Rocks and Roses
From Asia Minor to the Resistance
Synopsis of an Unpublished Manuscript by Simos Kerassides
Unpublished Manuscript Copyright © 2006 Simos Kerassides
Overview: This is the story of two families from Asia Minor and their subsequent involvement in the World War II resistance. The latter is particularly true of the family that came from Pontus. Pontiac Greeks had a siginificant involvement in the Greek Resistance and part of their story is contained in this document.
Turkish Translation: The part of the story "The Girl from Pontos" was translated into Turkish by Mehmet Ilhan Kavaklioglu (milhan AT voanews DOT com) and can be found (together with pictures and background material) in the folowing two sites: http://unyezile.com/rodi.htm and http://www.unyehaber.com/index.php/content/view/392/55/
The Girl from Prussa
Litharenia (whose name means "hard as rock") was one of the girls of the ethnic Greek population in Asia Minor. She was born near the end of the nineteenth century in Elegmi (Kursunlu), a beautiful seaside village in the northwestern part of Asia Minor, some twenty kilometers northeast of Prussa (Bursa). In those days, the population of the village amounted to two thousand people of which one thousand and seven hundred were Greek Orthodox Christians.
Since early childhood Litharenia, whose maiden name was Sofianides, had been working with her parents and brothers in the tobacco and wheat fields, and in the olive groves. Education for women was considered to be a luxury or even evil. A girl had to assist her mother with household chores and go to the fields to strip tobacco leaves or harvest ripe grain until she became of marriageable age.
Work may have been hard in the fields, but life rolled on tranquil like the quiet flow of a creek, wars of any kind being beyond any reasonable thought.
The twentieth century set in as peaceful and tranquil. Litharenia moved to the city of Prussa to live with a childless aunt of hers. In her mother's opinion she was a bright girl with dexterous hands and her talents should not be wasted in the fields. Her aunt's husband had struck up a friendship with the manager of a large French factory engaging in the production of silk thread, so he easily had his wife's niece placed there.
She married Pavlos Makrides in 1909 and they decided to live in Prussa where Pavlos's father had bought them a two-story house in the Greek quarter of Demur Kapu. Better still, he managed to establish a shop of trousseau accessories in the bezesteni of the city, to be run by his son who could that way avoid hawking goods around the country. Right after the marriage, Litharenia quit her job to take on household duties and responsibilities. In 1910 she gave birth to Yorgos, a strong healthy boy. In 1912, right before the Balkan Wars, she gave birth to Anna, a daughter of fragile health.
Unfortunately, World War I started and with it a chain of horrible events started. Years later people talked about bad omens that would precede each outbreak of bad news. A huge swarm of locusts falling upon the crops like hail, hiding the sun, hiding the sky was followed by the news that the Turks had slaughtered one and a half million Armenians! Just like that! Genocide! Extinction of one of the ethnic minorities in Turkey perceived by the Turks as a long-standing threat. A year later the news was about the the genocide of the Pontian Greeks on the northern side of Turkey.
During the war the Turks had been conscripting the Greek men of Asia Minor into Hard Labour Battalions (Amele Taburu) and a lot of them died there. Litharenia's father and brothers soon perished in them and her mother soon died of deep sorrow. She grieved over her kinsfolk's loss and dressed in black to mourn them.
In 1919 broke out the Greco-Turkish war fought in the wake of World War I because the English had promised to Greek Prime Minister Venizelos regains of lost territories at the expense of the collapsing Ottoman Empire, granted that Greece would enter World War I on the side of England and France. Notwithstanding their undertaking, however, the English ceased support to the Greek occupation troops that had disembarked at Smyrna (Izmir) in Asia Minor and the Greek army suffered a disastrous defeat by the Nationalist Turks under the leadership of General Mustafa Kemal who grasped the opportunity to simultaneously uproot the Greek spirit from Asia Minor.
In 1922, before the defeat of the Greek occupation troops and the oncoming Asia Minor Disaster, Pavlos disappeared. Nobody knows what exactly happened to him. Most likely he was killed by the Turkish irregulars, the tsetes. Litharenia, pregnant with their third child, had no time to mourn him because she was forced to evacuate the city along with all the Greek citizens of Prussa. The city crier urged them to hasten to the coast of Propontis and stay about the seaport of Mudanya for a few days until the subsidence of rage of the Turkish Tsetes. It was not a promise but a statement, later proved a big lie.
She had no horse-driven cart, not even a beast of burden, and, together with Yorgos, her twelve-year-old son, and Anna, her ten-year-old daughter, she followed the rabble of terror-stricken compatriots. Four things she took with her: the front door key, a bead-studded mug for drinking water on the road, a loaf of bread, and a bundle containing a sleeping rug and warmer clothes.
The exodus took place along Poseidonos Avenue, which also teemed with military trucks crammed with foot soldiers and officers of the Greek occupation troops. Outside Mudanya, a detachment of French troops ordered them to veer towards the seaport of Panormos (Pandirma), for the mere reason that Mudanya had been proclaimed a neutral zone.
Panormos was in a state of wild disorder, but it was also a port of salvation because a large number of ships lay at anchor for the transport of the exhausted troops to Greece. Along with the troops had gathered thirty thousand rootless refugees who felt wretched and forlorn and craved for a small place in the hold. Yorgos jumped to a boat and stretched out his arms to help mother and sister come aboard, but his effort proved fruitless because Litharenia and Anna were swept off by a flood of screaming refugees and pushed aboard another boat.
Litharenia never found her son again.
The ship was bound for Thessalonica, second largest city in Greece, and the sea voyage lasted three days. The port was packed with people, refugees who had arrived on previous days, relatives who searched out kinsmen. But Litharenia had no one to welcome her.
They stayed in the area of Aretsou for some days, under the shelter of tents, and were later carried to the refugee quarter of Kalamaria to lodge at wooden barracks, remnants of World War I. Thank God it was still summer, the weather warm. Quite often sickly Anna would be left in a neighbour's care and Litharenia, mingling with other refugees who had missing kinsmen, would walk down to the shore to wait for the ships that kept coming overloaded with refugees. But Yorgos was still missing. No one had seen him.
December set in and Litharenia's pregnancy was now visible. One day her daughter Anna complained of a horrible headache and a stiff neck. The doctor diagnosed meningitis and the girl died in three days' time, her mother's eyes dry with profound grief, her mind totally unsettled.
In February 1923 Litharenia gave birth to another girl whom she named Anna after her recently deceased daughter. Despite her belief that God had forsaken them, her life changed for the better in three years' time. An industrialist from the city of Larissa ran a silk mill there and needed silk-making experts. Litharenia did not give it another thought. Thessalonica lay in the north, Larissa in Central Greece, the two cities being 190 kilometers apart. Thessalonica had so far been her new hometown, all refugee compatriots scraping a living there, but Larissa promised a better life.
She moved to the silk mill compound together with her three-year old daughter Anna. They stayed there for over two years, but one night the mill caught fire and burnt down to ashes, making the industrialist a ruined man and leaving Litharenia and her daughter homeless and forsaken. Nevertheless, he had frequently spoken in praise of her to a rich friend, a cotton mill manufacturer, who needed a housekeeper at a large estate he owned in the plain of Thessaly. The place was a long way off but Litharenia had no one else to turn to and decided to take the job.
Mother and child liked it there. But whatever Litharenia liked was destined to be a curse by God. It was no fire this time but a climate disagreement with little Anna who suffered from malaria and had to be instantly carried away from the mosquito-infested region, otherwise she would experience a slow death through convulsive fits. The manufacturer turned out a man of understanding and offered her a job at his cotton mill in Larissa, appointing her superintendent of the looms and responsible for the making of cotton reels.
They rented a place close to the factory and little Anna recovered in a few weeks' time. The following year she reached school age and her mother enrolled her at the local primary school. On Sundays, mother and daughter pick-nicked at a nearby village where Anna one day bumped into a group of strange girls dressed all alike. She liked their togetherness although they looked rather glum under the supervision of a stern middle-aged woman. Litharenia satisfied her daughter's curiosity by telling her that the girls in blue pinafores were orphans.
Two weeks later Anna saw her mother stand bare-breasted before the mirror and finger her left breast. She was frightened and asked her what was amiss, but the woman mumbled something incomprehensible.
In a few days Litharenia would become matron of honour at the wedding ceremony of Smaragda, her one and only friend in the city of Larissa. Nonetheless, at the eleventh hour she changed her mind and insisted that her little daughter would take her place because, if "something bad" happened to her, Anna would have a kinswoman, although not in blood, to turn to.
Litharenia could not escape her fate. She suffered a mastectomy and died in a few months. The rock cracked and went to pieces.
Little Anna was taken by her new kinswoman who, however, turned her to a housemaid, ordering her to carry water from the well and scrub the wooden floors. Unable to stand such heavy chores, she ran away one dark night. A little girl! Alone in a hostile town! But her guardian angel showed her the way to the orphanage where she knocked the door. The warden was alarmed at the sight of a little girl standing frightened in the doorway and she took her in, listened to her story and made all necessary arrangements to enroll her as a boarder at the orphanage.
At the asylum Anna suffered a lot of privations until her graduation at the age of eighteen.
The Girl from Pontos
Rodi, the name means "rose", was another girl of the ethnic Greek minorities in Turkey. She was born in Oenoe (Unye), a town built on the coast of the Black Sea (Pontos in Greek). The Pontian Greeks had a long history and spoke a dialect much closer to ancient Greek than any of the other Greek idioms. While Greeks like Litharenia who lived near the western coast of Asia Minor had to flee the country in a hurry, the Greeks living in the interior of Asia Minor or by the Black Sea did not leave until 1925 as a result of the Treaty of Lausanne held in July 1924 that stipulated the exchange of the Greek and Turkish populations.
Rodi Theodorides was a girl of noble stature, her face angular, and her features cute. Albeit strong-willed and of steely determination, she was lean and fragile in the body. She came from a rich family and was destined to marry a wealthy young man, a merchant tailor whose full name was Christos Kerassides. After the marriage the couple stayed at a three-story house in Oenoe, a seaside mansion that was Rodi's property. They also owned a farmhouse in the mountain village Cilar. Rodi proved to be a good housewife and a good cook, her delicious dishes included stewed potatoes or quinces, lentil chickpea or bean soups, havic and flour halva.
Christos was a tall lean man with long legs and arms. He was benevolent and well-intentioned, always well-dressed due to his occupation. He used to travel to the depths of Turkey and deal with Greeks and Turks. He also did business with the Kurds who loved him as a brother because he sold garments to them at discount prices or on credit without ever anticipating to get repaid. In addition, as cotton and woolen lengths of fabric were of no use to the poor Kurdish families, he brought them women's and children's clothes causing exclamations of delight, since he had previously slipped coins and banknotes into their pockets. He would also go on business trips to Russia many times a year.
During the Greco-Turkish War Christos was conscripted into the Turkish Army and like all Christians he was placed into the notorious Hard Labour Battalions (Amele Taburu). In 1925, he was still missing and he was probably dead (like many others) in the Amele Taburu.
In 1925 the surviving Greek males of Oenoe formed a committee and appealed to the Greek Embassy in Constantinople for a ship to carry them to Greece. One day the Euxine Pontus anchored off Oenoe and Rodi, together with her four children (13-year old son Chryso, 10-year old daughter Despo, 7-year old son Simos and 3-year old infant daughter Giorgitsa) hurried aboard. She carried the most indispensable things together with some cutlery, a bronze mortar and a pestle, a censer, and a triptych Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary that had been an heirloom of her family for over four generations. Apart from those articles she carried Turkish banknotes that she converted into Greek drachmae at a money changer's to cover the first family needs.
They disembarked at the seaport of Thessalonica and found shelter at wooden barracks in Kalamaria refugee quarter. A few months elapsed and the fatherless family moved to Charilaou (another refugee neighborhood) and stayed at a Quonset hut made of corrugated-iron. In 1929 the Greek Social Providence constructed semi-detached houses at the refugee quarter of Toumpa and granted them one.
To earn their living the family commenced to work. Rodi went charring, Chryso hawked about the streets of Toumpa selling sesame buns, Despo worked at a local textile-factory, and Simos became a shoe-shine boy. Little Giorgitsa was being left in the care of a neighboring housewife.
All of Rodi's children suffered from the lack of a father, but Simos was the most vulnerable of all four to being led astray due to his restive spirit. He was soon waylaid by left-wing militants and initiated into strange theories. He soon joined the communist party without his elder brother's knowledge, let alone his poor, wretched mother's. Contrariwise Chryso - five years older, therefore more mature and prudent - had managed to keep aloof from such pitfalls.
In May 1936 there was general outcry in Thessalonica against the crisis brought about by the ruling right-wing party. Six thousand tobacco workers, later followed by other labourers, crammed the town center to jeer at the regime and raise a commotion. Among them one could make out Simos brandishing his fists and claiming his rights. But the crowd was soon scattered in every direction when the mounted police attacked them.
The upshot of it all was dictatorship imposed by Metaxas, all labourers' demands for a better life - for pay-raise and social security - coming to nothing. Simos, together with a group of revolutionaries, was locked up in a detention house and, after he had received nothing but abuse and torture, was exiled in the island of St. Eustratios in the Agean Sea. It was about time that his family should be aware of his secret, extreme political activities. Nine months did he waste at his banishment place and in springtime he was released due to the young of his age.
In 1937 Chryso married Evanthia, a good-looking neighbouring girl, and in 1938 they had a son called Panos.
When World War II broke out and the Germans occupied Greece three of Rodi's children joined the Greek resistance. Only Despo, the oldest daughter, kept aloof from such perilous activities and stayed at home to take care of their mother who suffered from a sudden curve in her spinal cord, as she had carried from the low basement up to the hall a heavy jute bag full of keys and locks and felt a "crack" in her back. Chryso's wife Evanthia also joined the resistance, leaving little Panos in the care of Rodi.
Tragedy struck quickly. One day Evanthia was away on a mission in the neighbouring town of Kilkis and arrested by the Germans and shot to death. In 1943 Simos was ordered to bring a message to the E.L.A.S. forces (Greek initials for the Greek Popular Liberal Army, military arm of E.A.M. i.e. the National Liberation Front) up in the North Pindos Mountain Range. He fell into an ambush by Greek collaborationists and was killed.
The Joining of the Families
One day, Rodi's eldest son Chryso blew up a couple of German trucks at a military park in the area of Depot, in Thessalonica, and was betrayed by an associate's relative. He fled to the mountains and the Germans put a price on his head. Furthermore, they took his little son Panos as a hostage and shut him up at an orphan home.
In the meantime Litharenia's daughter, Anna, had been appointed as a home economics teacher at Arnissa, a large village in the prefecture of Pella in Central Macedonia, Greece. Anna was now an attractive young lady of eighteen, her chestnut hair wavy, her large eyes brown. After her 11-year confinement in the asylum, she liked being independent, free to do as she pleased. Albeit alone in an alien world, she felt old enough to survive on her own, her guardian angel being part of a distant past. The villagers of Arnissa, like most of the Greeks from the provinces, were despondent and intimidated under the conqueror's heel. Thoroughly aware that certain Greeks were quislings, others neutral and others having joined the resistance teams on the mountains, they were reserved to strangers and, therefore, hostile to Anna. They began to like her, however, when she started teaching their wives and sisters how to cook and sew and embroider and make their lives better. After her appointment in Arnissa she was considered to be a civil servant and, despite her political convictions, she had to be actively involved in the Panhellenic Youth Organization, a right-wing body created by the prime minister of the day.
At the house where she lodged, she shared room with Irene, a nursery school teacher who came from Xanthoya, a small village in the district. One keen afternoon in 1943 Irene insisted that Anna should join her on an excursion to her village. There she would meet a cousin of hers who had joined the rebel forces. He was to come down from the mountains in utmost secrecy along with a comrade fellow. Anna was frightened and, therefore, reluctant to meet such outlaws, organized as she was in a nationalist right-wing body. She refused to go but Irene eventually prevailed upon her to accompany her to Xanthoya. They bought half a dozen packs of cigarettes and set off.
The man who came with Irene's cousin was like an ancient god from Mt. Olympus. He was athletic, his long hair brown, his beard auburn, but he emitted roughness and ferocity. On closer and more careful inspection, however, his hazel eyes were warm and humane. He fixed her with a persistent golden stare, which made her lose her heart to him. She felt like Jane Eyre who, after her graduation from the orphanage, met Mr. Rochester. It was as if her lonely, miserable life had come to a happy end. His name was Chryso Kerassides and he was a refugee from Thessalonica.
The couple married on the mountains, the wedding ceremony performed by a resistance priest. Anna had now someone to be taken care of by, a husband to rely on. Notwithstanding her feeling of security, though, she found out that her life from then on was not so easy. First of all she was dismissed from her job. Greek Civil Service But was averse to female employees who were involved with men from the rebel forces. Second, she was drawn into the vortex of guerrilla war, a much harder way of life even in comparison with her 10-year stay at the orphanage. She became part of a pitiless manhunt, which gradually made her a nervous wreck. They were not only pursued by the German conquerors but also by the Greek nationalists and collaborationists.
After the end of World War II and the Germans' withdrawal from Thessalonica, little Panos was released and taken to his grandmother's place. Chryso and Anna also stayed temporarily at Rodi's refugee house in the Toumpa quarter. However, the whirlwind of the civil war engulfed Greece before people could enjoy peace.
In July 1946 Anna bore a long skinny boy, but within forty days after delivery, Chryso was arrested because he was a former member of ELAS. The event caused a stir at the house. Rodi was sitting on the kitchen divan crying, Anna in confinement in her mother-in-law's bedroom weeping, Despo rocking the improvised cradle, Giorgitsa stepping to and fro across the kitchen, swearing at the lowlifes who had arrested her brother.
Chryso was sent into exile in the barren island of Gavdos in the Libyan Sea. Albeit his exile period had been designated to be only six months, he stayed two years. As soon as his 6-month period expired, it would be automatically renewed due to instructions received from above. One day, a wireless message came and ordered him to pack up. He was taken aback at the unexpected outcome of his banishment story and used a secret chain of communication to notify his family of his transfers, since he had a foreboding that he would perish on the way back home. Upon arrival to Thessalonica he was not released but shut in solitary confinement in the National Security building for three and a half months because someone had accused him of being an accomplice to concealment of weapons of the E.L.A.S. His wife and sister Despo hired lawyers and asked the help of journalists and eventually managed to have him released.
Giorgitsa was also exiled to the island of Chios in the Agean Sea and later to Trikeri, a seaside village in Central Greece. But she managed to survive and return home safe and sound.
Despo died of breast cancer in 1952. - Rodi died of a heart-attack in 1963. - Chryso (author's father) died of a massive heart-attack in 1989. - Giorgitsa died of old age in 2003. Anna (author's mother) is still alive.