[Republishing with additions due to requests. A heart-felt thanks to all who asked for a longer version of this story. I'd also like to thank every single one of you for your visits!
The Massacre of Kalavryta by Maria Fokas
– I will feel my way into it again, as I do every time I recall her story. We sat on the deck of her summer beach home, with the endless sea stretched out before us. A vintage white table set between us, covered with a fragment of a past time; it was a delicate ivory laced tablecloth her grandmother had knitted in her youth. The soft ocean hushed between the faint melodies of singing birds. I could feel the sea air caressing my skin. She smiled and then gestured to the tray on the table; homemade cookies and iced-lemon-tea filled the air with a scent of hospitality. “How many times I’ve told my grandma’s story,” she whispered, as she picked up her tea, “and still it is difficult for me to bear her words,” she sighed.
– Tell me like she told you, I said, eager for her to share her story with me. I had no idea where she was about to take me; in her attempt to show me what WWII had taken from her family. The melody of singing birds and gentle ocean waves disappeared, after the first words into her story. She began:
“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, while their wives pleaded for mercy. ‘Wait!’ I begged a soldier, ‘please, let me give them their coats’, but no German head turned to acknowledge me. We watched in terror, as they violently pushed our men into a line; pawns; for a game we were to lose; and as we cried out their names, they disappeared into the cold black night. The soldiers who had stayed behind, gathered all the women and children, and we were taken to the village school. They locked us in, and commanded us to keep silent. We waited in the pitch black room holding our terrified children in our arms. We knew punishment was unavoidable, since the Resistance had killed seventy-eight Germans in their attempt to free our village. My husband left the village three times with my son, so as to escape from the inevitable, but he kept coming back. I told him, not to worry, that we’d be fine as long as he was ok, but he kept coming back. In a time where one German life was equivalent to a hundred Greek lives; we should have known.
Our bodies were now numb from the cold, and the cries of our children had turned into weeping. I saw a faint light through the cracks of the locked door, and then smoke. It was coming in fast, making it difficult to breath; and in that devastating moment of end, an Austrian soldier took pity on us, and unlocked the entrance door. I felt a hand grab my arm and pull me out of that room. It was him! He came into the fire to guide us out. I saw his face. Out into the street we could now see the school burning in flames. I took his hands into mine and thanked him; I wanted to know his name, but I did not ask him. I will never forget his smile; that blessed man saved us; but it cost him his life.
By the time we arrived back to our homes, they were all up in flames. There was nothing left to do to save any of them; we were too late. Then one of the women noticed a faint red line on the ground. It was like a thin stream. It was coming down the dirt path from the hill, where they had taken our men. We followed that path and found them. There were piles and piles of bodies on the ground; wrapped in blankets. I found my father first; his glasses were on the ground, near his head – I knelt down beside him, and gently took him in my lap. I wanted to caress his face, so I pulled the blanket off his face, and that’s when I realized what they had done to my father. His skull had been axed . . . his brain fell into my lap. “
– She paused to take a breath, and I tried to hold back my tears; there was a knot in my throat; lost for words, I did not speak. She looked straight through me, into that serene sea. There it was again, the sweet hushing melody of the gentle waves. I shut my eyes, and I could now see the casualties of war, the misfortunes, the endless counting of men killed or crippled for life, in their attempt to save, or protect; to what end, and for what true purpose; men bound to a forced idea of heroism, and after their first farewell, not knowing whether they would ever see their families again. How noble an end to be torn from the fabric of life? Was this the generation gap I had been feeling in my bones every time I’d look deep inside the eyes of my father, or my grandfather? They never spoke to me of war. Maybe it was not the years between us that created the gap. Maybe, it was the tragedy they endured; those hidden stories they chose to spare us – Yes, the touch of war, which time cannot forget.
– She took a sip of her tea, and continued:
“Days later, we found out what had happened, my grandmother said. Our men were lined up and shot dead; an execution by firing squad. They called it a military justice. After the act, the squad began to head down the hill, but one of our men barely moving, reached out his hand, and in a cry of anguish pleaded for his life, ‘Please,’ he wept, ‘don’t leave us here to die, I have family in Germany.’ And that was when the soldiers took hold of their axes.”
– She paused; to wipe a tear from her cheek, then with a subtle smile, she said, “One thousand, one hundred and one men were executed in our village. Over seven hundred of them were axed on the hill that black day. Thirteen survived; having been fortunate enough to be hidden 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. It took her years before she could speak of that day. And when they would ask her, “What did the Germans take from you?” . . . she would say,
“My sleep . . . They took my sleep.”
© Maria Fokas/March 6th 2016/All Rights Reserved –