Evidence dates the presence of Jews in Ioannina to 70 CE. The Ioannina Jews formed a Romaniote community, composed of Greek Jews already settled in the city before the influx of Sephardim in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Unlike other Jewish communities of the period, the Jews in Ioannina preserved their Romaniote culture and continue to maintain that culture and special liturgy today.
Initially, Ioannina was occupied by the Italians, and Jews did not experience any discrimination until Italy surrendered in September 1943.
After the Germans took over, Jewish leaders adopted a wait-and-see policy, hoping that the Germans would leave them alone as well. The Germans told members of the communities that what had happened in Thessaloniki would not happen in Ioannina because the Ioannina Jews, as Greek speakers, were not akin to the Ladino-speaking Jews of Thessaloniki.
In March 1944, however, the president of the Jewish community in Ioannina, Dr. Moses Koffinas, was arrested. While detained, he learned of Germany’s plans to deport Jews, and he smuggled a note out to Sabetai Kabelis, a prominent member of the Jewish Community Board, advising the Jews to flee. Unfortunately, Kabelis chose not to relay the warning to Ioannina’s Jews, and on March 25, 1944, the entire Jewish community of 1,860 people, including Kabelis himself, was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.