A rare glimpse into the life of the Jewish community is offered by a 1943 photograph of Sara and Ioudita Kounio, a copy of which was presented to the director of Etz Hayyim Synagogue, Nikos Stavroulakis, by a visitor on a spring morning in 2000, soon after the reopening of the synagogue. In his account of that meeting, he gives the story of the Kounio girls:
[The visitor] was in her late 70s [...] and dressed informally and obviously not a tourist. […] She explained that she was from Athens and was not Jewish, but had been born in Hania […] In 1943 she had lived in the Jewish Quarter, in the ‘small’ Jewish Quarter that occupied the eastern side of Skoufon Street, just behind Etz Hayyim. Apparently her family had only moved there after the Occupation had begun in 1941 and not long after arriving she met two young Jewish girls with whom she became very close, almost inseparable – at least for a summer and then her family found a means for leaving Hania and not long after that […] reaching the Greek mainland. She had never returned to Crete until it happened that recently she came on this visit that in turn brought her to the synagogue. She wanted only to know what had happened to her two friends – were they perhaps alive? Had they perhaps escaped? Could she make contact with them? […]
While she was asking me this, she opened an envelope and took out a photograph of two young girls. Both are wearing black and one is perched on the edge of a parapet that was probably located along the top of a house […]. I turned over the picture and found an inscription written in blue ink “From your dear friends Sara and Ioudita” – with no date. […] She explained that Sara had burnt her hand which is why she wore a bandage on it. She also said that there was another sister but she couldn’t remember her name. In fact she couldn’t remember the girls’ last name either – could she find them? Were they perhaps even living somewhere in Hania? The picture had been a going away present and so could be dated to 1943.
We sat for some time and I explained what had happened in some detail. […] We sat down with her and began to go through the lists. I found them very quickly. They had lived on Skoufon Street at no. 18 – the daughters of Leon and Rachel Kounio. Leon had died in 1939 and his widow had lived on in the house with the three daughters – Sarah, Judith and Boulissa. All four of them perished.
Photo 1: © Etz Hayyim Synagogue