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Cuomotini, Greece

CUOMOTINI (Turk. Gumuldjina), city in northeastern Greece in the region of Thrace. Jewish settlement is known from the early 16th century when, according to a population census, the Jewish community numbered 100 people or 25 head of household. The first settlers came from Edirne and later Salonika, and a Jewish community, primarily Sephardi, existed until the Bulgarians deported the Jews of the city in World War II.

When *Nathan of Gaza , the key follower of the false messiah *Shabbetai Ẓevi , fled from Edirne and Ipsula, he found refuge in Cuomotini with Shabbateans. He was driven out of the city by opponents who placed a ḥerem against him.

A synagogue, immediately outside of the city walls, existed from the 18th century.

In 1786, the Jews were victims of an attack by a Turkish army rebel and his small force who revolted, attacked the walled city, locked themselves in, and forced the Jews who lived within the walls to collaborate with them and shoot at the army. They had to feed the captives and break the Sabbath. The Ḥakham Jacob saved the community by bribery and the Jewish women cared for the wounded insurgents. The Jews escaped prosecution from the authorities also by bribery, and the 22nd of Elul became a day of commemoration on which they did not work. An unfinished hymn was composed by Rabbi Daniel de Avila.

In the 1860s the Carasso, Abravanel, Nahmias, and Molho families of Salonika settled in Cuomotini. In the 1880s, the Jews lived within the walls and the gates were locked at night. According to legend, in 1888–89 the Jews did not live in the city but came daily as traders from Drama and elsewhere and were only permitted to live inside the walls after the sick wife of a Turkish official could not find a Jewish merchant who sold natural medicines, on condition that they would reside in the city permanently. Seventy houses in the Turkish Quarter were allocated to them and they were given permission to build a synagogue inside the walls.

In 1907 the Jewish community numbered 200 families. By the early 20th century, there were four philanthropic associations as well as a ḥevra kaddisha and a bikkur ḥolim. Since Jews were not admitted to Greek-Orthodox schools, a Jewish school was founded in 1889, but it closed down shortly afterward owing to financial difficulties. A boys school was established in 1899 and a separate girls school was also set up. A coeducational school was founded in 1910, which received assistance from the Alliance Israélite Universelle. In 1912 it had 246 students.

The community was under Bulgarian rule from 1912 until 1922. A branch of the Bulgarian Association for Hebrew Language and Culture was established in the city.

When Turkey ceded Thrace and Cuomotini became Greek, the Jews had to designate three buildings to house refugees. In 1928, the community numbered 1,159 people. New organizations included the cultural Cercle Israelite, the women's volunteer Rofeh Holim, and the Zionist Aḥdut and B'nai Israel. In 1934, Meir Dasa sat on the local municipal council.

In November 1940, after the commencement of the Albanian campaign, the government sequestered the Jewish school. In April 1941, the Bulgarians annexed Thrace. In early 1942, Jewish youth were seized for forced labor. The Bulgarians ran a harsh and violent occupation. While some 28 escaped, most of the Jews were arrested on March 4, 1943, and transported in 20 open train cars to the notorious Dupnitsa transit camp, and then dispatched from Lom by boat via the Danube. The Jews from Cuomotini and Kavala on the Karageorge were shot by the Bulgarians and the Germans; while three other boats, of which one held Cuomotini Jews, arrived in Vienna and from there the Thracian Jews were sent to Treblinka; where they were gassed upon arrival. The Bulgarians confiscated all of the Jewish properties and possessions.

Only 18 Jews returned to the city, left with nothing. Most did not stay, leaving for Athens, the United States, or Israel. The synagogue, which had been used as a stable during the war, was returned, but served as a storage facility until 1980. In the early 1990s the roof collapsed and the municipality tore down the structure in 1994.

Sources:Y. Kerem, "The Jewish Community of Cuomotini. A Unique Case of Communal Organization and Philanthropic Consciousness," in: Proceedings of the XIIth Congress of CIEPO, Archiv Orientalni, Supplementa VIII (1998), 189–96; B. Rivlin, "Cuomotini," in: Pinkas Kehillot Yavan (1999), 339–47.

[Yitzchak Kerem (2nd ed.)]

Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.