On 12 May 1944, the Commander of the German Police in Athens, on orders from Himmler, notified relevant sections of the Wehrmacht that the Jews of Corfu and Crete were to be deported “with the utmost possible dispatch.” The plan included their arrest, transport to Athens and deportation to Auschwitz.
The Jews of Hania were arrested on 21 May 1944 by the Wehrmacht. The SS, which normally carried out such actions with the assistance of the army, was not stationed in Crete. The Jews on Skoufon and Doukas streets were herded down to the harbour whereas those on Kondylaki and Portou streets were pushed through a narrow funnel-like passage that leads out of the Jewish Quarter at its southern end and into a small open area where trucks were waiting to load them. Other trucks had been stationed in the harbour. The eye-witness report by Katilena Singelaki describes the arrest of the community and the ensuing looting of Jewish homes.
The community was then brought to the prison of Ayias near Hania, where they were kept in appalling conditions. Several days after the arrest, while the community was still incarcerated at the prison of Ayias, Wehrmacht soldiers entered the synagogue and removed all religious and liturgical artefacts, books and presumably the archive of the community and dumped them into the back courtyard of what is presently the Archaeological Museum (at that time used as a military depot). The fate of the artefacts and the archive is unknown. The community cemetery was equally destroyed.
After 14 days in the Ayias prison, the community was loaded onto cargo trucks and taken to Heraklion on 4 June, where they were held in the Makasi Fortress prison for several days before their last voyage on the Tánaïs.
Photo 3: © Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece: Etz Hayyim Synagogue Commemorative Album, 2nd ed., Athens 2008.