Recalling the sound of hand grenades


A gentle, tall and dignified man, Barba Gianni, recalls his memories of the German occupation during the Second World War in Greece. He remembers the different sounds of hand grenades, and how as children they had been taught to distinguish between the sizzle and the whistling sounds. He remembers how he was fearful of overhead planes, and remembers how he had a very close encounter with death when a bomb exploded near him. Regarding the civil war, he recalls how his father refused to take sides when coerced by a Greek communist fighter (andarte), because he was the head of a large family and his young children depended on him as the principal bread winner.

The person who tried to enlist civilians to his rebel cause was himself killed by a member from an opposing rebel group. There was much in-fighting amongst various andarte groups, and so family-oriented people like his father, who had been raised with traditional religious values, tried to avoid taking sides. Barba Gianni was then a young boy, and under the guardianship of his father. So no matter how frightening the incidents around him may have been, he did not need to make adult decisions, and perhaps that is why he did not experience the nightmares that many other survivors of the war did. He may have felt safe because he had a physically strong father who protected his family.

After the war, as an adolescent, Gianni migrated to Germany on a work visa and was relieved to find that most of the German people he came in contact with were very decent and helpful to him, respecting him because of his physical strength and good work ethic. He learnt much from his apprenticeship training as an electrical engineer, and always used his strength for a good cause. There was a workplace accident in the factory where a worker had become pinned to the ground by a heavy metal rod that had fallen. Gianni acted quickly and lifted the rod with his bare hands. This required extreme physical strength. His quick action saved the worker from dying, but it also reaffirmed how goodness and self-sacrifice triumphs over old animosities.

Gianni later migrated to Australia, learnt English in an evening college and managed to apply his engineering skills in his new job. In his new home in Western Sydney, he interacted with his community and church and stood out as a peaceful and gentle giant amongst his peers. Years later, with an ageing body riddled with arthritis, a walking stick and the same peaceful smile, Barba Gianni recalls his past with no regrets. His son, also a gentle giant, maintains his father’s willingness to help his church and his community by using the physical strength he had been graced with.


Source: Lychnos April 2018 / May 2018