The island of Corfu in the Ionian Sea had been home to Jews for over 800 years. When the Venetians annexed the island in the fourteenth century, they enclosed the Jewish community in a ghetto. The island’s Jewish population was a mix of Greek-speaking Romaniotes, Ladino-speaking Sephardim, and Italian-speaking Jews from Apulia and Sicily. The relationship between Jews and Christians on the island had been soured by a notorious “Blood Libel” investigation conducted in 1891.
The story of the Holocaust in Corfu is especially unfortunate, in part because it occurred late in the war. The Germans took control of the island in 1943 after the fall of Italy and promulgated antisemitic laws. Corfu’s Mayor Kollas was a known collaborator.
In early June 1944, as the Allies bombed the island to divert attention from the landing at Normandy, German SS and local Greek police forced the Jews of Corfu out of their homes and imprisoned them in the Old Fort. On June 10, 1944, the SS and police, with assistance from Wehrmacht units, deported them. Of the 2,000 Corfu Jews, 200 found sanctuary with Christian families; 1,800 were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In July 1944, 435 of the men who had arrived at Aushwitz-Birkenau on the transport chose immediate death rather than joining the Sonderkommando, the special detachment forced to help the Germans destroy the bodies of Jewish prisoners.