Everybody needs a guide – I

Somewhere in the Greek town of Zakynthosthere is a Jewish cemetery. It served the small Jewish community that existed on the island of the same name from the end of the 15th century until 1955. But finding that cemetery turned into more of an adventure than I anticipated.

A newspaper report gave its location as the Rouveli area, near Bohali. Finding Bohali (pronounced BO-ha-lee) was no problem. One just walks uphill 2 kilometers toward the fortress at the top of the mountain. That Jews would have carted their dead so far for burial did not make a lot of sense, but inGibraltarthe old Jewish cemetery was also high on a hill, so the location didn’t seem that strange.

The road passed houses surrounded by large gardens. Tiny olives were just beginning to appear, and figs were still ripening; but lemon trees had orange-size fruit, and one tree had lusciously fat apricots. Wildflowers, including brilliantly orange poppies, lined the roads. And there were spectacular views of the town and the sea.

But near and in Bohali people had either never heard of the nekrotafia evreo or had various opinions as to its location.

One person pointed in the direction of the fortress, which turned out to be locked and which had no sign of a Jewish cemetery. Another insisted adamantly that it was 2 kilometers down the mountain, near the Palatino Hotel, more or less where my husband and I had set out.

Somewhat discouraged, we headed down the road we’d come up, but then spied steep steps that appeared to shorten the way down. At the foot of the steps, we again asked about the cemetery. A woman who appeared to be about 40 answered in good English.

“It’s right up there,” she said, pointing to the top of the steps.

“But we just came from there,” I replied, sure she was another expert on where the cemetery isn’t.

“It’s right behind the house facing the top of the steps,” she said, and gave us precise directions. “It’s just three minutes from here.”

So we trudged back up the steps, continued right about 100 yards, took the first left and then the first right. And there we were, as she said we would be, at the black gate with the Star of David, next door to the Agios Filikon church.

The gate was open, though it appeared that the cemetery keeper was away. Like the gardens we had passed on our way up the mountain, the cemetery had an olive tree, a fig tree, and a lemon tree with fruit. Wildflowers grew in profusion among the graves.

Apart from one clearly new stone in the entrance, which had a Greek inscription that I believe refers to the one family on the island that was killed by the Nazis, the gravestones were old and eroded. A few, set a little to the side, were ornamented on top with a garland-like relief. Some had been coated recently with white stucco, and each of these had a headstone with a Star of David on it, but no inscription. A few appeared to be graves of children; I put a stone on one of those. There were stones on a few other graves, indicating that the cemetery is not forgotten.

I was relieved that we had accomplished our mission, and had we not been searching for the cemetery, we would have missed the gardens, the fruit trees, and the views of the town and the sea.


Text copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No portion of this text may be reproduced without the express permission of Esther Hecht.



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4 Responses to “Everybody needs a guide – I”

  1. David Says:

    I am glad you accomplished your mission – but what was your mission? To see it, to honour it, to pay your respects, something else ?

    Any photos?

    ‘nekrotafia’ sounds vaguely disturbing. Funny how a word in another language can evoke such a different feeling.

  2. David Says:

    Ah, I wondered whether it was because you had connections there (I guess you would have said) or just because of the fact that it was a Jewish cemetery and that that was enough to mean you would want to go to visit it.

    If the technical problem with the photos is anything I can help with, do let me know and I would be more than glad to help.

    • estherhecht Says:

      Thanks, David. The main technical problem is time. I may repost this bit with pictures, but that depends on whether I have time and an Internet connection in the coming days.

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