An attack by arsonists on Crete’s only remaining Jewish monument, the 17th-century Etz Hayyim Synagogue, was condemned last week, as fears were expressed about more anti-Semitic attacks.
The synagogue was attacked for the second time in 11 days two week ends ago, resulting in severe damage to the building and its contents.
Nicholas Stavroulakis, the founder and director emeritus of the Jewish Museum of Greece and the man responsible for reconstructing the synagogue, described in an e-mail the extent of the destruction from the two fires.
“On the night of January 5, the synagogue was attacked by arsonists and, in the course of a quite rabid fire, my office was destroyed, along with it some 1,800 books and the two computers, among other things.”
He said Saturday’s fire burnt a third of the wooden ceiling, destroyed two offices, numerous reference books and his personal archive.
The Etz Hayyim has been a labour of love for Stavroulakis and he led a project to restore the former 14th-century Venetian church, which reopened as a synagogue in 2000.
The attack was condemned by some high-profile Cretans, including New Democracy Honorary President and former Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis.
“These consecutive arson attacks expose and shame Crete beyond the country’s borders,” he said.
“I call on the government and the police to do whatever they can to arrest the vandals and ensure they answer to justice. Hania is being tested by minorities that are insignificant in number and foreign to the spirit of its people but which give the impression that the state has disintegrated.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but right-wing nationalists are suspected.
“It is an anti-Semitic act,” Moses Constantinis, the head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece saod. “We are worried about the security of the Jewish community and the violation of freedom of religion.”
Jewish synagogues and cemeteries in Larissa, Volos, Thessaloniki, Ioannina and Athens have also been attacked in recent months.