws included forced registration in the registry of births, marriages and deaths of Jews. In 1939 about 2.000 individuals were profiled and affected by civil rights and individual freedom restrictions: school kids, students and teachers were expelled from schools, clerks were fired from public offices, individuals were forced to sell their properties exceeding a certain threshold prescribed by law and retailers were compelled to open their stores on Saturday. The "Messaggero di Rodi" began to publish the same insulting and demonizing articles against Jews which already appeared in the motherland press, importing an ignominious anti-Jewish campaign: the tone was set on September 5, 1938 by an editorial with a significant title: "To Hell with Jews". The Jews of Rhodes, as those of Italy before them, were reduced to second-class citizens.
On September 11, 1943 Dodecanese too was invaded by German troops, like Italian Peninsula three days before. Nine months went by before Reich Security Head Office (RSHA), in charge of managing persecution against Jews in every occupied country, tackled the issue of local Jews. Note the depraved insanity to extend the genocidal will thousands of kilometres from Germany. The nine months elapsed
induced in Jews a false perception of security, which was lethal.
On July 13, 1944 the German command enacted the order for Jews not to leave the city of Rhodes and surrounding villages where they were displaced because of Allied bombings. On July 18, Germans prescribed that every male Jew aged over 16 must present himself at the Italian Air Force command, in the new city, with identity cards and work permits. After gathering every man under false pretences and without letting them get out, the German command invited Jewish women and children to present themselves in the next 24 hours. On July 20, 1944 the whole community was already in German hands, being unable to get out. Only about fifty Jews of neutral Turkish citizenship were released on pressure from Turkish consul.
On July 23, 1944 the whole Jewish community, among them many children and pregnant women, was pulled out of the Air Force command; Jews were driven down the main street, which had been made deserted by a false alert, toward the commercial harbour, where three freighters were waiting with open stows: inside them, there was straw soiled with dung on the floor and water tanks in the middle. On that day, the centuries-old presence of Jews in Rhodes came to an end.
The freighters were bound to Piraeus harbour. The crossing was terrible: none could get out from below deck to catch some fresh air, heat was suffocating, there were no toilets, no way to keep personal hygiene, most passengers were seized by malaise. According to testimonies, a dozen people died during the crossing. After many hours, the freighters docked in the small harbour of Kos, where a fourth ship with the Jews who had been arrested there joined the others three. The terrible travel ended on July 31, 1944. Captives were brought by truck to Haidari prison, where they were brutally interrogated and fondled by their persecutors, who were looking for coins and jewels. More captives died during their permanence in Haidari prison, for lack of drugs or savage beatings.
On August 3, 1944, the group was taken on leaded carriages and sent to Auschwitz extermination camp, where it arrived on August 16; after the selection, more than thousand people were sent to gas chambers.
The excruciating travel from Dodecanese to Auschwitz is recalled also in the film "Il viaggio più lungo" (The Longest Journey) by Ruggero Gabbai, written by Marcello Pezzetti (Rome Shoah Museum) and Liliana Picciotto (Contemporary Jewish Documentation Center).
This website includes all the Dodecanese Jews who were identified as deported, even if they died during the travel. The research was particularly difficult because of several coincidences of family names and because grandsons were usually given their grandfathers' names. On the Libro della Memoria we already made a list based on the one excellently compiled by Hizkià Franco -who managed to survive by escaping to Turkey by boat- which we improved thanks to newly collected testimonies. Now, during a special mission to Rhodes, we discovered new documentary sources which were brought to Italy, studied, examined and clarified thanks to the work of CDEC collaborator Alberta Bezzan.
So far, identified individuals who were hauled to Auschwitz from Rhodes and Kos on a crazy tragic journey of thousands of kilometers are 1815. After the deportation, only 178 members of Rhodes Jewish community were alive.
Anyone who has corrections or new data to communicate to update this list will be meritorious.