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Mamy Maroudi's narration
FROM MAMY MAROUDI’S MEMOIR “UNDER THE WALLNUT TREE”
Mamy Maroudi was Anna Kindyni’s mother.
“Under the Walnut Tree” was given for safekeeping to Mrs. Zaharo Frantzeskou by Anna Kindyni herself
At that time, rumours were going around about a great war, about the Germans befriending the Turks and the likes. And indeed shortly, the bad news arrived. All along the coast, in towns and villages, the Turks were rebelling. They stole and beat and killed Christians. It was going from worse to worse, the evil was spreading, almost touching us. The terrorization started in the countryside: they’d rampage the summer houses, they blackmailed, they stole animals, they battered people.
The Phocaeans no longer dared go to their estates. And on top of that, those who had organised our destruction, masterfully, insidiously poured around the poison of frustration and terror. Pompous ironic smiles went together with sealed and silent mouths. Imagine, even our Grandpa, who was an aza [an elected elder] and was close friends with the rich beys and the government officials, even he couldn’t get a word out of them.
Even Selim, our trusted, close friend, even he did not tell Grandpa the truth when he was asked. “Chronis effendi, I can’t tell you, I am not allowed to speak. They’ve sworn us to silence. Just make sure you save yourself.” That is what Selim answered.
When push came to shove, a committee of dignitaries showed up at the Commander’s office, asking him to protect the Christians, to ensure our well-being. “You have nothing to worry about” he replied. “I have the power to enforced order. Now go back to work and stop sticking your noses in other people’s business.”
Right before dawn, on Friday, May 31st [June 13, 1914], in my sleep, I heard people whistling. I nudge your father. “Wake up, Demosthenes! Can’t you hear the whistles? Something’s afoot…. Hurry!” I say. “Go on, Demosthenes! We have to leave this house by tonight.”
He was reluctant to make such a decision. I got angry; I was trembling. “Don’t you understand that it’s the rich houses they’re going to attack first? And you are the only Greek citizen in the entire town. How can you forget? Let’s go…”
Before come to your room to wake you children up, we decided to hide all valuables. We filled a big tin pot with jewellery, gold, and silverware. We took it down to the coal basement and we dig up a pit and shove it inside. Then we came to wake you up, you were heavily asleep… We locked the house. We took nothing with us.
Mrs. Evridiki took us in readily. Your father stepped out, went to Grandpa’s to tell them to come over. They did.
We sat around in the darkness but Grandpa was pacing up and down the corridor. This exasperating wait, this being locked up and not being able to do anything were driving him crazy. Suddenly he says: “I’m going out to reconnoitre”. We couldn’t hold him back. He left. Thankfully he came back alive. “It’s quiet everywhere. But darkly so. Like stifling, humid heat before the squall. You can feel it, smell it in the air. I noticed that the windows in the Turkish houses are lit, whilst our houses are all locked up and dark. This is suspicious.”
Dawn was breaking. Light was slightly pouring through the shutters. Then we heard distant racket, like breaking, like loud whistling. Then several shots were fired in the air. “They’re here! They’ve come.”
We rushed to the door, as everyone else did, from every house. Doors were opening up, people were jumping out in a daze. Some, in their commotion and hurry, stepped out half-naked. We found ourselves almost at the front, with thousands following us. We left the city, headed west.
We started climbing up Gizildağ mountain. Our Grandma –blessed be her soul– stopped half way up. Uncle Yiorgos picked her up and carried her on his back.
Uncle Yiorgos was also anxious about his dog. “We forgot Fido. I left him locked up in the basement. They’re going to kill him, my poor poor dog” he kept saying.
We kept climbing. Some took over us, others were left being. We walked and we walked till we reached Asma Dere. There we scattered. Every family to its own.
I don’t know why we thought we’d be able to go back to our houses. In a day or two even. That’s why we’d acted so spasmodically and carelessly these past few days. Imagine, uncle Giorgos had even hidden a bag of gold coins in his bedroom mattress. But we lost all hope. People would come to us, maimed and injured, like Yiorgakis, the son of Bidanou, who told us how he’d seen dead bodies on the street, how foreign and local gangs are wreaking havoc, killing, looting everything, the houses, the shops, the churches. He said the gendarmes were specifically fanatical in their plunder, the officers too, lead by Cemal Bey, Bekir Bey, Baltır Mustafa, and others whom they can no longer recall. In Aliağa they killed priest papa-Rodios. In Çakmaklı, they killed papa-Papanayiotis, on his donkey. In Phocaea they even killed some dull-whited or blind ones, who had not left the city, unable to the gravity of the situation. They scoured Gerenköy and Seyreköy. Seyreköy, because the Rum defended themselves and put up a fight, they completely annihilated it. So there was zero chance of us going back.
So we had no other escape route. As soon as possible, we need to take a boat to Greece. The community primates talked about it, decided it would be so. They looked around the strand, found a small boat, and your father and three other men from Phocaea left for the dangerous crossing. It was a rowing boat, no engine. They took with them a clay pot with water and some bread. How does one cross over from Phocaea to Mytilene, the nearest island? Your father did it. Grandma was fearful and swore at your father not to risk the crossing. But he did not change his mind. “Mother, I can save thousands of souls” he told her.
We suffered a lot high up on the mountain. We had no bread, no food, not even enough water. The men would steal over to the nearby summer houses to bring us some; or from some spring. The brought the water in pots and buckets.
The Turks did not come up to the mountain, truth be said. But they did pay us a visit. Three constables showed up of a sudden on Sunday afternoon and started watching us, hidden behind some rocks. We were sure they’d come to mark the spot where we’d been hiding! And they’ll tell on us and then, woe betide… Then, uncle Yiorgos courageously stood up and went and spoke with them. They didn’t mean us no harm, they told your uncle. They were just curious… They left. In turns out your uncle knew them in person.
Oh, I forgot to tell you what happened to Granpa and to Fido the dog. Grandpa again couldn’t stand staying put in one place. So on Friday he left us, and went God knows where, and came back on Saturday. He had horrible things to recount.
As for Fido, he came up the mountain that very same day we fled. He had a would on his leg, but it wasn’t bad. The Turks must have shot him when they opened up the cellar. He fled and survived, despite being hit by a bullet. He has his own little, moving story… But let me finish the human story first…
It must have been nine or ten in the morning. On Monday. I see Anastasis Eliadis coming towards our tree, out of breath. He hugs me. “Mrs. Stamatia, we’re saved!” he says. “The boat has come! It’s coming… look!”
I took Anna in my arms and climbed further up the mountain. And I saw it. I started running towards the sea. And from everywhere, women, children, men started running towards the sea.
Your father was safe! His comrades from the rowing boat were safe. And we’d be saved too, and all our compatriots. A triple joy. If you can call the psychological state we were in “a joy”.
The ship was majestic in volume, huge. They had even provided boats and small sailing rafts to take the people up to the ship. The men went into the water, carrying us onto the boats and rafts. Uncle Yiorgos, up to the waist in the sea, all wet, was carrying people to the boats for hours, women, older people, children, on his lap or on his back.
The Phocaeans, heartened, were now letting off steam. They begrudged the Turks, they’d curse them and swear at them. Furious, they’d take of their fezes and rip them apart, throwing the pieces into the water, making the sea deep red, as if it were bleeding all over.
So many people couldn’t fit in a single ship of course. Another ship came afterwards, to pick up those left behind. Despite being happy over being saved, our trip was excruciating. We were all unimaginably crammed on top of one another…