For 2,300 years, Jews have lived on the island of Rhodes at the southern tip of the Aegean Sea. The community became Sephardic in the sixteenth century, and was among the most renowned Sephardic communities in the world. The synagogue in Rhodes, Kahal Shalom, was built in 1575 and is the oldest functioning synagogue in Greece.
Rhodes was part of Italy during World War II, having been ceded to the Italians after World War I. As with other areas under Italian occupation, the Jews of Rhodes remained relatively safe until the Germans occupied the island in September 1943.
In 1944 there were close to 2,000 Jews living on the island, 50 of whom, as Turkish citizens, fell under the protection of the Turkish consulate. The rest were deported on July 20, 1944.
The timing of the deportation is especially painful since, less than three months later, the Germans were forced to leave Greece. Deportations from Rhodes were the last conducted by the Germans in Greece.
On July 20, 1944, the Jews of Rhodes and the neighboring island of Kos were sent by boat to the Greek mainland. Crammed together in the hot summer sun, without food or water, 23 Jews died on the voyage to the mainland. Those who survived were incarcerated in the SS-operated transit camp Haidary and then deported by train to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only 151 Jews from Rhodes survived the Holocaust.