The idea of building a Jewish Museum of Greece was first conceived in the 1970’s by members of the Jewish Community of Athens, who offered every kind of assistance towards the realisation of this dream. The Museum was first established in 1977 and housed in a small room next to the city’s synagogue. It housed objects salvaged from WW II, whether artefacts, documents and manuscripts of the 19th and 20th centuries, or the jewellery of the Jews of Thrace that had been seized by the Bulgarians in 1943. The latter had been returned to the Greek government after the abdication of the Bulgarian king and the establishment of a communist regime in the country.
The following years saw a thorough and careful collection of material from all the communities of Greece, under the inspired guidance of Nikos Stavroulakis, director of the Museum until 1993. The collection expanded with rare books and publications, textiles, jewellery, domestic and religious artifacts, thanks to the interest of several individuals.
The Museum soon began to attract the attention of many visitors, researchers and donors. In 1981, the Association of American Friends was founded, followed, a little later, by the Association of Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece, with members of the Jewish Communities of Athens and Thessaloniki.
As the Museum’s collection grew and its activities expanded, it soon outgrew its first premises and new ones had to be found. In 1984, it moved to a rented space occupying the 3rd floor of 36, Amalias Avenue. The exhibition was reorganised into thematic units covering the interests of its various visitors. After years of efforts, the Museum acquired its legal status in 1989, as a non-profit foundation with a seven-member Board of Directors.
In the following years the Museum’s activities expanded; they involved both the research and study of the Greek Jews – in collaboration with other foundations and researchers from Greece and abroad – and publishing. At the same time, its collection was being continuously enriched with new acquisitions from all over Greece, greatly exceeding all expectations. The increasing needs of the Museum for more space, together with the dream of sometime having its own premises, led to the purchase of a 19th century neoclassical building, with the support of its Friends in Greece and abroad, the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki and the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece.
With substantial financial support from the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Associations of its Friends, the old building was renovated and, in late 1997, twenty years after it first opened its doors to the public, the Museum moved to 39 Nikis street, its new address in the centre of Athens.
On March 10th, 1998, the new building of the JMG was inaugurated and a new area begun for the Museum. In the following years it developed significantly and extended all its activities, and especially the educational ones. Also, it improved its visitors services and conducted thorough research efforts, the results of which were communicated through several temporary exhibitions and special publications. Contact and communication with the public and international relations and activities of the JMG, signal an extensive social and scientific information and influence exchange.