The Massacre of Kalavryta by Maria Fokas
– I will feel my way into it again, as I do every time I recall her story. I sat on the deck of her summer beach home, with the endless sea stretched out before me. One could only hope for that moment of tranquility to last forever. A vintage white table set before me, covered with a delicate ivory laced tablecloth her grandmother had knitted decades ago; a fragment of a past time. She stepped out onto the deck to join me; holding a tray with homemade cookies, and iced-lemon-tea, filling the air with a scent of hope. She sat across from me, and smiled. We light minutes pass to listen the the soft ocean before us between the faint melody of a humming of birds. And then she spoke. “How many times I’ve told my grandma’s story,” she whispered, as she picked up her tea; ” . . . still difficult for me to bear her words,” she sighed. “Tell me like she told you,” I asked, eager for her to share her story with me. I had no idea where she was about to take me. WWII had left a permanent scar beneath many smiles – the past had slashed the roots of endless families; what could have been, had been hacked by unsurpassable war crimes, but her taking me there to see for myself . . . I had no idea.
– The melody of singing birds and gentle ocean waves disappeared, after her first words into the story, and with those words, a subtle sound of dark uncertainty. She recounted every moment, as her grandmother had shared it with her, so many times before. She began with, “It was an icy cold morning, that black day, when the Germans captured our men. Every single home in the village was hammered. One by one, our men unlocked their doors, only to be dragged out into the black cold streets, with their sons, as their wives pleaded for mercy. ‘Wait!’ I begged a soldier, ‘please, let me give them their coats’, but no German head turned to acknowledge my plea. We helplessly watched in panic, as they were all placed in a straight line; pawns; for a game they were to lose; and as we cried out their names, our men were marched out of sight. Then, the soldiers which stayed behind, gathered all the women and children, and we were taken to the village school, where they locked us in, and told to keep silent. We struggled to comfort our terrified children. We knew punishment was inevitable, since the Resistance had killed seventy-eight Germans in their attempt to free our village, but none of us could have foreseen such outcome. But we should have foreseen it; in a time where one German life was equivalent to a hundred Greek lives; it was inevitable; that was the law which WWII brought to our home.
We waited endlessly with no hope of surviving; then smoke started coming in from the cracks behind the locked door, and more cries. In our devastating moment of end, an Austrian soldier took pity on us, and unlocked the entrance door. The room was filled with such smoke that we could not see. I felt his hand grasp onto my shoulder. He came in and guided us out of our decided death. I saw his face. It was a face of an angel. Out into the street we could now see the school burning in flames. I took his hands into mine; I kissed those hands which saved all our lives. I will never forget his smile. But that blessed act of courage cost him his life.
By the time we arrived back to our homes, they were all up in flames too. One of the women noticed a red line – like a faint stream coming down the dirt path, from up the hill where our men had been taken. We followed that path, and found them. Piles, and piles, on the ground, wrapped in blankets. I found my father first, then my husband, then my brother, and last, my son. My father’s glasses were on the ground, near his body. I knelt down beside him, and gently took him in my lap. I wanted to caress his face, so I unwrapped the blanket they put him in, and realized what they had done to my father. His skull had been axed. His brain fell into my lap.”
– I struggled to hold back my tears; there was a knot in my throat; I was lost for words from the tragedy I had been taken to see. My friend looked straight through me, into that serene sea. There was a moment of silence which brought back the sweet hushing melody of the gentle waves, and I was grateful for that split moment she gave me to take it all in. I had no idea what war was; all the years of stories about the casualties of wars and their misfortunes, and the counting numbers of men killed or crippled in their attempt to save . . . to protect . . . to what true end, and for what genuine purpose; bound to a forced idea of heroism they lose their lives. Is it for a noble end to be torn from the fabric of life, and to leave behind the tragedy for their wives and children to carry in their hearts until the end of their days? This was the generation gab I had been feeling in my bones every time I’d look deep inside the eyes of my father, and grandfather. They never spoke to me of wars but I could now see why we were so different from the elderly; it was not the years between us – It was the tragedy they had to endure – and it is in the eyes of every family which has to endure such pain. Yes, our experiences make us different but it is not necessarily the years that bring about this gap; it is also the touch of war. Those left behind will never know true tranquility again, and that darkness is hidden in their eyes, and I could now see it in my friend’s as well.
– After she took a sip of her tea, she continued her grandmother’s story to its final end:
‘Days later, we found out what had happened,’ my grandmother said. Was it martial law, or military justice that took the lives of our men; lined up and shot dead; an execution by firing squad. And there was no doubt about whether the soldiers felt remorse, for after the act, when the soldiers began heading down the hill, one of the men on the ground, reached out his arm, and cried out in anguish, ‘Please, don’t leave us here to die, I have family in Germany’. The solders then took hold of their axes”.
– She paused; wiped a tear from her cheek, then with a subtle smile, she said, “One thousand, one hundred and one men were executed in our village, and over seven hundred of them, axed on the hill that black day. Thirteen survived; having been fortunate to have been buried beneath the piles of corpses. My grandmother lost her father, her husband, her brother, and her son, on the 13th of December, 1943. The only family spared to her, was her three-year-old daughter; my mother, and her one-year old toddler, she had forgotten with a nun for three days after that black day. She said that she had forgotten that she had another child waiting for his mother to come back . . . for three days.
It took her years before she could speak of that day. And when they would ask her, “What did the Germans take from you?” The only thing she’d say was, “They took my sleep.”
© Maria Fokas/Dec, 13th 2015/All Rights Reserved