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New app sheds light on Ioannina's lost Jews

Modern technology explores Romaniot Jewish culture

App lets users wander through an interactive map of Ioannina's streets, listen to survivors' testimonies and explore the history, culture and religious rites of its ancient Jewish community through captions and photo galleries

Heinz Kounio (C), a holocaust survivor, and his wife place flowers on the train tracks at the old railway station in Thessaloniki on 16 March, 2014, during a commemoration ceremony marking the departure of the first train from Greece's northern city to the Auschwitz concentration camp on 15 March 1943 (Photo: AFP) Heinz Kounio (C), a holocaust survivor, and his wife place flowers on the train tracks at the old railway station in Thessaloniki on 16 March, 2014, during a commemoration ceremony marking the departure of the first train from Greece's northern city to the Auschwitz concentration camp on 15 March 1943 (Photo: AFP) Seventy years ago this month, the Jews of the city of Ioannina, in the northwestern region of Epirus, were rounded up, loaded onto trucks and deported by the occupying Nazis. Out of some 1,870 men, women and children taken from their homes and dispatched to Auschwitz-Birkenau, fewer than 200 were to survive the war - a death toll of almost 90%.

With a single stroke stroke, the Nazi occupation had destroyed one of Europe's oldest Jewish communities, with a history stretching back to ancient times and a Greek Romaniot culture distinct from that of Thessaloniki's Ladino-speaking Sephardic Jews.

In a surprising turn, however, the memory of the Jews of Ioannina is now set to be revived with the unlikely help of a Canadian-designed mobile app, currently in the final stages of development at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University, thanks to a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

According to Costa Dedegikas, technology adviser for the university's Centre for Hellenic Studies New Media Lab, the project's dual aim is on the one hand to spread awareness of the story of the city's Romaniots and on the other to serve as a guide to Ioannina, thus “promoting tourism through culture”.

It's the latest of a range of educational apps developed by the Centre for Hellenic Studies, covering the breadth of Greece's long history.

The iPhone app and accompanying mobile-friendly website will be launched to coincide with the anniversary of the deportation on March 25, which is being marked with a series of events in Ioannina itself including cultural events, concerts and religious services. Greek and English versions will let users wander through an interactive map of the town's streets, listen to survivors' testimonies and explore the history, culture and religious rites of Ioannina's ancient Jewish community through captions and photo galleries.

Old women and children were among those deported by German troops from Ioannina on 25 March 1944 (Photo: (Photo: German Federal Archive 101I-179-1575-20, Wikimedia Commons) Old women and children were among those deported by German troops from Ioannina on 25 March 1944 (Photo: (Photo: German Federal Archive 101I-179-1575-20, Wikimedia Commons) In a nod to Greece's current political landscape, Ioannina's mayor, Filippos Filios, said at a press conference at Athens' Jewish Museum that he hoped this month's commemorations and the launch of the app would send out a strong antiracist and antixenophobic message. Like many other countries, Greece has long struggled with the legacy of its Nazi occupation. It took 40 years for Ioannina to erect a memorial to its Jews, and Auschwitz survivor Esthir Koen's recent interview in Kathimerini reveals the neglect and hostility faced by the few who returned from the very same death camps whose existence the far right now questions. Perhaps the new light being shone on Ioannina's lost Jews will help to dispel some of Greece's other spectres.

* Commemorative events marking the 70 years since the Holocaust of the Jews of Ioannina will run from Monday 24 March to Sunday 30 March in Ioannina. The app and website “Ioaninna's Jewish Legacy: Yesterday and Today” is scheduled to be launched during the events. This article will be updated when the app is launched. 


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