Everyone in the village of Chereshnitsa, as in all the villages and most cities in Aegean Macedonia, spoke the Macedonian language. Most of them also spoke Greek. There was not one individual my age, or even ten or fifteen years younger, that did not speak Macedonian. Children only began to learn the Greek language when they started formal schooling. At home they kept on speaking the Macedonian language. “During the years between World Wars I and II, Greece followed a policy of assimilating the Macedonian minority and Hellenizing the Macedonian region in northern Greece. The government changed place names and personal names from Macedonian to Greek, ordered religious services to be performed in Greek, and altered religious icons.” 1
When Prime Minister Metaxas took office in 1936, things began to change for the worse. As soon as Metaxas took office, he vigorously continued the policy of forced assimilation and Hellenization. He dissolved the parliament and ruled as dictator. He forbade the use of the Macedonian language. All names of cities, villages, places, and people were to be strictly adhered to in the Greek language. Everyone was required to speak, read, and write Greek. All children, of course, were going to Greek schools even prior to Metaxas taking office, but now even the adults had to go to school to learn Greek .
Our parents, grandparents and great grandparents not only spoke Macedonian but, under Turkish rule, they were allowed to be schooled in the Macedonian language. But now even they had to attend Greek language schools. Many villagers were older, and some were never able to learn Greek. My Teta (Aunt) Dina Shimagova, (my mother’s sister), for instance, could only speak a few words in Greek — just enough to get by.
Although other languages were freely spoken in Greece at that time, it was a crime to speak Macedonian, punishable by fine and/ or imprisonment. People speaking to their animals in Macedonian were arrested and fined. There are certain idioms in Macedonian that, when spoken, would make the animal move or stop. For instance, to a donkey the word “Tschoush” meant to go, and the word “Tschouchkish” meant to stop. Teta Dita Belliova, in one of her trips to Kostour with the donkey loaded with wood to be sold for the ovens in Kostour, yelled at the donkey “tschoush” to make it go. A policeman close by heard her and arrested her for speaking Macedonian. At the hearing in court, she was asked by the judge what she had to say. She replied, “Your honor I only said ‘tschoush’ to the donkey because it knows no other words.” The judge’s comments were, “You should teach your donkey Greek.” He then fined her fifty drachmas, which was about $10.00. In 1936 ten dollars was a lot of money.
The Greek nation-state building process in Macedonia denied the local inhabitants their distinctive language and culture, Chereshnitcheni included. Local Macedonian farmers, “…shepherds (and) laborers…were arguably more oppressed in the early decades following the advent of Greek rule in 1913 than they had been under the Ottomans.” 2
I might add here that, had the Greek government been more lenient and allowed the Slav Macedonians to speak Macedonian and practice their culture as other minorities were allowed to do, they might have had better and more obedient citizens than the ethnic Greeks.
Amazingly, starting with Metaxas and even up to the present day, the Greek government, through its Embassies and Consulates, uses informers to report on people when they speak Macedonian or if they do not practice the Greek culture. Embassies and Consulates gather information from their informers and open a fakelo (file) on every Greek of Macedonian descent that does not practice Hellenism. Many Macedonian American citizens have been declared “persona non grata” and are not allowed to enter Greece because they have continued to practice their Macedonian culture here in America.
Much is said about the political leanings of Chereshnitcheni then and today on whether they are pro-Greek (Grecophiles/Gerkomani), pro-Bulgarian (Bulgarophiles/ Bougari), or simply Slav Macedonians.
Politically, with the exception of two or three families in the village, all Chereshnitcheni (villagers from Chereshnitsa) were pro-Slavic. This not only was because of language similarities, but also because many were educated in Bulgaria or by Bulgarians. In addition, many had relatives in Bulgaria.
The Illinden Uprising
For more than five hundred years, beginning in the fifteenth century, Macedonia was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1903, many Macedonians joined a Macedonian uprising movement against the Ottoman Turks, known as IMRO, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization. There were a few people from our village that joined this movement. IMRO, in addition to being outflanked by the pro-Bulgarian and the pro-Greek movements, lacked the necessary resources to operate its campaign effectively. As a result, the poorly planned, poorly furnished, and poorly financed uprising was not successful . IMRO members were either killed by the Turks or escaped to Bulgaria. (Bulgaria was then an independent nation, as was Greece.) The Turks burned the village of Chereshnitsa to the ground and left about five houses standing.
The Interests of the Great Powers
When Macedonia was liberated in 1913 from the Ottoman Turks at the end of the Balkan Wars, it was carved up among its neighbors and was further subjugated under foreign domination (Greece, Serbia (Yugoslavia) and Bulgaria). The great powers (Great Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia), upon the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in the Treaty of San Stefano drafted by the Russian Ambassador to Sultan Abdul Hamid II, gave all of Macedonia or the Macedonian region to Bulgaria. The union of Macedonia with Bulgaria created a new preeminently powerful pro-Russian state in the Balkans (see map on the preceding page). For this and other reasons, within a few months these same great powers could not accept the Treaty of San Stefano. Therefore, in the Treaty of Berlin the great powers made an about face. To pro- tect their national vital interests regardless of ideology, the great powers, including Russia, changed their minds and took Macedonia away from Bulgaria. Today Macedonia is split among Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria. Greece was given half of the area, Serbia was given forty percent, and Bulgaria was given ten percent.
Perhaps the most significant group that I remember was the Komitee Movement. During World War II, because of their pro-Bulgarian feelings and because of the Greek government’s repressive policies and harassment, many Chereshnitcheni sided with the occupying forces of Germany and Italy and joined the “Komitee Movement.” This was a pro-Bulgarian organization formed by a Bulgarian named Kalchev. The Italians in the Kostour area, and the Germans in other areas of Aegean Macedonia armed them to defend themselves from the insurgents (Guerrilla/Partisan) uprising which was directed primarily against the occupiers, the Italians and the Germans.
In Chereshnitsa the Komitee were armed by the Italians. In the first arming there were nineteen Komitee:[column size=”1-2″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Miteto Baroff (younger)
Koleto Kiroff (Kirou)
Leko Kiroff (Kirou)
Tsilio (Kemal) Kiroff (Kirou)
Dineto Kotoff (Kotas)
Yoti Mafin (Soulidis)
Pando Nedelkoff (Tsilkos)
Yorgi Nedelkoff (Tsilkos)
Itso Pandoff (Nikolaidis)[/column] [column size=”2-2″ last=”1″ style=”0″] Tsilio Parpoff (Parpos)
Petreto Penchoff (Pentsos)
Tometo Pizarkoff (Pizarkos)
Miteto Pliastoff (Pliastos)
Mihali Ristovski (Hristiadis)*
Tsilio Shamoff (Siamos)
Dineto Soulioff (Soulidis)
Labreto Stoyanchin (Tsoukas)
Kiro Zekoff (Zekas) * = Executed
Sometime in the fall of 1943 the Komitee were convinced to surrender their weapons to the Partisans and thus give the Partisans free movement in the area. However for some reason or other the Komitee were not satisfied with the arrangement and decided to rearm themselves early in 1944. This time they were armed by the Germans. Initially (in the second arming of the Komitee) there were only thirteen Komitee volunteers.[column size=”1-2″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Miteto Baroff (Younger)*
Koleto Kiroff (Kirou)***
Leko Kiroff (Kirou)*
Tsilio (Kemal) Kiroff (Kirou)
Yoti Mafin (Soulidis)
Pando Nedelkoff (Tsilkos)*[/column] [column size=”1-2″ last=”1″ style=”0″] Yorgi Nedelkoff (Tsilkos)*
Tometo Pizarkoff (Pizarkos)*
Miteto Pliastoff ( Pliastos)*
Dineto Soulioff (Soulidis)
Kiro Zekoff (Zekas)
* = Executed ** = Killed in Action *** = Killed himself
By fear and intimidation, these thirteen Komitee forced others to join them. Below are the names, to the best of remembrance, of the Komitee that by force or intimidation joined the third arming.[column size=”1-2″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Itso Baroff (Baros)
Gileto Bellioff (Bellios)
Staseto Dzonoff (Dzonos)
Tsilio Dzodzoff (Dzodzos)
Tometo Dzodzoff (Dzodzos)
Yorgi Dzodzoff (Tzotzos)
Dineto Kotoff (Kotas)
Bouri Mangoff (Mangos)
Vaneto Nedelkoff (Tsilkos)
Yanko Nikoff (Nikos)
Yorgi (Gegata) Nikoff
Ilio Parpoff (Parpos)[/column] [column size=”1-2″ last=”1″ style=”0″] Tsilio Parpoff (Parpos)
Slavi Pliastoff (Pliastos)
Itso Pandoff (Nikolaidis)
Koleto Pandoff (Nikolaidis)
Petreto Popoff (Pappas)
Geleto Ristovski (Hristiadis)
Tsilio Shamoff (Siamos)
Itso Stasin (Milosis)
Koleto Stasin (Milosis)
Leko Touarkoff (Theoharidis)
Dineto Tsinin (Sklifas)
The Komitee in all of the armings, but especially in the second arming, were very belligerent and fanatic. They began to pilfer and terrorize other villages that were pro Partisan or pro Greek.
The first casualty that occurred within our village boundaries that influenced our village was the killing of Alexovski, a SNOF Partisan and organizer from the village of Gabresh.
At one point in the early stages of the SNOF/ELAS uprising movement against the occupying forces of Germany and Italy and the Komitee movement, several people from our village, namely Mihali Ristovski, Argir Bellioff, Koleto Pandoff, and Slavi Pliastoff, secretly began negotiations to convince the Chereshnitsa Komitee to abandon the Komitee Movement and join the Partisan Movement. The Partisan movement then was composed primarily of Slav Macedonians (SNOF) and was leaning towards Tito’s Communist Partisans of Vardar Macedonia. The aims of both of these organizations were somewhat similar. The Komitee’s aim was to secede Aegean Macedonia from Greece and either form an independent state or join Bulgaria. The Partisan’s (SNOF) aim was to secede Aegean Macedonia from Greece and either form an independent state or join the Vardar Macedonia (after liberating it from the Germans and Italians). Both, the Partisan movement and the Komitee movement “….armed themselves to regain or defend their reputed ancestral lands…”3
At one of these negotiations, they met with Alexovski in the Ristovski’s Koushara (Shepherd’s Hut) in Grebointsa. When the Chereshnitsa Komitee learned of this gathering, they informed the Komitee from Setoma, a village southwest of Chereshnitsa. (They did not want to take action on their own since their Komitee Co- Captain, Mihali Ristovski, was in the Koushara [Shepherds Hut] taking part in the negotiations). The Setoma Komitee with help of the Chereshnitsa Komitee, surrounded the Koushara (shepherd’s hut) and in the process killed Alexovski and took the others as prisoners. The prisoners were taken to Chereshnitsa and locked up in the Popoff (Pappas) doukian (store). From there they turned them over to the Germans who imprisoned them in Lerin (Florina).
After approximately six months and much roushfety (money) and pleading for their release, Argir Bellioff, Koleto Pandoff, and Slavi Pliastoff were freed. Mihali Ristovski, however, was taken to Soloun (Thessaloniki) where he was tried, convicted, and executed by the Germans. This could have been not only because he worked to unify the Komitee with the Partisans (he was a co-captain of the Komitee), but also because his younger brother, Yoti Ristovski, was a Partisan. Argir Bellioff, Koleto Pandoff, and Slavi Pliastoff reluctantly joined the Chereshnitsa Komitee, but within a week or so they escaped and joined the Partisans.
The Aegean Macedonian Partisan movement goes back to 1943 when Tito’s Partisans of Vardar (Yugoslav) Macedonia crossed into the Aegean Macedonia and began to organize the Aegean Macedonians into Partisan units.
At the very beginning the Partisans wanted to win the support of the local inhabitants, so they began to visit each community. During such visits they would socialize with the local inhabitants, sing songs, and dance for them or with them. Around this time eleven people from Chereshnitsa volunteered and joined either the Partisans (SNOF) or ELAS. Both of these groups were fighting the occupying forces of Germany and Italy. They were:[column size=”1-2″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Partisans (SNOF)
Gileto Bellioff (Bellios)
Gligori Kotoff (Kotas)
Pando Pandoff (Nikolaidis)*
Koleto Pandoff (Nikolaidis)
Slavi Pliastoff (Pliastos)
Yoti Ristovski (Hristiadis)[/column] [column size=”1-2″ last=”1″ style=”0″] Elasites (ELAS)
Giri Despin (Despos)
Labreto Mangoff (Mangos)
Vaneto Parpoff (Parpos)**
Miteto Shamoff (Siamos)
* = Froze to Death
** = Assassinated
I clearly remember one such song and dance. It was called Dzeerna Baba ot Koushara ( or Grandma Peeked From the Shepherd’s Hut. It was danced to the beat of a Greek Syrto, and was intended to get the attention of the young boys and girls so that they would also want to join the Partisan movement. In the following pages is the text of the song in Macedonian with phonetics and English translations.
(Left click to view large image)
(Left click to view large image)
The Greek insurgents (ELAS) did not like the idea of Tito’s organizing the Slav Macedonians in Greece, so the Greek insurgents and Tito’s Slav Macedonians agreed to the formation of Slav Macedonian units, known as SNOF, but under Greek command of General Markos Vafiadis.
“According to Yugoslav sources, more than half of Markos’ forces were Slavs of Greek Macedonia, and Markos government contained representatives of these Slavs.”4 It was at this time that the Slav Macedonians were promised national rights in future Greece.
Markos Vafiadis was a pro-Yugoslav or pro-Tito communist guerrilla. Yugoslav organizers were permitted to enter Aegean (Greek) Macedonia. At that time Tito was having troubles with Russia and in 1948 Tito split with the Russian Communist Party (Cominform) but continued to support the Communist guerrillas in Greece.
In 1949 a struggle arose between Markos Vafiadis, (pro-Tito), a Greek Macedonian and commander of the ELAS forces, and the Secretary General of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), Nikos Zachariadis, (pro-Stalin). Zachariadis was trained in Moscow and became a Greek communist party leader in 1934. He survived imprisonment in the Dachau concentration camp and returned to Greece in 1945 to retake command of the party. Both Zachariadis and Vafiadis were born in Asia Minor. In the process of this struggle, Nikos Zachariadis won over Markos Vafiadis and Markos was expelled from the Greek Communist Party. Zachariadis did not recognize Markos’ agreement with the Slav Macedonian units. In retaliation, Tito stopped his support of the Greek Guerrilla Movement and closed his borders with Greece. Before closing the border, Tito allowed SNOF units to cross into Yugoslavia (Vardar Macedonia). The Slav Macedonian units that still remained in Aegean Macedonia were enrolled into the Greek Communist guerrilla units.
Late in the spring of 1944 prior to the split between Markos Vafiadis and Nikos Zachariadis, a company of Partisans, SNOF, (composed primarily of villagers from the surrounding villages and Chereshnitsa) attacked the village of Prekoupana, northeast of Chereshnitsa. About fifty Komitee of the village of Prekoupana were stationed there.
While the main attacking force concentrated on the Komitee at Prekoupana, a small force surrounded the village of Chereshnitsa. The Partisans were firing small arms and mortars into Chereshnitsa to harass them. This action kept the Chereshnitcha Komitee blockaded so that they would not be able to assist the Prekoupana Komitee. The Chereshntcha Komitee had taken positions on the second floor of the houses in the outskirts of the village.
After the Partisans captured Prekoupana and burned some houses, they moved their entire force against the Komitee at Chereshnitsa. With the local Partisans there were also two Russian soldiers who had escaped from the German prisons. One of them was killed in Chereshnitsa by the Komitee.
During the encirclement of the village, while the Partisans were attacking the village of Prekoupana, Dedo Yorgi Dzonoff decided to find out how serious the encirclement was. He took his oxen and pretended to go to Ponesh to plow the fields. The Partisans stopped him as he reached the hill near the cemetery and turned him back. He came back home, but he still could not believe what was happening so he decided to try again. This time he carried with him his rifle. When he arrived approximately half-way between the church and the cemetery (grobishchata), he was gunned down with one shot by the Partisans. This was the first shot fired that began the battle for control of the village of Chereshnitsa.
He lay there dead for many hours. No one dared to go and pick him up. Even though they could not bring him home, several women got together to get things ready for the burial and the usual village lamenting. When they were finished, one of them, Teta Fana Ristovska, the mother of Antoula Ristovska, decided to go home. As she got to the Shapova Koukia (house), she was hit by shrapnel from a mortar fired by the Partisans and killed on the spot.
Prior to realizing that the village was encircled by the Partisans and while the Partisans were trying to capture the village of Prekoupana, small children, including my seven year-old brother John, were playing bishka in the goulia playground. (Bishka is a hockey-like game. The puck is made of smashed tin cans in the form of a baseball. The boys used heavy sticks to move the puck to the opposing team’s goal. The goal was usually a small hole on the ground. When the hard tin puck was hit in their direction, they could only stop it with their stick. Many times the puck ended up being stopped with the feet and in the process many ankles ended up bleeding.)
As the fighting began, the children hurriedly dispersed and began to run towards their houses. In the meantime, all of us had taken refuge in the lower floors of the houses in the middle of the village. When my brother found no one in our house (not knowing we were all in Tetko Bouri’s house), he proceeded to run towards the center of the village. We had previously made arrangements that should anything go wrong and there was a battle in the village, all of us would gather and hide in the houses at the center of the village. During this confusion, we were not aware that John was not with us until he showed up a few minutes later. John, in his hurry to get to us, took a short cut through the Shapova avlia (courtyard). Just as he got there, he stopped frozen as a mortar shell exploded just in front of him, possibly ten or fifteen yards away. He did not know what to do. Should he go forward? Should he go back? Or should he just stand still? Flashes went through his mind. Would there be another mortar shell exploding? Would it hit the same spot? Suddenly he remembered that he was told a mortar shell never hits the same spot twice. He opened his eyes. In front of him lay a dead body. He wasted no time. He jumped over the dead body and continued running towards the center of the village to join us. We were shocked when he related this story to us, still shaking. We were very glad that he was alive. Afterwards we learned that the dead body was that of Teta Fana Ristovska.
During the fighting one Komiteen, Miteto Baroff, attempted to throw a hand grenade through the window of the house where he was stationed inside. The hand grenade hit the grated iron bars on the window and exploded in his face. Wounded, he ran out and hid in the Lialkina Koukia (house) in the center of the village where my Tetko Bouri and Teta Tana were living. At that time we were all hiding there, but unaware that Miteto Baroff was also hiding there. When the Partisans found him there(they assumed that he was hiding there with the owners permission), a big husky Partisan took him and Tetko Bouri (the owner of the house) and lined them up against the wall of a barn next to the stasina (Milosi) koukia (house) and prepared to pull the trigger on his sub-machine gun.
Yorgi Kalkoff from Visheni, and Yoti Ristovski from Cherishnitsa, both Partisans with the attacking force, persuaded the Partisan that Tetko Bouri was not aware Miteto Baroff was hiding there. Tetko Bouri was released and Miteto Baroff was then machine gunned by the Partisan and left to die as we watched from a distance only five to ten feet away. No one was willing to do anything to help, since it was apparent we would be next. Our only consolation was that he was so seriously wounded that he would not have lived anyway.
Chereshnitsa was captured by the Partisans; however, it was not burned. Most of the Komitee that were not killed or had not escaped were disarmed and released except for five of them: Tometo Pizarkoff (The brother-in-law of Yoti Ristovski’s brother, who was a Partisan with the attacking units), Miteto Pliastoff (the father of Slavi Pliastoff who also was a Partisan with the attacking units), Pando Nedelkoff (Tsilkos, my godfather), Yorgi Nedelkoff (Tsilkos), brother to Pando Nedelkoff, and Leko Kiroff (Kirou), a domazet from Olishtcha who was married to Tinka Popova (Pappas). The five were taken to Pozdivishcha where they were tried, convicted, and executed by the Partisans.
The Bourontades (Pliachkadji) Movement
When the Komitee were very active, they pilfered, robbed, and harassed the villages and towns that favored the Greek government. As things turned around and the Komitee Movement died, the Greek government formed the Bourontades, or the Bourontades Movement. These units were formed to protect themselves from the guerrillas but they now became, just as the Komitee were, Pliachkadjis. They pilfered, robbed, and harassed villages and towns that were pro-Guerrilla and pro-Komitee. When we would hear of their coming, we would gather all our belongings that we could carry and take our animals (cows, oxen, mules, horses, etc.) up north to the mountains for safety. We would stay there sometimes for days and just send a few people back to the village for food.
Because we could not carry everything, many of us would dig big holes in our yards and bury those valuable belongings that we could not carry. These included blankets, clothes, pots, pans, etc. Since this happened often, we did not try to dig out and rebury each time we came back home. As a result, some of us lost many of our belongings to the weather. They rotted away.
At the beginning, the insurgents (Partisan and Andartes) movement relied on volunteers. However, as the German and Italian forces began to withdraw from Greece, the Partisan/ELAS and the EDES forces, who were fighting the Germans and the Italians, found themselves at odds as to who would prevail in a free Greece. Negotiations between the two sides (ELAS and EDES) collapsed. ELAS, after having surrendered their weapons, began to rearm only now as DSE (Dimokratikou Stratou Elladas) Democratic forces (Army) of Greece. DSE now needed more men power to withstand against the forces of the Greek National Army supported by the British and United States advisors and weaponry. At this point the DSE began to conscript men and women. The Chereshnitsa additional volunteers and conscripts are listed on the following page:[column size=”1-2″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Yorgi Bellioff (Bellios)
Liuba Barova (Barou)
Tometo Boshkoff (Boskos)
Vangeli (Getcho) Dzodzoff
Dineto Bosotoff (Shapoff)
Staseto Dzonoff (Tzonos)
Dinka Dzodzova (Tzotzou)
Slavka Dzodzova (Tzotzou)
Liuba Dzodzova (Tzotzou)
Leftera Ingeliova (Voulioti)
Naseto Ingelioff (Vouliotis)*
Tsilia Ingeliova (Voulioti)
Koleto Karayanin (Karayanis)
Ditchka Kiranina (Giamou)*
Yorgi Kiranin (Giamos)
Tsveta Kirova (Kirou)
Hristana Mangova (Mangou)*
Itso Mangoff (Mangos)*
Naseto Mangoff (Mangos)
Milka Mitova (Mitou)
Yanko Nikoff (Nikos)*
Andrea Pandoff (Nikolaidis)
Liopa Pandova (Nikolaidi)
Liuba Pandova (Nikolaidi)
Fana Parpova (Parpou)[/column] [column size=”1-2″ last=”1″ style=”0″] Olga Parpova (Parpou)
Yorgi Parpoff (Parpos)*
Yoti Parpoff (Parpos)
Milka Pitrevska (Bizinti)
Tsilio Pitrevski (Bizintis)
Dineto Pliastoff (Pliastos)
Andrea Popoff (Pappas)*
Antoula Popova (Pappa)
Efthemia Popova (Pappa)
Antoula Ristovska (Hristiadi)*
Gileto Ristovski (Hristiadis)
Tometo Ristovski (Hristiadis)
Tsilio Ristovski (Hristiadis)
Fana Shamova (Siamou)
Sofa Shimagova (Simagou)
Dineto Soulioff (Soulidis)*
Kouzo Stasin (Millosis)
Kouzo Tarpchinoff (Terpsinas)
Stefo Tarpchinoff (Terpsinas)*
Tashko Tsinin (Sklifas)*
Tsilia Tsinina (Sklifa)
Yorgi Tsinin (Sklifas)
Leftera Touarkova (Theoharidi)
Tinka Touarkova (Theoharidi)
Tometo Zekoff (Zekas)
Tinka Zekova (Zekou)
(* = Killed in Action) [/column]
After the DSE (Dimocratikou Stratou Elladas) was dispersed and almost dissolved, remnants of DSE were still in Greece and Aegean Macedonia and were harassing Greek National Army units. To protect and guard property and people from these units, the Greek National Army formed a militia known as TEA (Tagma Ethnikis Aminis) National Defense Battalion. This militia was made up of volunteers and conscripts from the villages. The following young men from Chereshnitsa were drafted or volunteered:[column size=”1-2″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Yorgi Bellioff (Bellios)
Giri Despin (Despos)
Tsilio (Kemal) Kiroff (Kirou)
Labreto Mangoff (Mangos)
Petreto Penchoff (Pentsos)
[/column] [column size=”1-2″ last=”1″ style=”0″] Naseto Popoff (Pappas)
Kouzo Shkemboff (Skembos)
Mihali Shkemboff (Skembos)
Yorgi Tsinin (Sklifas)
Kocho Stasin (Milosis)
——Surprisingly prior to being drafted into TEA some of the men in the picture on the previous page were Partisans/Andartes and/or Komitee and are now guarding from insurgents the same villages and towns that they once occupied as insurgents.
The final chapter of my life in the village was in the spring of 1946. After the Germans had left Greece, seven Partisans entered the village and went from house to house collecting bread and cheese. While they were in the process of this collection, someone in the village must have informed the Greek National Army, and a whole battalion surrounded the village while the Partisans were still there. The Greek soldiers must have been stationed nearby, somewhere between Zagorichani and Olishtcha. The Partisans, using the darkness and houses and ditches, got away without a shot being fired. In the morning, soldiers from the Greek National Battalion went from house to house and gathered everybody in front of the church. There they segregated the men, women, and children. I was sixteen years of age and was classified as an adult. They marched all forty-four of us to Zagorichani (Vasiliada) through Olishtcha (Melisotopi). There they loaded us onto two trucks and took us to Kostour (Kastoria), where they paraded us in the streets as Partisans. They told the people who were lined along the streets that they had captured the Partisans in Chereshnitsa.
They jailed us in a building which, before the war, had been used to store salt. The walls of the building were built of stone three feet thick. It had a courtyard, and all around the courtyard were individual rooms with no windows. As they were herding us inside the courtyard of the building, police officers were lined on both sides of the entrance and kicked us with their boots as we entered. All forty-four of us were kept in one room at the jail. Each night the guards would randomly pull one or two of us from the room and give us a beating. As they would open the door and enter the room, all of us would huddle in a corner of the room or near the fireplace. Everyone wanted to hide in the back of the group so that he won’t be the first to be pulled for the beating. Most of the time I found refuge in the fireplace. Because of my size I was able to stand up in the fireplace with my head in the chimney. For the two or three weeks that we were there, we were not allowed to wash. Being in the chimney most of the time, I looked like I was rolling in ashes.
One evening they came in holding a pocket wallet that looked like the wallet they confiscated from me and pretending to return it. I raised my hand to claim it. When they saw my size they denied that the wallet was mine and refused to give it to me. They contin- ued on inquiring who might be the owner. Tsilio Shamoff then raised his hand to claim it. They took him outside and a few min- utes later they returned him on a stretcher. My small size saved me from a beating.
During our stay there our families had to bring us food from the village; otherwise we would have starved to death. We were kept there for weeks without being charged for a crime. Some of us were released after two or three weeks (I was one of them), and others were held for years. Some were sent exoria (banished) for an undetermined period to the uninhabited islands. A few years later, however, all were given amnesty.
I never again went back to the village to live. It was as though I had fled from the fire and the darkness. I stayed in Kostour with the Pappanthimos family for a couple of months and then in Soloun for a couple of months. In December, 1946, I and my immediate family, which consisted of my mother, my sister Eleftheria, and my brother John, emigrated to America. My father had already emigrated to the United States just before World War II began.
During my stay in Soloun waiting for the ship (Marine Carp, a navy destroyer converted to carry passengers) to arrive that would take us to America, there were people from the village on business in Soloun who would visit me at the hotel. George Bellioff and Kouzo Shkemboff were also preparing the necessary papers to come to America. One day in August they came to Soloun to see the agent that was working on their papers. They stayed at the same hotel where I was staying, Hotel Atlantis.
George, Kouzo and I would usually walk down the street (Odos Egnatias) to go and see our agent in his office. I was sort of showing them the way since I had already been living there for some time. They had come to Soloun dressed like villagers: woolen underwear, woolen trousers (Kilota) made out of army blankets covered up to the knee with hand knit socks called “leembee”, and longsleeved shirts covered with a heavy longsleeved sweater topped with a heavy coat and a hat. I was dressed with clothes sent to me by my father from America: cotton underwear, short-sleeved shirt, light long pants, no coat and no hat. I walked a few paces ahead of them for obvious reasons. At one point a couple of teens from Soloun dressed in short-sleeved shirts and short pants approached George and Kouzo and said to them, “Βρε παΙδΙα δεν κρΙονετε?”, or “Eh, boys aren’t you cold?” Needless to say, the next day we went to a clothing store and purchased the proper clothes.
Justice, the Partisan Way
During the time our village was in the Partisans’ hands, justice was administered by the villagers. There was what was known as a bureau of judges who decided and settled disputes between vil- lagers. They also made decisions on the political and economic welfare of the villagers. Many times they were the ones that de- cided whose children will go up north as “Detsa Begaltsi” and whose would not.
Detsa Begaltsi (Pedomasima)
Just before the end of the Civil War in Greece, the insurgents (Partisans/Andartes) convinced many parents to let their minor children go live in one of the socialist countries such as Poland, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, or others for safety. This move- ment, known as “ Detsa Begaltsi ” in Macedonian and “Pedomasima” in Greek, included not only Macedonian but also Greek children. (The phrase “Detsa Begaltsi” denotes that the movement was voluntary to avoid persecution and the wrath of war. The compound Greek word “Pedomasima” denotes that the movement was involuntary and that the children were gathered by force.). Parents, of course, were very reluctant to release their children to the insurgents regardless whether it was voluntary or forced on to them, so some parents accompanied their children.
The gathering of the children was by village in groups of fifteen to twenty children. Each group was headed or chaperoned by an adult woman. Some of these so called adult women were themselves teenage girls. The children were always moved by night, walking, so that they would not be detected by reconnaissance Greek National planes and risk being strafed or bombed. During the day they stayed hidden in villages or mountains.
As each group passed a village, they would be warmed up and fed by the villagers. Here, in most cases, they would be joined by a group of children from that village on their way north. During this movement traveling by night some children were lost by falling into deep ditches, rivers, or lakes. One of these children, now an adult, related to me that in one of these night marches that originated in the village of Bamboki (Stavropotamos), the children passed through Chereshnitsa (Polykerasos), they were given food, and continued on their journey through the village of Blatsa (Oksia) and the village of Visheni (Visinia). Just on the other side of Visheni, they hid in the woods during the day and continued their march at night. All the time, while they were moving, they held hands so as not to separate from each other. Just as they were passing some mountains in the area of Prespa, the area west and northwest of the village of Visheni, three children slid on the narrow pathway and fell into a lake or a deep river and apparently drowned.
As soon as each group would cross the Yugoslavian border, they would be welcomed by people waiting for them, would be fed and sent on to a central collection point. Here they would be loaded into train cars and sent north to one of the iron curtain countries. All the children in a given train car would end up in the same country. At their final destination, the children, before being loaded on the buses to be taken to their billeted area, would go through a delousing process, because they were full of lice. They would discard all of their clothes, would be bathed, and given new set of clothes.
In each of these iron curtain countries over a period of time, the children were schooled and specialized in a given profession, such as, those in Hungary specialized to become apprentice in a trade. Those that ended up in Romania went to a higher education and became professionals in medicine, such as doctors or nurses. And those that ended up in Czechoslovakia studied to become engineers or architects.
The children lived in communes, six to seven hundred in each commune, were educated in Macedonian and Greek language schools in addition to that country’s language. Life in the communes was not all work or study. They had social gatherings, they sang songs, danced, and even had picnics. Here is where some of them met and married their spouse.
Many of these children, after the end of the hostilities, either returned to Greece, if they were allowed, or went to America, Canada or Australia. Some remained in the iron curtain countries. Most of these children, now adults, still up north are not allowed to return to their childhood homes, their place of birth. This restriction only applies to Macedonian children, “Detsa Begaltsi”. The Greek children, if they can prove that they are of Greek blood (genus), were given permission to return to Greece. Most of the children that were not allowed to return to Greece in time emigrated to Bulgaria or Macedonia.
ELAS (a pro-Greek movement) and SNOF (a pro-Macedonian movement) had an agreement made that when the Germans and Italians were driven out of Greece, Macedonia, with some autonomy, would become a Republic of Greece. ELAS reneged on their promise, so SNOF, then known as Gotchev’s Division (Gotcheva Brigada) with about 25,000 men, seceded from ELAS and moved their troops to the Vardar region of Macedonia. When ELAS was fighting with the Greek National Army (the Royalists), some units of SNOF crossed the Greek-Yugoslavian border and harassed the Greek National Troops. It was there that Pando Pandoff (who had just healed from an earlier wound) crossed the border with his unit and was caught in a snowstorm and froze to death.
At about the same time the civil war was winding down, all those with strong ties to the Partisan and Andartes movement left Greece, and in time ended up in Bulgaria, Vardar Macedonia, Poland, Hungary, and other countries that would become part of the “iron curtain”. Some of these people returned to Greece, but most of them were not allowed to. Even today they cannot return to Greece. The Greek government is using a catharsis policy in deciding who can and who cannot return. “In 1982 the Greek government enacted an amnesty law (Law No. 400/76) permitting repatriation and return of Greek citizenship to (these) political refuges. However, the ministerial decree ordering these actions stated that those free to return were all Greek by genus (origin)”5 In other words one must have pure Greek blood to be allowed to return. If, however, a Macedonian first migrated from an “iron country” to America, Australia or Canada, these Macedonians sometimes are permitted to enter Greece. Many Macedonians are still north in Bulgaria, Republic of Macedonia, Hungary, Poland, and Russia. The properties of most of these refugees were confiscated.
Chereshnitsa used to be quite prosperous before the 1940’s. Its depressed economy now barely supports the few families that remain. Because of this and the political harassment, today the village is almost deserted. “. . .The population of the village in 1928 was 328 people. In 1940 it was 397. In 1946 it was approximately 500. In 1951 it was 87. . .”6 and today there are only twenty-two (22) people living in the village. (See GRAPH 1, Village Popula- tion Changes.) Slowly over a period of time for political, eco- nomic and other reasons, people left for the United States, Canada, and Australia. Later, many more left to work in Kostour, Germany, and other places in Greece and Europe. Those that came to the United States settled primarily in the Midwest, with the majority in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Right now only neevia (farms) on level ground and close to the village are being farmed. Elsewhere you won’t recognize the neevia (farms) or leevadia (meadows). They have been overpowered by weeds, kouprivi (nettles), and t’rnia (thorny weeds and bushes). You might say that night time has come to the village.
Graph 1 above was constructed from figures furnished by Naoum Panov’s book on “Macedonia and the Civil War in Greece” and by the author’s actual count of Chereshnitcheni still living in Chereshnitsa.
Graph 2 on the following page shows the whereabouts of Chereshnitcheni in the Diaspora as of this writing. The figures in the graph come from TABLE A which was difficult to construct because of passage of time and definition of terms. The reader may find areas to contest, especially what constitutes a family unit. My purpose was to show the dispersion that occurred during the troubled times that descended on our ancestral village. Presently there are only twenty-two family units or 10.0%, of the total village still living in Chereshnitsa. Another twenty-two family units or 10.0%, moved elsewhere in Greece. The bulk of Chereshnitcheni, seventy-one family units or 32.1%, now live in the United States. The remainder are twenty-nine family units or 13.9%, in the Republic of Macedonia; twenty-one family units or 9.5%, in Bulgaria; thirty-six family units or 16.3%, in Australia; and twenty family units or 9.0%, to all other places in the world.
*Every year these family units go down because most of them are single person units over the age of 60. Young people just go to the village to visit in the summer time. There are no children in the village.
In an environment such as exists in Australia, Canada, and the United States, these emigrants have blossomed and have been an asset to their adopted countries. Gradually they have filled the ranks of professional occupations. Many have become self-sufficient entrepreneurs while still others are involved in politics and civic organizations.
- Human Rights Watch / Helsinki, Denying Ethnic Identity, 1994, (p 6, 7).
- Anastasia N. Karakasidou, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood, 1997, (p 18).
- Anastasia N. Karakasidou, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood, 1997, (p 13).
- Stoyan Pribichevich, Macedoinia, Its People and History, 1982, (p. 238)
- Human Rights Watch / Helsinki, Denying Ethnic Identity, 1994, (p 27).
- Naoum Payov, Macedonia and the Civil War in Greece, 1968, (p 184).