By Isa Covo
The author’s recollection of her experiences in Greece during World War II continues in this follow-up piece.
After the funerals, most of the Germans departed, but two were left behind, as there was no more space on the ships. They were to remain on the island for a few days, and the only place they could stay was the hotel we were in. I remember them very well. One was German, stocky, not very tall, with brown hair and eyes, gregarious, wearing only part of his uniform, a sweater and trousers. He told us (in what language? French? English? I don’t think anybody knew German) how much he missed his son who was my sister’s age; he even gave her half of a chocolate bar. The other one was Austrian, tall, lanky, with a ruddy complexion, and always in his greenish uniform. I can’t remember him speaking.
It seemed to me that they never left the hotel. In the evenings, like all of us, they would sit in the lounge; this situation lasted a few days, perhaps a week. During that period, I know we were all wondering why there was no indication of when they would leave.
Apparently, this bothered my father who thought we should not prolong our stay and return to the village. He was discussing that with my mother in their room one very stormy evening as the rest of us were in the lounge. Did the antartes know they would find the two men in the lounge? It is possible, as their leader was often in and out of the hotel. Anyway, six or seven of them and their leader stormed the lounge brandishing their rifles. The leader, with his German handgun, yelled some order and started firing. The owner’s older son, Annio, and I ran into the street. The storm was raging with lightning, thunder, and hailstones, some as big as small eggs falling all over the place. When we saw the men run out, we returned to the hotel. The whole incident must have lasted a few minutes.
I met my parents in a hallway. They told me later that, at first, they thought the blasts were thunder, but they soon realized they could not have been. They quickly left their room and went towards the lounge and saw what had happened. They confronted the leader who told them that the killing was justified and necessary. As proof, he showed them a grenade that he found inside the Austrian’s boot. The hotel owner told us that when he saw the antartes storming in and firing their weapons, he was sure they were going to kill them all and tried to cover his younger son’s head. However, that night, only the German and the Austrian died.
We gathered a few things and left hurriedly, escaping to a mountain. The storm had mercifully passed, and I don’t remember if it was even cold. Early the next morning, Annio returned to the hotel to bring any possessions we had left behind. She told us she saw two men painting the lounge who warned her not to tell anybody what had happened there. We would have been stranded in those mountains, I imagine, if Tassos, who had heard rumors, hadn’t come looking for us. And so, we sailed back to the village.
All of this took place in 1944. The Germans were already losing the war and yet, in Spetses, they rounded up some Spetsiotes, including, apparently, the couple who were my parents’ friends and who had a nine-month-old baby, possibly the hotel owner, and others who were also totally innocent, and executed them. I searched on the web and in books that were written for that period. Although the existence of the guerillas was mentioned, this incident and the carnage that followed were recorded or written nowhere.
Life went on in the village as before. That summer was very hot. When there was a breath of wind, it felt as if we were standing in front of a brazier. I carried home the water in a terra cotta jar from the fountain. There were funerals and we ate tasty kolyva, sweetened wheat kernels and juniper berries, which, I am told, is a tradition originating from antiquity. There were weddings in which the bride and groom, in traditional Greek costumes, danced the Tsakonico, a regional dance also imbued with ancient Greek inspiration. We baked bread in the communal oven. Ragged German troops came through, or bivouacked the night and requisitioned the mules. There were rumors of burned nearby villages, of villagers fleeing. However, nothing like this happened to our village because it was so small and poor; it did not even appear in the strategic maps. What changed was that somehow there appeared a radio powered with a battery and some men gathered secretly to hear news from the BBC. They managed to charge the battery at a windmill.
And then one night, it was October 12th. The church bells rang and a very loud voice yelled: ATHENS HAS BEEN LIBERATED. The next day, Tassos was there to take us back to Athens. He was a selfless unsung hero.