The roots of the city's collective memory

Next to the only living eyewitnesses of the first act of the drama with the extermination of the Jewish community of Ioannina, in the century-old plane trees of Mavili square, whose bare trunks are captured in the photos - document of that day, three new ones were planted on Friday 24.3.2023 trees, as symbols of preserving collective memory.

On March 25, 1944, the Nazi occupation troops gathered at Pl. Mavili all the members of the still thriving Jewish community of the city, with a history of 2.000 years of presence in Ioannina. Nearly 2.000 souls, after being counted, separated by gender and age, boarded hundreds of trucks and began their journey to hell. Few survived and even fewer managed to return to their home town. The wound in the soul of the city - and not only the Jewish community - remains open even today, where the members of the Community now number a few dozen, with deaths far outnumbering births for decades.

79 years later, the visual artists David Behar Perahia and Fotis Sagonas took the relevant initiative and proposed to the municipality of Ioannito a commemorative event with a symbolic character, which at the same time has an environmental footprint and a message.

So, in the area where some diseased plane trees were recently uprooted, captured in the 14 shocking photos from that day, three new trees, one oak and two maples, were planted.

The event was attended by the mayor of Ioannina Dim. Papageorgiou and the entire municipal authority, councilors, members of the Israeli community and others. "On March 25, 1944, in the same place, the Nazi troops committed a crime. The price for our city was high. Today we honor the memory of our fellow citizens who we lost. As a municipality of Ioannina, we support the Jewish Community and we pledge that the memory will be eternal", said the mayor of Ioannina in his statements.

The president of the Israeli Community of Ioannina, Markos Battinos, representing the Central Jewish Council of Greece, thanked the two artists and the municipality of Ioannina for this initiative. "Tree planting is an important, public act of commemoration. The life of the trees will symbolize the lives that were lost in the Holocaust, but also the lives that were never born", he said in his statements and mentioned the ecological value of this initiative.

"The naked witnesses..."

The two artists, for their part, emphasized that the trees of the square are captured in all the photographic documents of 1944. "Most of the trees that still exist in the area today are the living witnesses of that day. Their silent testimony, with their bare trunks and bare branches as they are today, just before they bloom is a symbol of memory for the souls lost forever. These trees were the last to embrace the city's Jewish community. It was a loss of people, culture, traditions, language of a community with a presence of 2.000 years and what we want is their memory to stay alive and grow as long as the trees grow and develop", said Mr. Sagonas.

"The loss was multifaceted. It was the loss of a Community with a presence of 2.000 years in the city. This action initiates a wider cycle of spatial episodes in the specific place. Memory can develop and manifest, like the life cycle of a growing tree," noted Mr. Behar Perahia for his part.

Source: By ALEXANDROS PAPADOPOULOS, Eleftheria Epirus, 25.3.2023