The Enduring Legacy of Faith
Kyria Leah migrated to Australia from her home town of Kozani in the post war era. Like many other women from the north-eastern regions of Greece she had vivid memories of the war years, even though she was a young girl at the time. Most families had suffered tragic losses, especially during the Greek civil war years. Many families had lost a loved one, and in some cases more than one member of the family.
In a slow, measured tone, Kyria Leah recalls the two brothers she had lost within the space of one month around 1947. One of her brothers, an eighteen-year old youth, had been targeted by the andartes (communist fighters), and as he ran to escape from them, he was hurled against barbed wire fencing and injured both of his legs in the razor-sharp wire. His family were never to see him again. Some townspeople said he had been taken to the Eastern bloc countries by the andartes, while others whispered that he had been shot while trapped in the fencing. This brother had stood out in Kyria Leah’s imagination because of the family’s story about him. When he was a small child he had been lost overnight. He had fallen asleep in the church during the vespers service. The family had gone home separately, not aware that he had remained asleep inside the church. Each family member believed that one of the other siblings had taken him home. During the night, when he awoke, he realised that he had been locked inside the church. He did not alarm himself, but remained resting in a small corner until the morning when the priest came to open up. The church for him was the same as home and he knew he was safe in his Father’s house. His mother had raised all of her children to love the Church but this child, even from a very young age, seemed to be different from the others in his simple faith and trust in God and the Saints. When he was killed by andartes, his family mourned for him deeply.
Within a month, another one of Leah’s brothers returned home after having spent a long period in Vienna in a German internment camp. He had managed to escape after a bomb had blown up the camp he had been sent to. Upon his return home, he wanted to go and see the family’s tobacco fields, as this had been his responsibility prior to the war. His mother, aware that the area was surrounded by andartes, tried to keep him away, but his desire to experience some sort of normality after his long absence in a foreign land caused him to disregard his mothers’ words of caution. There was a shed at the very end of the field, and as he approached it he noted there were men inside. They were in ragged cloths, desperate, afraid and very hungry. He did not know how to respond to them, whether to approach or to go back the way he had come.
They called out to him, ‘Have you no bread to bring to us? We are starving!”
He felt their hunger deeply, as he too had experienced hunger, but he had experienced it as a prisoner in a foreign place. Here these men were in their own country, yet desperate for something to eat. He could not stand to see people hungry and so, instinctively, he acted upon impulse and went back home to get some freshly baked bread for them.
“No, my son, do not feed them! Do not go back there, as you will be seen by some people around here as a traitor for feeding and aiding the enemy”, Kyria Leah’s mother pleaded in vain with her son. He was not aware of the fatal consequences of a humane act of feeding a hungry group of men. He had been absent from Greece for long enough, and did not understand the politics of the civil war. Within days he was denounced for this act of kindness as an act of betrayal by some of his neighbours. He was sentenced and killed for aiding andartes by those on the other side.
Kyria Leah was a young girl when this happened, but she recalls that her mother and father could not utter anything in defence of their sentenced son. Furthermore, they were not given their son’s body to bury after he was executed. When asked about how her parents responded to this tragedy, Kyria Leah stated that her parents did not ever stop believing in God, despite the incomprehensibility of what had just happened. Many years later, when she decided to migrate to Australia, her parents would say that they had lost three children. Yet Kyria Leah was never lost, since the legacy of her parents’ deep and abiding faith had taught her to endure whatever hurdles life presented to her. It was her early experiences that had shaped her, and so she was able to transmit her parents’ faith and beliefs to her own family and her grandchildren in the Antipodes.
Source: Lychnos December 2017 / January 2018