I used to live in the jewish district of Corfu when I was a student. And I never regretted it. I loved this neighbourhood and my little house from the first time I was there. Maybe because I felt those strange vibes that only places full of memories can release. Passing by the tall half-demolished buildings you can’t help but remember the cruel mark the history left there.
After a year or so, I traveled to Corfu for-maybe-one last time to see old friends, the places we used to go, my university and of course my old neighbourhood. Nothing feels the same. But everything has changed. I’m not the 18-year-old girl who came here excited; for the first time in her life she would be free! A new life was waiting her in the small flat she would choose to live. All I want now is to wander through my old neighbourhood, to try discovering its old story which is hidden in every building in every corner in every person.
Just before 70 years, this neighbourhood used to be very cosmopolitan. As I stroll down to Velissariou street, I see dozens of people who have come to city centre to go to work, shop, pay a visit to a friend, pay the bills or just wander around, like me. I greet the lady at the bakery, she is always so happy and I remember that positive energy of her every day I stopped by to get a sandwich before the lesson. Next is the traditional kafeneio, a beautiful cafe that serves greek coffee and corfiot beverages. Its clients are mostly older people who consider it the perfect place to meet their friends and spend some time with them. Right a few meters away I pass from the traditional cheese shop, the barber’s and a handmade hats store.
As I pass the small corner shop of Mrs. Maria, a friendly old lady I am finally down my old house. This is the heart of the jewish district and the part that was almost completely destroyed. Among the outlines of the buildings, many crumbling, I try to imagine the jewish district at its most prosperous era before it was forever lost in the shadow of World War II. People were celebrating their festivals, keeping their traditions, working honourably, making friends and family, speaking for love and played. I see a road full of happy faces, of all ages, shopping, talking, going to church to pray, to stroll around in the afternoon. And all this without being threatened by their fellow citizens because they believe in another God! After all, the Jewish quarter of Corfu bears signs of existence as early as the 12th century and except a couple of incidents all people seemed to live harmonically.
The island also flourished until World War II. However when Italy surrendered to the Allies, the island was occupied by the Germans on September 27, 1943. The Germans responded to the Corfiots with a merciless bombardment. During that night many historical buildings were destroyed, such as the Ionian Academy and the Municipal Theatre but the Jewish quarter of Corfu was destined to fade away forever. Approximately 5000 people, most Jews were driven into exile, barricaded in the Old Fortress. Wearing their stars, they left their property and their beautiful life forever. Only 150 of them will return back alive haunted by the ghosts of his fateful night…
The melancholy surrounds me as I pass over my sweet home, which is tucked away in a completely irrelevant point for most people; towards a dirty and half-demolished building, without a single spot of beauty even under the bright sunlight. Now in my house stays someone else, as well as in the homes of the persecuted Jews. Their stores, their favourite places, seem a lot different now as If they never existed. All that remains of the vital Jewish presence in Corfu is La Scuola Greca Synagogue, built in the 18th century and still standing in what was once the “Jewish Ghetto”, together with some half-demolished buildings that the local authorities prefer to leave them in their ugly state.
The memories are now stronger as I arrives at the end of “obriaki” which is how they call the jewish district. Windows are widely open, I hear children’s voices, smells of homemade food are coming out and sounds of the passing cars and motorbikes bring me back to reality; These are my own memories, others are sweet, others bitter, like the ones of the Jews. And even If I left the island forever my memories will accompany me forever as part of my existence, and this is something that noone can deprive us.