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Out of the Balkans

Part 1: Out of the Balkans

Chapter 2:
Dimitraki: Out of Macedonia

Dimitraki steadied his cocked, long barreled pistol on the top of the garden wall and took aim. It was early spring in 1913, and this twelve year old, Macedonian boy from the village of Mavrovo lay in wait to assassinate the Kaimakam(1) in Kastoria. Leader of a secret band of boy revolutionaries, Dimitraki longed to use the ancient firearm he carried hidden at his waist to kill the Turk who ruled the Greeks under the cursed Ottoman Yoke.

The boys decided to act when sent to Kastoria to trade and buy goods for their parents. Today they had stalked the lordly Kaimakam to his home, hid behind the garden wall that bordered an unpaved, muddy wagon road on the lake's shore and like their heroes, the andartes,(2) waited for an opportunity to strike.

As the late afternoon light faded, the Kaimakam appeared on his second floor balcony to enjoy the evening and his view of the lake. Dimitraki fired his muzzle-loaded pistol. He missed, the bullet striking the frame of the French door next to the Kaimakan's head. Within minutes the would-be assassin was run down and caught. His comrades escaped.

There was no question about what would happen to Dimitraki. The next morning Ottoman officials tried and sentenced him to immediate execution by hanging. However his father's long friendship with the Kaimakam, desperate promises to control the boy, and delivery of a purse filled with gold Turkish Lira(3) saved Dimitraki's life.

* * * * * * *

Demetrios Athanasios Mavrovitis, known in his village as Dimitraki, and later in business and by friends and family as Jimmy, was born on 6 September 1900 in the western Macedonia village of Mavrovo(4) on Lake Orestiada. Macedonia was still an ill-defined geographic region with villages populated by one of several ethnic groups: Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian, Vlach, Turk or Albanian.(5) Not yet joined with Greece the entire territory was held by the Ottoman Empire as an integral part of the area known from the sixteenth to beginning of the twentieth centuries as "Turkey in Europe."(6)

The small city across the lake from Dimitraki's village is Kastoria.(7) Its name either honors Zeus' son, Kastor, or is based on the many beaver found by early settlers in Lake Orestiada.(8) It was identified by the Roman Historian, Titus Livy (59 B.C. to A.D. 17), as the ancient Keletron or Celetrum. Located on the west side of the lake, it occupied a defensible promontory protected on three sides by water. A narrow strip of land connected it to the shore.(9)

Just south of Keletron was Argos Orestikon, a mountain city founded by the Orestae, a Molossian tribe that in the Late Bronze Age moved from the north into the upper Haliakmon river valley. Some believe that the Orestae were the tribe from which the Argeadae Macedones sprang.(10) They became the leading tribe of Macedonia until displaced by the Temenidae, who formed the Macedonian royal house that reigned until the death of Alexander III (the Great).

Kastoria is south of the Via Egnatia, the ancient road that started at Dyrrhachium, modern day Durazzo on the Adriatic Sea, continued north of Lake Ohrid, southeast to Thessaloniki and east along the shore of the north Aegean to Constantinople. Access from Kastoria to the Via Ignatia was through mountain passes west and north of the lake.(11)

Alexander the Great led his army through these passes in 335 B.C., past Keletron and Argos Orestikon, as they force marched 250 miles south from his victory at Pelium to put down a revolt at Thebes. Arriving there he consolidated his position as leader of the Greek city-states, and then crossed the Hellespont to begin his conquest of Persia.(12)

The Roman consul P. Sulpicius Galba captured Kastoria in 200 B.C. It existed without much note in Roman and Byzantine times, though in the sixth century A.D. it was named Justinianopolis after the Emperor Justinian. Five hundred years later in 1083 the Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard took it from a small Anglo-Saxon(13) garrison that held it for the Byzantine Empire. Robert's son, Bohemund, controlled all of Macedonia and Thessaly, but lost it in war and retreated to the Adriatic. His father, Robert, returned to northern Greece to capture Corfu. As fate would have it he died of plague before he attained the crown he sought, that of Byzantium.(14)

The 12th century Byzantine emperors of Nicaea(15) contested Macedonia's lands. After massive incursions southward Serbian Tsars took and held Kastoria from 1331 to 1380. The Ottomans then conquered the region and held it from 1385 to 1912.

Over the centuries the lake, identified with the city, became known as Lake Kastoria. However it retains still its formal name, Orestiada. Bands of Bulgarian, Vlach and Albanian migrants entered the region and settled in small villages, especially in the mountains circling the lake to the west (toward Albania) and to the north. The dominant linguistic, cultural and religious influences immediately surrounding the lake were then, and are now Greek. There were Turks in the region and a large population of Jews in Kastoria proper. In the seventeenth century Kastoria became a flourishing fur trading center.

The village of Mavrovo existed as early as 1380. The name Mavros appears along with that of Krepeni in a title deed executed by the Serbian Nicholas Bagas Baldovin.(16) Toward the end of the eighteenth century the patriarch of the Mavrovitis family brought his people from the nearby village of Krepeni to Mavrovo to save them from plague. There was probably a frequent exchange of populations between these villages.

Remarkably, the small village of Mavrobo (a variant spelling) is identified on a British map of 1830.[•*]

There are seventy-two churches and chapels in the area surrounding Lake Kastoria. Of them, the Monastery of the Virgin Mary of Mavriotissa is one of the earliest and finest examples. It is located on the remote eastern shore of the mountainous promontory that juts out into the lake, so is thus hidden from the city which is on its western slope. Mavriotissa lies directly across the lake from the village of Mavrovo. Originally named Mesonisiotissa,(17) the monastery changed its name to Krepenitissa in the early seventeenth century after the village of Krepeni. In the mid to late seventeenth century it changed its name again to Mavriotissa, after Mavrovo whose inhabitants had long been its patrons.(18)

The Monastery owned large tracts of land in the village of Krepeni on the opposite bank of the lake. It is clear that Krepeni and Mavrovo had an historical relationship with each other and with the Monastery at Mavriotissa.

The site of the Mavriotissa is located at the point where in 1083 Byzantine troops under the command of George Paleologus landed to encircle from the rear and rout the Norman garrison left at Kastoria by Robert Guiscard. Byzantine Emperor Alexis I likely had the old main church built at the site in commemoration of the event.

At the time of Dimitraki's birth Kastoria and the many villages near the lake had been under Turkish rule for over five hundred years. Greek language and custom survived this long domination only because the Greek Orthodox Church kept Hellenism alive. The Orthodox Church was secure in Kastoria, the seat both of the civil government and of a Metropolitan Bishop.

The Turkish rulers at the Porte in Constantinople delegated to the Church authority to govern and administer the Christians of the Balkans. Of the Patriarch and his hierarchy they expected obedience, payment of taxes, and submission to exploitation of their flock. The Ottoman overlords did indeed consider their Christian subjects as sheep, or rayahs, the flock, non-Moslems "... whom the sultan protected from wolves and fleeced."(19)

Because of its far-reaching civil authority over all the millet-i-Rûm(20) (the Eastern Orthodox of the Balkans), the Patriarchate became more powerful than it had been in the Byzantine Empire.(21) In 1776 the Patriarchs of the Bulgarians and the Serbs lost their positions, churches and monasteries. The Patriarch in Constantinople absorbed their autocephalous jurisdictions.

The Patriarch, his immediate circle, and many of the leading administrators and men of commerce in Constantinople were Greek. They had authority, position and wealth, and owed it all to their masters the Ottomans, who preferred to have the details of administration and taxation of their subjects managed by the Phanariotes.(22) As corrupt as some clergy and bishops were, and as poorly educated and lacking in knowledge of their religion and its history, against all odds and in the absence of any social or economic development, the church was able to preserve for Hellenes the Greek language, the Orthodox faith and the spirit of Hellenism.

Unfortunately in its zeal to promote all things Orthodox, Greek and Hellenic, the overbearing Patriarchate, through its Archbishops, Bishops and clergy, imposed the Greek language and even Greek identity on the peasants of Serbia and Bulgaria. The Bulgarian people near lost their heritage as by the end of the eighteenth century they identified themselves as Greek to foreign travelers.(23)

Consciously undertaken or not, the result of actions of the Greek Patriarch nearly eradicated the language, culture and ethnicity of Serbians and Bulgarians in the Balkans and proved to be a source of hostility and violence.

The Patriarch appeared to be working hand-in-glove with revolutionaries like the intellectual and well-connected Greek, Rigas Velestinlis, who in the late nineteenth century advocated a Balkan-Asian State with a culture based on Hellenism, using Greek as its language.(24) His early organizational efforts were rewarded when the Porte ordered his execution. Strangled to death, he and seven members of his group were thrown into the Savas River at Belgrade. Among them were two brothers from Kastoria: P. and J. Emmanuil.

In the nineteenth century, the Romanians of Moldavia, the Serbians and the Bulgarians regained their pride through study of their history and use of their language. The outcome was a rebirth of their national identities.

In the first decade of the twentieth century Kastoria and the surrounding villages served by the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop of Kastoria were within the Vilâyet of Monastir, and the Sanjak of Kastoria.(25) Monastir, (26) the present day Bitola(27) in the Republic of Macedonia is 34 miles north of Kastoria and was an important political center with numerous European consulates. American and British representatives of the press were frequently in residence there.

Albanian-Turkish(28) beys governed the entire region. This ruling class owned most of the land and served as "tax farmers" for the Ottoman Empire. (29) The peasants suffered under the beys and other Turkish officials, and were plundered by brigand bands that stole from their villages. A village's only defense to protect its people and property was to ally with klephts or comitadjides.

In 1893 a subversive movement named the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (I.M.R.O.) sprang into existence in Resna, Macedonia, just north of Lake Ohrid. Its stated purpose was to represent all the peoples of Macedonia in their struggle against the abusive and intolerable conditions imposed by the Ottoman Empire. In practice it became an anti-Greek, anti-Turkish, exarchist guerilla organization that enlisted Bulgarians and Bulgarian dominated villages into its membership. In reaction the patriarchist grecomanes(30) organized and, in their attempt protect the Greeks of Macedonia from the Slavs, cooperated with the Turkish authorities in discovering and destroying comatidjedes.

It is at the start of the nineteenth century that the Mavrovitis family story begins.

* * * * * * *

The given name of the earliest Mavrovitis in Mavrovo is unknown. He had two sons, Nikolaos and Christodoulos, and two daughters, whose given names are unknown. Christodoulos left Mavrovo and Kastoria to establish himself elsewhere in Greece. His descendants lived in Thessaloniki and in the United States. One of the two daughters died shortly after marrying a man in Kastoria. After her death, her husband assumed her surname, just as Stefanos Tsvetkov in Sozopolis adopted his wife's family name of Capidaglis. There are therefore Mavrovitis who have no blood ties to the family from Mavrovo. Nothing is known of the second sister.

Nikolaos (1820-1895) remained in Mavrovo as a farmer, married and had three sons, Athanasios (1848-1933), Theodore (1859-1930) and Michael (1869-1962). Theodore left Greece and immigrated to Egypt where he founded a successful merchant family. Athanasios and Michael remained in Mavrovo.

Athanasios, Dimitraki's father, was a farmer whose land was fertile and productive. His first marriage ended at his wife's death. With her, he had fathered one son, Nicolas, and three daughters, Polixeni, Theano and Anastasia. His second marriage in 1896 was to a widow, Kalliopi Papadiskos Papana. She brought George Papana, her son from her first marriage to the new family. The marriage of Athanasios and Kalliopi produced four sons: Constantinos, Demetrios (Dimitraki), Aristede and Thoma.

Athanasios was one of the few men in his village who was literate. He had a personal library and was well read. Villagers came to him as one of the three wise elders in their community for advice and counsel, and he frequently read documents for them and wrote their letters. Kalliopi was literate too. Her excellent, clear and logical letters show her to have had unusual skills for a woman in a village farming family.

Life on the shores of Lake Kastoria was simple. It was sustained with dried legumes, olives and olive oil, fresh and pickled vegetables, small game and lake fish, coarse bread baked of wheat from the family's fields, and yogurt and cheese made from the milk of their goats and sheep. Orchards provided abundant crops of apples and pears.

On high Holy Days, the feast might include a spitted young goat or lamb roasted on an open fire. In winter the family would butcher a pig. Its feet, hocks and head provided the ingredients for a hearty winter soup called pichti, also known as patsa. Garlic and vinegar flavored the soup which when cold became a jellied head cheese. Dimitraki's was not a life of luxury by any standard. In his world, it was enough to have shelter and food. He had those and the security of a large and loving family.

Dimitraki was an intelligent, adventuresome boy who was not very interested in formal schooling. He loved guns and hunting, and from an early age carried a muzzle-loaded pistol in his belt. Born with a good ear and voice his talent led him to be a student of Greek liturgical chant at the Monastery of Mavriotissa. He remembered being disciplined when his gun fired in church during a service at which he was singing as the psalti (cantor).

Dimitraki frequently walked from his village to Kastoria to trade and purchase goods for his family. He rested at St. Katherine's church along the way having his lunch of bread, cheese and olives under the protection of a huge tree.

A photograph of Dimitraki at age 10 shows him posed with his family. The family group is sober, almost grim, probably frightened by the camera and its powder flash.[•**]

In the years immediately surrounding the photograph Macedonia was in conflict over the territorial designs of the Serbians, Bulgarians, Albanians and Greeks. Vlachs had interests as well, but their influence was relatively minor in the events of the time.

* * * * * * *

Kastoria was the center of the Macedonian-Greek nationalist movement in the region of southern Macedonian; from just south of Kastoria, north to Lake Ohrid and immediately to the Lake's east, the city of Monastir. From Monastir north Serbian and Bulgarian centers of national movements organized their irregular forces against each other, and against the Greeks and the Turks.

When people fight long enough and desperately enough; when they experience personal loss and cleanse blood from the bodies of fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters, and bury them; when they stand and watch their homes and villages and churches burn to the ground, and their fields and orchards and vineyards devastated, their capacity for reason, and decency and compassion and mercy is lost. Vengeance becomes the reason to live.

Some stories told of atrocities are true; many are rumors embellished and made greater in number. Rumors of obscene cruelty on the part of the others become accepted fact; myths become history; and retribution in kind sanctioned. The unimaginable becomes reality. In Macedonia and Thrace, the unimaginable was then and in recent times is reality.

In his book Pictures from the Balkans, John Fraser wrote:(31)

The town of Monastir [. . .] lies just about half way between Bulgarian and Greek territory. North, the majority of MACEDONIANS are BULGAR, south the majority are HELLENES.

[. . .] Monastir is an ordinary Turkish European town, even to the attempt at a garden where the richer Turks and Bulgars and Greeks come and sit at little tables and drink beer and listen to a string band composed of girls from Vienna. [. . .] Everybody is jolly. Murder is so commonplace that it arouses no shudder. In the night the little bark of a pistol, a shriek, a clatter of feet. "Hello! Somebody killed!" That's all. . . .

In Kazantzakis' book Zorba the Greek, Zorba who was a Greek Macedonian, tells his young "boss":(32)

Then I picked up my rifle and off I went! I went to the mountains as a comitadji. One day, at dusk, I came to a Bulgarian village and hid in a stable. It was the very house of a priest, a ferocious, pitiless Bulgarian comatidji. At night he'd take off his cassock, put on shepherd's clothes, pick up his rifle and go over into the neighboring Greek villages. He came back before dawn, trickling with mud and blood, and hurried to church to conduct mass for the faithful. A few days before this, he had killed a Greek schoolmaster asleep in his bed. So I went to the priest's stable and waited. Towards nightfall the priest came into the stable to feed the animals. I threw myself on him and cut his throat like a sheep. I lopped off his ears and stuck them in my pocket. I was making a collection of Bulgar ears, you see [. . .]

Leading and coordinating the Greek guerilla groups known as andartes was the young Metropolitan Bishop of Kastoria, Germanos Karavangelis.(33) The Ottoman Kaimakam who governed the Sanjak of Kastoria was awed by and willing to accept policy direction from Karavangelis.(34) The politically shrewd Metropolitan influenced the Kaimakam to take actions that were helpful to the success of Greek andartes over their enemies, the Bulgarian and Serbian comitadjides.(35)

Many who joined the andartes were klephts, mountaineer bandits experienced in the hit, run and hide tactics of guerilla warfare.(36) The andartes and comitadjides were equally savage in their attacks on villages. Murder, torture, rape, theft and looting were committed by both sides, and by similar Serbian and Albanian bands that took part in the struggle.(37)

Karavangelis was a brilliant theologian who had studied at the Theological College at Chalki(38) and earned a doctorate of philosophy in Germany. He was appointed Metropolitan in the year of Dimitraki's birth, and served his Metropolitanate carrying a Mannlicher rifle strung over one shoulder, a bandolier over the other, and a belt around his middle from which hung a large pistol and a knife. Riding beside him was an equally armed bodyguard. Karavangelis frequently conducted the liturgy in small village churches with his pistol on the altar.

To survive in the hostile environment of Macedonia at the turn of the century an Orthodox prelate had to be a political savant and an able civil administrator. The Orthodox Church was part of the Turkish civil administration and operated as a semi-autonomous theocracy within the Turkish Empire. Karavangelis played multiple, conflicting roles. He worked with the Kaimakam in Kastoria to govern the Orthodox populace and used his relationship to obstruct Bulgarian encroachments.(39) He secretly led the Greek guerilla movement that was at times in conflict with the Turks, but also used the Turkish military to foster Greek Orthodox supremacy in the region. The Turkish government had an interest in maintaining a Greek community that was loyal to the Patriarchate and therefore subservient to the Turkish state.

On the 24 September 1905, when Dimitraki had just turned five, Bulgarian Exarchist(40) comatidji killed two Greeks in Mavrovo.(41) These killings were in retaliation for Patriarchist(42) murders and massacres committed against Serbian and Bulgarian populations who had rebelled against the dominance of Hellenism and the Patriarchate. Religion was a tool of geopolitical and nationalist aims, and the religious used politics to serve their ends.

Greek andartes struggled through the years of 1905-08:(43)

[. . .] many remaining in Macedonia to face the severe winters, roamed the mountains and villages, inflicting heavy casualties on the I.M.R.O., exarchist bands, notables, and agents, and indeed sometimes on the Turks.

The winters were indeed cold, temperatures frequently dropped to below zero degrees Fahrenheit. The lake at Kastoria often froze solid. Horse draw sleds were able to transport goods across the ice from Kastoria to Mavrovo and the other lakeside villages.

Leading one of the bands of Greek andartes was a Greek Army officer named Pavlos Melas.(44) Dedicated to the union of Macedonia with Greece, and supported by Crown Price Constantine, Melas crossed the Aliakmon River into Macedonia for the first time in March of 1904. He re-crossed the river several times gathering information and organizing armed bands to conduct clandestine operations. Melas was appointed commander-in-chief by the Greek Macedonian Committee in Athens. In October of 1904, after a summer campaign, he was shot and killed in the town of Statista (north of Kastoria).(45) Melas' death was mourned in Athens as: "[. . .] church bells tolled the passing of a national hero."(46)

Years later Dimitraki remembered Cretan volunteers in the guerilla bands that encamped close to the shore of the lake. Cretans were secretly recruited to fight in Macedonia. Eager to kill the Turks that held their land in captivity they came and fought with enthusiasm. However the Macedonian Greeks were interested in defeating Bulgarian Exarchists; not in killing Turks, who Karavangelis used to fight Bulgarians. The goals of Macedonian Greeks were first to assure the dominance of their ethnicity in Macedonia, and second, to unify Macedonia with Greece.

The First Balkan War started in 1912. In the year that followed young Dimitraki and his friends in the village wanted in some way to fight the Bulgarians and the Turks. Many years later, when we were hunting in upstate New York, Dimitraki (now my Dad) and I rested under the shade of a giant tree by a fieldstone wall. He told me more stories of his youth, then, quietly, of his near execution as a would-be assassin.

Dimitraki was a twelve year old boy when he plotted with his friends to assassinate the Ottoman Kaimakam in Kastoria. He was leader of a band of boy revolutionaries and wanted to kill the man who ruled the life of the Greeks under the Ottomans. The boys decided that they would act when sent by their parents to Kastoria to trade and buy goods. On that day they stalked the lordly Kaimakam to his home, hid behind the garden wall that bordered an unpaved, muddy wagon road on the lake's shore and, like their heroes, the andartes, waited for an opportunity to strike.

As the late afternoon light faded, the Kaimakam appeared on his second floor balcony to enjoy the view of the lake.(47) Dimitraki took aim with his muzzle-loaded pistol and fired. He missed, the bullet striking the frame of the door next to the Kaimakan's head. Within minutes the would-be assassin was run down and caught. His comrades escaped.

There was no question of what would happen to Dimitraki. The next morning Ottoman officials tried and sentenced him to immediate execution by hanging. However his father's long friendship with the Kaimakam, desperate promises to control the boy, and delivery of a purse filled with gold Turkish Lira (48) saved Dimitraki's life.

A few months later on 10 August 1913 the Kaimakan was humbled. The Treaty of Bucharest ended the Second Balkan War; the southern part of Macedonia and the Island of Crete were united with the Kingdom of Greece. Dimitraki, his family, Mavrovo and Kastoria had the Turkish Yoke lifted from their shoulders.

King George I of Greece traveled north from Athens to the ancient Byzantine capital in Greece, Thessaloniki, at the end of the First Balkan War (December 1912). His son, Crown Prince Constantine, had distinguished himself by leading the victorious Greek army against the Turks and capturing Thessaloniki before the Bulgarians arrived. Tragically, in March of 1913 just as King George achieved much of what he had hoped for the Greek nation he was shot and killed while on a walk in Thessaloniki.

The murderer, one Alexander Schinas, was described as mentally deranged and perhaps an alcoholic. It was said that he shot the King because he was refused money. Rumors that he was a Bulgarian assassin were not corroborated. Still, he may have been a political operative for the Bulgarians or Young Turks.

* * * * * * *

There were four sons and three daughters in Dimitraki's family. For a landowner with modest holdings there was neither enough land nor money for Athanasios to provide a future for all of his children. Just as in ancient times when excess populations left the Greek city-states to colonize the shores of the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Seas immigration to the shores of far off places offered opportunity for the émigré. For the family left behind there was the hope of financial aide from successful children. Kastoria's environs contained a poor, war ravaged, and agrarian society. Conditions did not remarkably improve until forty-five years later, after the end of the Second World War and the Greek Civil War.

The son from Kalliopi's first marriage, George Papana, left for the United States in 1912. In 1916 the family planned for Constantinos Mavrovitis, Dimitraki's older brother, to emigrate from Greece to Alexandria, Egypt. Dimitraki's uncle, Theodore Mavrovitis, had settled in Egypt late in the nineteenth century. He was a very successful member of the prosperous Greek merchant class that flourished in the eastern Mediterranean's commercial centers, especially in Constantinople, Smyrna and Alexandria. He owned cotton and tobacco interests, and in the early part of the twentieth century invested successfully in the development of motion picture theaters.

Unfortunately for Constantinos the Balkan Wars and First World War followed one upon the other. He was eligible for military conscription in the event that Greece chose to join either side in the First World War. King Constantine I, son of the assassinated King George I, and his Premier, Venizelos, were in conflict. The King was married to the Kaiser's sister and leaned toward neutrality, while Venizelos supported the British, French and Italians with the expectation that Greece would gain territorially and politically from an alliance with them.

In the spring of 1916 Dimitraki pleaded to go to Alexandria in his brother's place. His mother and father gave in to the pressure and to their desire to get him out of the country before he became eligible for military service.

In the course of several days Dimitraki traveled by horse over the Pindus Mountains to Ioaninna,(49) a major city south of Kastoria that had been ceded to the Kingdom of Greece from Albania at the end of the Second Balkan War. It had been the seat of the Turkish Pasha, head of the Ottoman occupation government in Epirus and the Kastoria region of Macedonia. In Ioaninna Dimitraki obtained the papers necessary for his emigration. Within a day or two after he returned to his village, he set off on his life adventure with other young men who were going to America.(50) He was not to return to Macedonia for fifty-two years.

Dimitraki journeyed by mule to the railhead in Kosani and from there by train to Athens and the port of Piraeus. With a ten dollar gold piece in his pocket, courage, and his village friends, he boarded a ship, the Vasilefs Constantinos (King Constantine), bound not for Egypt, but for the United States.

The Vasilefs Constantinos was a new ship built for the National Greek Line in 1915 in Birkenhead, England.(51) Four hundred and seventy feet long, it accommodated 2310 passengers: 60 in First, 450 in Second, and 1800 in Third (Steerage) Class. Although the ship was new, it was hardly a luxury liner, especially for the souls in third class.

Third class passengers disembarked at Ellis Island. Dimitraki was among these. His companions included twenty-seven men and women from the Kastoria region. Of these, five were from his village: Evaggelos Petsalnikos, Andreas Zanidis, Mihail Djadikas, Calliopi Rizou and Pantelis Samaras.

A few months after Dimitraki emigrated in 1916, his brother Thomas died at the age of thirteen when he was kicked in the head by a mule. Village life was not without its dangers and medical attention was unknown. One amazing village remedy was the application of a poultice made from moldy bread to infected wounds.

The Greek government did not allow Constantinos to leave Greece. He remained behind and in 1921 married Ekaterini Badavia. She had been a classmate of Dimitraki's. Years later in 1985 as they sat in a kitchen in Kastoria they sang a childhood school song for their grandchildren.

Constantinos and Ekaterini had five children: Eleni in 1924, Athanasios (Thanasi) in 1925, Zoë in 1928, Nicolaos (Nick) in 1930 and Kalliopi in 1931. All were destined to suffer the Nazi German occupation in World War II, and the Greek Civil War, during which Thanasi served on the front lines.

In 2001, in a moment of reflection during a telephone conversation, my cousin Nick spoke of the ten agonizing years of war the people in Mavrovo and Kastoria endured between 1939 and 1949. Nick was too young to participate in the final attacks against the communists toward the end of the civil war on Grammos and Vitsi (near Kastoria). He was however required to serve in the militia's reserve. In four slowly articulated, simple and profound words he expressed all: "[. . .] fear, hunger, poverty, despair."

In the early 1950's, Thanasi and Nick immigrated to the United States under sponsorship of their Theo Dimitraki.(52) Eleni and her husband Christos Psaltis immigrated soon after with their two young children Aliki and Constantine. Kalliope, followed them, the last to leave her father and mother, Constantinos and Ekaterina, in Kastoria.

Aristede, seven years junior to Dimitraki remained behind in Kastoria for over thirty years. He suffered as a soldier in the Second World War and the Greek Civil War. In the early 1950's, following his nephews and nieces, he immigrated to the United States with his wife, Filareti. For several years they lived in an apartment across the street from Jimmy and Lily's home on Ovington Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Never having had children of her own, and much to my pleasure, Thea( Filareti became a doting aunt.(53)


[Skip the Notes]

  1. Kaimakam, an Ottoman government official. [Return to the text at note 1.]
  2. Andartes, Greek guerilla fighters; andarte is the singular. [Return to the text at note 2.]
  3. A Turkish Lira was a gold coin valued at about four dollars, a considerable sum in 1912. [Return to the text at note 3.]
  4. Mavrovo, sometimes spelled Mavrobo in western maps, now has the names Mavrohori or Mavrohorion. The change in name may have been out of a desire not to have the village confused with the town of Mavrovo on Lake Mavrovo just 80 to 100 miles north in what is now the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. [Return to the text at note 4.]
  5. "In modern times Macedonia had never formed a racial, linguistic or political unit, and prior to 1902 it had not been thought of as an administrative area. Nor indeed was Macedonia a definite geographical term." Douglas Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia, 1897-1913 (Thessaloniki, Greece: Institute for Balkan Studies, 1966). [Return to the text at note 5.]
  6. When asked where he was from, Jimmy (Dimitraki) invariably responded: "Mavrovo, Kastoria, Macedonia." If asked where that was he would hesitate, and then answer: "Greece." Mavrovo and Kastoria did not become part of Greece until the end of the Second Balkan War. Before 1913 ship manifests of Greek speaking people arriving at Ellis Island from Macedonian frequently listed their ethnicity as Greek and their nationality as Turkish.
    Jimmy and his friends from Kastoria referred to themselves as "Romni" or "Romoi", i.e., Romans. The language they spoke they did not describe as Greek, but Romaiko, or Roman. This identification reflects the heritage of Rome's eastern empire, Byzantium. [Return to the text at note 6.]
  7. Kastoria was also known and shown in maps and documents as Celetrum, Celetron, Keletron and Castoria; by the Romans as Justinianopolis; and by the Turks as Kesrieh and Kesriyeh. See: Courtlandt Canby and Gorton Carruth, The Encyclopedia of Historic Places (New York, N.Y.: Facts on File Publications, 1984), I:467. [Return to the text at note 7.]
  8. Kastõr [Castor]: son of Zeus; kastõr: beaver (Herodotus). [Return to the text at note 8.]
  9. See the graphical version photo/9a of Kastoria and the promontory in A.D. 1930, and the graphical version photo/9b of Kastoria and the promontory in A.D. 2000. [Return to the straight text.]
  10. Hammond, A History of Macedonia, 1,27. [Return to the text at note 10.]
  11. At the time of this writing, a modern Via Ignatia, a multi-lane highway, is under construction along the same route. [Return to the text at note 11.]
  12. Peter Green, Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C. : A Historical Biography, Hellenistic Culture and Society ; 11 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 142. [Return to the text at note 12.]
  13. Anglo-Saxon and Viking mercenaries served the Emperors of Constantinople. [Return to the text at note 13.]
  14. Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium, 252-54. [Return to the text at note 14.]
  15. Nicaea was located inland, across the Bosphorus and southeast of Constantinople, in the province of Bithynia. It became an independent state in 1204, after the fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade. [Return to the text at note 15.]
  16. Nicholas K. Moutsopoulos, Kastoria, the Virgin of Mavriotissa (Athens: Friends of Byzantine and Ancient Monuments of Kastoria, 1967), 85. [Return to the text at note 16.]
  1. Mesonisiotissa translates as "in the middle of the island." In ancient times, the promontory of Kastoria was a virtual island. The Monastery of Virgin Mary in the Middle of the Island. Mavriotissa translates as "of Mavrovo."; thus, The Monastery of the Virgin Mary of Mavrovo. [Return to the text at note 17.]
  2. In the book on CD, there are two photographs of the outside of the monastery. [Return to the text at note 18.]
  3. Justin McCarthy, The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923 (New York: Longman, 1997), 107. [Return to the text at note 19.]
  4. A millet was a relatively autonomous "nation" whose members were of one religious community. The Turks organized the millet-i-Rûm to include all Eastern Orthodox regardless of ethnicity. The Turkish word Rûm derives from the Greeks being called Romioi (Romans). My father when asking about a person would often ask, "Enai Romios?" ~ "Is he a Roman (Greek)?" [Return to the text at note 20.]
  5. McCarthy, The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923, 127-29. [Return to the text at note 21.]
  6. The Phanar was the district in Constantinople where lived the Patriarch, his immediate religious, and the powerful Greek administrators of the Porte. It exists still. [Return to the text at note 22.]
  7. Schevill, The History of the Balkan Peninsula, from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, 385. [Return to the text at note 23.]
  8. Dakin, The Unification of Greece, 1770-1923, 21-23. [Return to the text at note 24.]
  9. The Ottoman military organization was the model or design on which its civil organization of conquered territory was based. The conquest in Europe, the Balkan region, was called Roumelia and governed by a beyrlebey (governor-general). By the nineteenth century, Roumelia was divided into provinces call vilâyets, which in turn were divided into sub-provinces called sanjaks. A sanjak might be governed by a mutasarrif or a kaimakam (kaymakam). [Return to the text at note 25.]
  10. Also spelled Monastiri, Manastir, and Manastiri. [Return to the text at note 26.]
  11. Also spelled Bitol and Bitoli. [Return to the text at note 27.]
  12. Greeks who had converted to Islam were considered Albanians and therefore no longer treated as rayahs. They had full civil rights. [Return to the text at note 28.]
  13. The Ottoman State sold Tax Farms to individuals, or granted them in exchange for military or other service. The Tax-Farmer collected taxes from the peasants. The difference between what he collected and what he owed to the state was his to keep as profit. See: Bernard Lewis, The Middle East : A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years (New York, N.Y.: Scribner, 1995), 201-04. [Return to the text at note 29.]
  14. Greeks who supported Patriarchal control of the church in Macedonia. [Return to the text at note 30.]
  1. John Foster Fraser, Pictures from the Balkans, Popular ed. (London ; New York: Cassell and company ltd., 1912). [Return to the text at note 31.]
  2. Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek, 224-25. Note that Zorba uses the Bulgarian term for guerilla fighter, comitandji (alternate spelling). [Return to the text at note 32.]
  3. See the graphical version photo/33 of Germanos Karavangelis. [Return to the straight text.]
  4. Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia, 1897-1913. [Return to the text at note 34.]
  5. Greek guerilla fighters were called andartes while Bulgarian and Serbian groups were called comitadjides. [Return to the text at note 35.]
  6. The Klephts (from which: kleftis, or thief) were Greeks who took to the mountains and a life of banditry in rejection of all things under Turkish occupation. For the most part they raided Turkish villages and caravans. Romanticized in literature, poetry and music they became the foremost freedom fighters in the Revolution of 1821. Groups remained active under the Turkish rule in Epirus, Thrace and Macedonia, surfacing as andartes during the uprisings of the early twentieth century. [Return to the text at note 36.]
  7. Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia, 1897-1913. [Return to the text at note 37.]
  8. Chalki or Halki, is one of the Princes' Islands located in the Sea of Marmara, about 18 miles from Constantinople (Istanbul). The island's modern name is Heybeli, and the group of islands, Kizil Adar. The school, closed by the Turkish Government, is located on a beautiful hilltop and houses a superb library. [Return to the text at note 38.]
  9. Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia, 1897-1913. [Return to the text at note 39.]
  10. Exarchists were those Bulgarians and Serbs who supported the Bulgarian Exarch as head of the Orthodox Church in all of Macedonia. If this position had prevailed, Kastoria and all southern Macedonia would have been merged into Bulgaria. [Return to the text at note 40.]
  11. Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia, 1897-1913. [Return to the text at note 41.]
  12. Patriarchists supported the church led by the Patriarch in Constantinople and therefore wished permanent association with the Greek State. [Return to the text at note 42.]
  13. Dakin, The Unification of Greece, 1770-1923, 167. [Return to the text at note 43.]
  14. See the graphical version photos/44 of Pavlos Melas and his band. [Return to the straight text.]
  15. The town "Statista" was renamed "P. Melas.". [Return to the text at note 45.]
  16. Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia, 1897-1913. [Return to the text at note 46.]
  17. See the graphical version photo/47 of the balcony of the Kaimakan's house. [Return to the straight text.]
  18. A Turkish Lira was a gold coin valued at about four dollars, a considerable sum in 1912. [Return to the text at note 48.]
  19. Also spelled Jannina. [Return to the text at note 49.]
  20. For immigrants, the vision of the new land and all of the hopes it held was contained in the word "America," not "The United States." "Where do you want to go?" one might have been asked. The answer, invariably, was: "To America!" [Return to the text at note 50.]
  21. The Vasilefs Constantinos was renamed Megali Hellas in 1919 (shades of the Megali Idhea). It was transferred to the British Byron Steamship Company in 1923 and renamed Byron. Reverted to Greek flag in 1928 and was in service until scrapped in Italy in 1937. [Return to the text at note 51.]
  22. "Theo" is pronounced "Th-ee-o". [Return to the text at note 52.]
  23. "Thea" is pronounced "Th-ee-a". [Return to the text at note 53.]

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