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Columnists

The Final Chapter of My Life

October 25, 2019
Stavros T. Stavridis

My name is Melina Panayotides and I have lived in Greece since 1923. I survived my deportation from Asia Minor, the Second World War, and the Civil War with brother killing brother. The final chapter of my life is taken from my diary where I recorded the events of the 1930s and beyond for my children and grandchildren.

It was an interesting time living in Greece during the 1930s experiencing the Great Depression, the rise of Ioannis Metaxas, the return of the monarchy and the turbulent 1940s. I will explain these events as I saw them.

During the great depression, I did quite well compared with other women in my apartment whose husbands became unemployed and who struggled to survive on meager government welfare. There were single women with children who worked seasonally or whenever they were needed by their employer. I survived by sewing and repairing clothes for neighbors and friends and selling any surplus in the local neighborhood market on weekends. I reduced my prices to make it possible for people to pay me. Sometimes I gave credit to those I trusted and knew they would pay me later. It was sad seeing men going to the kafenio near our apartment in mid-mornings to drink coffee and discuss with friends the lack of employment opportunities. Many male customers told me of their frustration, anger, and financial difficulties in trying to support their families. Such stories broke my heart. I considered myself lucky that I was able to earn a good income to support my life in such troubled economic times.

My children Ioannis and Maria were now teenagers. They appreciated everything I did for them. On some weekends, we caught the train from near our apartment and spent our day visiting friends and doing some window shopping in Athens. The children enjoyed their time playing with their friends during our visits. Other times, we spent our day at the beaches of Piraeus or near Athens. The children enjoyed swimming during our hot summers. It was wonderful seeing their happy faces.

Both children were doing well in school. I wanted them to do something good with their lives. I hoped Ioannis would go to university to study law or medicine. This would help him rise on the Greek socioeconomic ladder. That was still a few years away.

For Maria things were somewhat different. I wanted her to have a career if she desired one. It wasn’t important for girls to have an education. However, women seeking a career were frowned upon by Greek men during those dark years. They believed that woman’s place was in the home, cooking, having children, and being loyal wives to their husbands. In 1940, Maria married this nice young man, Kostas Maniades who was born in Trebizond. I didn’t know his family in Trebizond but at least she married one of our Mikrasiates. She ended up having three sons with Kostas who survived the 1940s.

On the other hand, Ioannis was about to start University in the autumn of 1940 when war intervened with us fighting the Italians. He fought on the Albanian front with distinction and was later transferred to the Middle East. He fought at El Alamein against the Germans and like Kosta survived the 1940s. After the Civil War, Ioannis enrolled at Athens University to study law. On completion, he worked for a major law firm in Athens. In 1957, Ioannis took a vacation to the United States and returned home full of new optimism. He migrated to America to begin a new life where he later opened up his law firm in Chicago. His Greek-American compatriots loved him.

I remember August 4, 1936, like it was yesterday. Ioannis Metaxas became dictator of Greece arresting all communists and their sympathizers. Some of the men in our apartment who supported the Greek Communist Party were arrested and interned in prisons on the Greek mainland and islands. I kept my political views to myself thus avoiding any potential trouble with the authorities. It was a frightening time in Greece.

The next thing we read in the press is the return of the monarchy. I never liked the Greek monarchy as I believe the Royalists were at fault for us losing Asia Minor and never sending troops to protect us in Pontus. It seemed that Metaxas and King George got on very well with each other. You had nothing to fear as long as you go about your business quietly. Yes! I remained quiet and continued to earn my living unmolested.

In October 1940, we were at war with Italy. Metaxas’s response of NO to the Italian ultimatum was a brave decision that made me proud to be Greek. My son, Ioannis immediately enlisted in the army and his letters from the different theatres of war zones described the futility of war.

For me, conflict of the 1940s brought back memories of our war with the Kemalists. I thought that by coming to Greece, I would avoid war. That wasn’t the case. This was a difficult time for me and Maria as both Ioannis and Kostas were fighting the Germans and the Italians. I prayed for both of them to return safely home. Our prayers were answered.

Maria lived with me during the war. We both comforted each other at a time when other women in our apartment received notification of the death of their sons or husbands. As a mother, I understood and felt their grief and always expected to receive bad news. Fortunately, we were lucky.

The money that I saved during the 1930s helped us survive the German occupation. Food was scarce and we paid inflated prices for it. The Germans patrolled the streets and I avoided contact as much as possible with them. They treated us badly and at times worse than the Turks. The Germans considered themselves superior to us. Someone told me they were the master race. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I always tried to treat everyone the same.

We had no Greek Jews living in our neighborhood but heard that these poor souls were being deported en masse from Salonika and other towns and cities to undisclosed locations in Europe. If the Germans caught us hiding Jews, we risked execution or some severe punishment. I was shocked to learn about the fate of these poor people at the end of the war. I couldn’t believe that we could do such horrible things to our fellow human beings.

Of course, the civil war was another tragic period when brothers killed brothers. I am glad the communists got rebuffed and democracy won in the end. The 1950s were a difficult time but at least conflict receded into the dustbin of history as we rebuilt our lives once again. On January 1, 1960, I kept my promise never to write in my diary. This is where my journey ends.

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