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Both of my grandfathers had unfortunately been dead almost a decade before I was born so inevitably there came a night when I was getting ready to go to sleep with grandma Yiannoula and I asked her where grandfather was. I think grandma finally considered me old enough to tell me about the bitter secret. So there, in the sad light of the icons’ flickering light, playing with the shadows of the ceiling, the reeds, and the plaster of the scaffolding wood planks, Yiagia related the ordeal to me. I was only 10 and was deeply shocked and never really recovered since then.
Grandma was, in May of 1943, with Grandpa who was at the time, 63 years old. Yiorgi, their 18-year-old son, was with them at the corral taking care of their goat herd. Stavro, Kostadeena, my mother and Maria the other younger kids were in the village. The night before, a guy who had baptized one of the kids had asked for shelter to pass the night. Yiannaki could not say no since this guy was the godfather of his son. He was Niko Kondi, a guard of the Sparta Prison. The Germans were looking for Kondi since he allowed the prisoners to escape.
In the morning a lot of soldiers walked to the ravine. They were told by some evil informer of his location. Grandpa was not in the corral. He had gone to get the mule. He would have escaped but Yiorgi, his son, ran and called him to come quick because the Germans were interrogating mother. Alas, he came quickly. The soldiers interrogated Kondi. After a while, right there, in front of his two children, aged around eight and nine, they shot Yianni a cousin of my grandfather. They then ordered Yiannaki, his wife and son together with Kondi to follow the soldiers. They even made them carry ammunition.
They took the road east to Zarafona. The mule path winds up and reaches a plateau called Sterna, because there is a cistern there. This is a rather peculiar cistern carved in to the ground like a huge pot buried in the ground. But it always has potable water. There is only one other source of water, another well, about a 10 minute walk from here.
The troops, with my relatives, crossed this entire plane for about half an hour and then got in to the deep pine wood. The cunning and cowardly German commander had pre-meditated to commit the crime when his soldiers would have been camouflaged under the canopy of the trees.
As soon as they entered the pine wood, he gave orders and my grandma, grandpa and their son were taken away only to be lined up for execution. While Yiannaki and Yorgi froze, Grandma panicked and started screaming and yelling and when the shots were fired she instinctively put her arms up in the air as though to protect herself. Miraculously, she survived.
A young shepherd standing on top of the woods, safe at the Skope Ridge above, told me 50 years later that he had heard the screams and then the dry firing shots in the early June serenity.
A few kilometers away the Frankish - Byzantine Tower reverberated with the shots. Big holes were opened on its walls as the stones crumbled down to the chaparral. The crime had been committed. For generations the bullets buzzed around like wasps.
They killed Kondi as he drank water from the spring before the village.
Then they moved the hell out of the territory going to Kosmas a further village to the east surely to commit more crimes on poor peasants.
The sun slowly moved across the sky. Noon came, afternoon, and the sun set. At that moment Grandma opened her eyes and her mind flooded with terror. She looked and saw Yeorgi dead, his brains in the little hat he was wearing. Grandpa was still alive and moaning. She heard him cursing the Germans. Instinctively, although seriously injured, she started to crawl away from this scene to go bring help. She crawled for an hour and got to the little valley where the vineyards made the terrain green. When she reached the Cistern, she thought of throwing herself in to die. But she saw Kostadeena, Stavro and Maria, her three other kids reflected on the water. She decided to live and made it to a shepherd hut not far away. Soon the shepherd came and found her. She made signs since her jaw was fractured by a bullet, that she needed water and the poor guy left immediately to fetch a bit of water and then left again to tell other peasants to come. They came in the morning with a couple of ladders to be used as stretchers. By this time of course Yiorgi and Grandpa had expired. The peasants carried the corpses on the ladders to the village of Chrysafa to be buried.
Yiannoula, my grandma was carried to Agrianu where she was hidden and her wounds taken care of by village women. All this was done secretly for fear of the Germans. Since they wanted her dead, the peasants were afraid that they would be punished too. On the other hand, they could not leave her unattended.
By the time grandmother recovered, the herd had been reduced to only a few dozen goats. Other shepherds and thieves had taken advantage of the dire circumstances. Gradually, the family came to a type of normality.

October 28, 2022

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