The Jewish Community During the Holocaust
The Italian Occupation of Ioannina
On the eve of the war between Greece and Italy, in October 1940, Jews from Ioannina were recruited into the Greek army. The Jewish recruits from Ioannina were among the first Greek soldiers on the Albanian front (which had been taken by Italy a year and a half earlier). Five Jews from Ioannina fell in battle, and many others were injured. A number of Jewish soldiers from Ioannina achieved high ranking positions in the Greek army.
Due to its proximity to the Greek border with Albania, the residents of the Ioannina suffered many hardships during the war, including unemployment, inflation and hunger. Only some 2,000 of the city’s 5,000 Jews remained in the city for the duration of the war. The rest emigrated before the fighting broke out, or fled the city afterwards, heading to other regions in Greece. The city fell to the Germans, but its control and administration were left to the Italians.
In the spring of 1943 Jews from Ioannina began receiving letters and telegrams from relatives and friends in other parts of German occupied Greece. The Jews of Ioannina learnt of what was taking place in Salonika. Some members of the community insisted that they were in imminent danger, but the deputy head of the community, Shabetai Kabeli, rebuffed these claims and was adamant about the Jews not leaving the city and joining the partisans. Influenced by Kabeli, most of the Jewish community chose to remain in the city. A minority, however, opted to follow the advice of Dr. Kofinas, the head of the community, and left the city, either going into hiding or headed for Athens, where there were better possibilities for rescue and hiding.
At the end of July 1943, after the Jews of Macedonia were deported to Auschwitz, an SS division arrived in Ioannina. Kurt Waldheim was among the member of the Wehrmacht who were active in the area. Waldheim’s unit collected intelligence on the Jews of Ioannina, which it transmitted to the commander of the SS division, noting that they expected the Jews to pose a military threat. The SS commander convinced Kabeli that the Jews of Ioannina would receive special treatment from the Germans, as they spoke Greek and not Ladino. Kabeli made this information public, but some Jews joined the Greek underground nonetheless. In August of 1943 the Greek underground killed a German soldier, and in retaliation the Germans murdered ten prisoners, among them two Jews from Ioannina, Nisim Batis and his father-in-law Iosef Batis.