Maria Fokas

The Massacre of Kalavryta


The Massacre of Kalavryta

[Republishing with additions due to requests. A heart-felt thank you 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 –

Sweet Silenced


Martin Hanley new

Photograph by Martin Hanley

Sweet Silenced by Maria Fokas

The spaces we meet by chance; Sweet Silenced.
A beam, a weep, a spark glowing into the night,

[A glimpse of no end; up – side – down]
Reflections throb; I fade my eyes; a fragile gesture of might.
Trapped inside this deed: an Earnest unwavering day.
Shadows of seeded dreams, await that yearning.

Among those ardent Sorrows –
A gift of passing through; the everlasting Memory of you.

© Maria Fokas 2015/All Rights Reserved

The Massacre of Kalavryta


kalabrita

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

The Bridge Across the Sea


The bridge

The Bridge Across the Sea by Maria Fokas

On my death-bed, I say my last goodbye.
I do not utter his name; a forgiving tragedy;
And to his final question: I speak a lie.

I shall not shed another tear for the moments denied.
I shall not shed another tear for foolish twisted humanity –
I shall not shed another tear for that weakness to suppose.

Erase me from your past; . . . the years you have forsaken me –
Each genuine day;
Each generous hour;
A love I embraced: In pure desire, his lips I kissed –
Every bit of madness; the craziness that tempts the soul.
I took for caring: the longing, and the need –
Every plunge into the darkness of my fears;
The times we hid from that harsh world of ours;
The poetry they devoured; between our silence, and our words;
By your strife; my heart has turned to stone – Erase them all!

A fictitious reflection of me has passed away;
I did not utter his name, today.

I crossed the bridge; without his darkness in my arms;
I wish for no more time.

© Maria Fokas 2015/All Rights Reserved/Photograph by Maria Fokas [Dublin]

Wandering Winds of Time


the winds

Wandering Winds of Time by Maria Fokas

Put pen to paper; and carry the winds astray:
All that is here; will one day disappear; I heard them say.
So put pen to paper for untamed songs of love remembered:

Gaze upon the wandering sky; as if to paint its essence –

Remind me of that kiss in such restless rapture; when you were mine:
The whisper of your hidden thoughts; freeze that moment;
Tell me again, how you held my hand; though hope was gone.
Don’t let them say that we were fools to love!
Their craven twists of envy will dull away in time.

Put pen to paper, and let them all know!
Every feast we savored, was a spark to light our way.

Carry the winds of time, to no end:
Salvage our shattered dreams, from each alluring storm.
And in your precious words, fear not the thrill of doubt:

Though the gods were never on our side,
I was your muse, and you were mine;
In that brief moment of eternity.

© Maria Fokas 2015/All Rights Reserved/Photograph by Maria Fokas [Dublin Sky]

Scars Set in Stone


corfu 3

Scars Set in Stone by Maria Fokas

Just because you buried our journey
Does not make it disappear
Just because you have forsaken me
Does not mean you never loved me
That I have succumbed to defeat
Does not mean I wanted to leave
Your silence never depicted indifference
As my smile did not prove a trace of hope

Of stories which trouble the heart
In words which sicken the soul
Everywhere an abundance of woe:
A half-finished love affair bound to crucifixion
A misdeed triggered to destroy a kind gesture
A deserted dream to leverage false sense of balance
Courage disintegrates in glass boxes of loose ties
Day races by as night pricks through the cracks of dawn

Oh, but to deny one’s place in this world
That would be the greatest crime of all

© Maria Fokas 2015/All Rights Reserved/Photograph by Maria Fokas [Paleokastritsa – Corfu]

The Passion of a Writer’s Pen


The Passion of a Writer's Pen

The Passion of a Writer’s Pen by Maria Fokas

A sword to pierce my heart for every tide
I spit out a raw escape in a gasp of thought
To mark specks of profound recklessness
To feel the bleeding heartbeat of my fingertips
To taste the dread of a struggling shadow
To hear the whispering force of a lover’s birth
To lose oneself in every re-crossing sunset
A dream of the world; a gush of raging grace
From original light to final darkness
Stories bound to a hope of existence;
My cry for life –

© Maria Fokas 2015/All Rights Reserved – Artwork: Whatever I see by WeirdSam/Abstract Photography

[A project for Matthew Chikono]

Shattered Pieces of Time


Neel 02 01 2015 Abstract Photography 2

Shattered Pieces of Time by Maria Fokas

Last night, you held my hand
We flew below a golden sky
At a distance a faint melody
A familiar touch; a soft sigh

Out of my sleep; Uncertainty
Has love been cursed again?
All possibilities fade away
No expectations; no apparent fears 

My eyes tire; I can barely recall
In a world where time is scarce
Why do we dwell in losing?

[Love that alters when alteration comes
was never love at all] 

But . . . my friend. 

 

© Maria Fokas 2015/All Rights Reserved – Photography: Neel 02/01/2015 Abstract Photography