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The Corfu Pogrom 1891

The pogrom in Corfu in April 1891 is an infamous example of a blood libel accusation, which stirred ethnic antagonism, religious passion and existing anti-Jewish stereotypes and got out of control. Jews in Corfu were accused of having murdered a girl in order to use her blood for ritual purposes. The Jewish community came under siege. The extreme violence had a spillover effect on the neighboring islands of Zakynthos and Lefkada, and the news shocked the public in Great Britain, France, Spain and Austria.

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Greek society, like many other Christian societies, considers the Jews as deicides responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. In Greek folk songs Jews are depicted as unclean and leprous, while Jewish women are portrayed as witches and murderers of children. The image of the Jewish Karangiozi, the Greek shadow theater puppet, resembles a miser, a vulture, a crafty person and a coward. Anti-Jewish sentiments increased during Holy Week just before Easter in 1891. Connected with this theme is the “burning of Judas”, a custom observed around Greece which was initially forbidden by the Athens Metropolitan Germanos the same year as the pogrom in Corfu and the anti-Jewish riots in Zakynthos and Lefkada. From 1840 to 1930 more than thirty cases of blood libel accusations were recorded in the Greek and Jewish press.

The number of casualties in Corfu in April 1891 numbered between 17 and 22 (some foreign correspondents claimed 50) while in the aftermath of the attacks more than 2,500 people – half of the island’s Jewish population – left the island. The measures taken by the police did not sufficiently protect the Jews. Although three ecclesiastical circulars were issued in 1891, 1910 and 1918, the custom is still in practice. The pogrom in Corfu caused Jews immense existential fear while the authorities’ failure to protect them shattered their belief in the efficiency of the state and its institutions. For many terrified Jews, exile appeared to be the only strategy of survival. As a result the island lost an important group of people who had contributed to its prosperity and multi-cultural identity. A severe blow was dealt against the cultural heterogeneity of Corfu and Greece’s image abroad.

A society can wage a successful struggle against such obsolete and dangerous phenomena only through education, enlightened priesthood and resolute state authorities.

References

Ambatzopoulou, F. (1998), O allos en diogmo. I ikona tou Evreou sti logotechnia. Zitimata Istorias ke mithoplasias. Athens, Themelio.

Pierron, B. (1996). Juifs et Chrétiens de la Grèce Moderne. Histoire des Relations Intercommunautaires de 1821 à 1945. Paris, Harmatan.

Το Πάσχα του μίσους | Η Εφημερίδα των Συντακτών (article “The Easter of hatred”, published on April 11, 2015, on Ef Syn)

Visuals

Petsalis: Collection Of Corfu Island, Greece documents (Corfu Museum website)

https://hydra.com.gr/pasxa/?lang=en (article “Easter in Hydra island” on the official “Hydra Island” website)

Debunking response