The 19th century saw the rise of Greek nationalism, which found expression in the Greek Revolution of 1821 on the mainland, turning into the decade-long Greek War of Independence. The beginning of that revolution included a massacre of Jews and Muslims in the Morea (Peloponnese). As Greek nationalism was set against Ottoman-Muslim rule and – as the century progressed – clad in increasingly Orthodox Christian rhetoric, Cretan Jews did not fit into this new set of nationalist identifications. They were marginalized by the major rift between the Cretan Christian and Muslim populations.

The 19th century was marked by violence between the local Christian and Muslim communities; the majority of the Muslim population was however of ethnic Cretan and not Turkish origin. There was a series of uprisings of the Cretan Christian populations against Ottoman rule. The Ottoman authorities reacted in many instances with brutal force but occasionally with administrative changes including guarantees of religious and legal rights. These were made by a decree issued in the name of the Sultan in 1858 and the establishment of a General Assembly and regional councils, in which the Cretan Jews were also represented.

At the same time, the Great Powers remained wary of a breakup of the Ottoman Empire and thus refused to support mounting aspirations for a union of Crete with Greece. Instead, in 1898, Crete was made an autonomous republic under a Greek prince regent. A parliament was established, with several Jewish representatives who managed to claim their constitutionally guaranteed seats only with great difficulty. After Crete was formally annexed to Greece in 1913, Jewish emigration continued until, by 1941, only about 360 Jews were living on the island.

Photo 1
Source: public domain

Photo 2: © The Jewish Museum of Greece

Map of Crete, 1861

Jewish neighborhood (Ovraiki) in Hania

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