Helen Schild

Cultural Association Ligiades and Jewish Community Ioannina

Ioannina is the capital of the northwestern region of Epirus with more than 100.000 inhabitants. The city was and is a center of Romaniotic Jews. They are Greek-speaking and their ancestors lived in Greece since the Hellenistic period. Since the 9th century there has been a Jewish community in Ioannina, which numbered more than 2000 members before the German invasion of Greece.

Kehila Kedosha Janina – the Jewish community of Ioannina – is alive and active to this day. It operates a synagogue and a museum and offers a variety of cultural and religious activities.

Above the town on a mountain range lays the village Ligiades, also known as the “balcony” because of its location. On October 3rd in 1943, the inhabitants of Ligiades went to the mountains to harvest walnuts. Back in the village mostly children and elderly people remained. In the afternoon, the first Division of the German Wehrmacht raided the village and carried out a massacre among those left behind. The Germans killed 82 residents, including 34 children under the age of 12. They destroyed and burned the houses and made the survivors homeless. Ligiades is just one of many Greek villages where brutal war crimes were committed against the civilian population during the German occupation. Today it belongs to the Association of Martyrs’ Communities in Greece. A cultural association runs a small museum, which is to be developed as a seminar and educational place. The documentary film “To Balkoni” commemorates the victims of the Wehrmacht crimes.

Activities for Volunteers:

Work in the Jewish Community of Ioannina:
Translation activities (German and English)
Maintenance of the website of the Jewish Community Ioannina and social media
Assisting with preparation of exhibitions and events
Help with documentation and archival and research work in the Jewish Museum, Digitization of documents from the community archive
Maintenance work at the Jewish Cemetery

Work in Ligiades:
Supporting the cultural association at events
Accompaniment of seminars and educational days with school classes or other groups
Presenting the documentary film “To Balkoni”
Help with the digitization of the historical archive of Ligiades
Assisting with the development of the Ligiades Museum and Cultural Center

Requirements:

The volunteer should be a communicative, historically-politically interested person. We expect respect, openness and interest towards our confessional partners in the Jewish community. A part of the work can be to accompany visitors and groups – this requires someone who likes to speak in front of people.

Report by the first ASF volunteer Helen who is working in Ioannina and Ligiades:

“When I first got to Ioannina, I was not quite sure what to expect, since the projects I was told about were just starting to take place and so there were some organisation issues that still had to be solved. It took some time to get used to the new environment and to get a solid working schedule, so in the beginning I found myself being confused and sometimes frustrated but after a short while I started taking part in various projects. One of my main purposes here is to exchange cultural differences. Thus, I started giving German lessons twice and English lessons once per day, from Monday to Wednesday. But other than that I include information about traditions and general culture, to not only focus on the language but to create diverse conversations. On Thursdays and Fridays I spend my time in the office of the Cultural Center, where I research, write and publish articles for the website about the Jewish community of Ioannina and Ligiades that I am currently working on.
Another project that I am currently working on is creating an interactive tour around Ioannina, featuring the most important parts of Jewish history there. Right now, the synagogue in Ligiades is closed for renovation, so there are not many activities taking place there. But I am really looking forward to explore this and other places connected to my work in the future. Further than that, I am very motivated to learn and also educate others about the history of Ligiades, because during some conversations with the locals, I noticed that not many of them know about its historical context. I feel like there is a lot of international apathy towards this issue and I see it as crucial to spread more awareness, regarding the political as well as the historical context connected to it.

In conclusion, I am very happy to be here and to be part of this project. Ioannina is a beautiful city and a great place to make long lasting experiences. Despite feeling a little bit lonely during the first weeks, I have made quite a few friends now and acquaintances, that I am getting along with well. The other volunteers and I also meet up regularly and it is good to have people to share your experience with. In addition to that, I have been taking Greek lessons for a few months now, which helped me a lot so far. Learning this new language is something I enjoy a lot and I am very glad to see a huge progress so far. I am looking forward to making even more memories, like exploring more of the country and getting new skills along the way.”

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