Historical story

Asia Minor disaster:The agony in the new homeland - Get over it and don't shave your hair

Last updated:2022-07-25

"Enough of this and don't make us a furnace, don't even cut our hair", were the words of Panagiotis Efthimiadis' father, shortly before his family went to the sanatoriums . Moments earlier they had arrived in Kalamaria and were taken off the ship in iron barges to the wooden staircase that led to yet another ordeal:where all the refugees had to be naked, waiting to be sprayed with medicine and shaved to avoid they have lice…

One of the daughters of the family begged her father not to let her head be shaved and he, in an effort to protect his child, decided to give his little money for this purpose. "What should my dad do! Some pennies he had fed one there... they were my sisters with long hair... They took the money, left us", recounts, years later, the little girl's brother, Panagiotis, who was born in Trebizond in 1917 and he came to Kalamaria in 1923. His oral testimony is kept today, together with hundreds of other testimonies of refugees from Asia Minor, in the Historical Archive of Refugee Hellenism, located in Kalamaria.

The story is told with emotion in APE-MBE by the archive historian Maria Kazantzidou, who explains: "what today we may consider correct and very responsible sanitary, disinfection and confinement for a period of time, the refugees then took it as a trauma . While they were suffering and waiting for a hug somewhere warm, something waiting for them, another humiliation, a test awaited them. Especially for women, hair is an element of femininity and its loss is considered a partial mutilation. But more generally then, the shaved head he referred to refugees, children in a reformatory, prisoners, people who had the retsinia and were targeted".

In fact, she puts herself "in the place of this father who had no home, no job, nothing" and says:"he only had a little money in his pocket and from that he paid for his daughter's hair. No matter how many times I tell this story, I don't avoid the emotion, more so for dad, and the move he made at a time when the role of father and protector had already been greatly affected..."

Refugees search for their relatives

After all, the difficulties that the refugees had to face once they arrived in their new homeland were not few as they were initially looking for their own people and relatives while at the same time they had to find shelter, food and suitable conditions to live. Advertisements, through which the refugees were looking for their relatives, were published by the newspaper of the Balkans. "Vasiliki Konstantinou X''Michael is in Kalamarian Thessaloniki with all her family healthy and is asking for her son Pavlon Konstantinou X''Michael" the newspaper wrote on September 12, 1922 and added:"Zoitsa Dim. Oikonomou after her daughter Irene and four little ones, is in Kalamarian Thessaloniki and they are looking for the persons Theodosios, Christon, Chrysos Oikonomou after her husband Aristo, Eleni Oikonomou and Nikolaon Stylidin.

The living conditions in the new homeland

Dimitris Mundrouvanos from Artaki, who settled in Simantra, Halkidiki, reports that "living conditions at the beginning were very bad. In Toumba, about thirty families lived together in wards. Later the families chose which villages they wanted to settle in permanently and moved there".

His own family settled first in Moudania and then in Simantra, while the people were now forced to engage in agriculture as the state gave oxen to the refugees so that they could begin to adapt to the new reality.

Giorgos Karampelas from Vori of Marmaras arrived in 1922 at the port of Thessaloniki and stayed for a while near the White Tower, while he was then transferred to Aretsou, where he stayed for some time in tents and makeshift shelters. Conditions were adverse as people were exposed to extreme weather conditions. Little by little they became makeshift housing estates until 1932 when houses began to be built through bonds.

Mr. Karabelas states that his family was not given a lot, while when they got a loan they were given 17 bonds and that's how they got a house.

"I want my mom, my mom..."

Fotini Merzemeki from Axari, Asia Minor, who came with her sisters and aunt to Athens, remembers asking for her mother persistently. Her mother had stayed behind with the rest of the family, from which, as she says, "no one was spared". "I was crying all night long:"I want my mommy, my mommy", I said... My sisters had a sack of straw covered with mattresses, they put me to sleep on top of it and told me to "shut up", I still remember it. "Don't cry"... they tell me "your mom will come, your mom will come", I waited. Then what will they do with me? They put me in the orphanage. My sisters worked in the hospital, they lived there they worked and every On Sundays she used to come to the orphanage...", she narrates. A few years later, as she says, her sister got married and took her with her.

As for the situation that the refugees found in the places where they settled, Aristotelis Roditis from the Asia Minor Maneuvers talks about incidents of racism from the locals. He typically mentions the phrase that was said at the time:"don't cry my child, we will give you to the refugee to eat you...".

Some later visited the areas they left

Of the people who left their homeland with the Asia Minor disaster, many were those who believed that they would return permanently, but that never happened. There were, however, those who traveled back to the villages from which they were uprooted and found - or did not find - their homes and familiar places. When asked what they consider a homeland, opinions diverge again...

"In the beginning, when we came, we thought we would go back, but when years passed we realized that we will stay here forever," says Fotini Toloudi - Kosmas, who arrived from Apolloniada in Asia Minor to Pyrgos Eordaia and then to Amyntaio. She states that she longed for her homeland and comments:"how I didn't miss her. Homeland, is it possible where you were born not to miss it? But luckily we made a trip, God gave us our health and I went last in 1986 with my husband and my son. We went, we came back, I was happy... the Turks treated us very well. I met our house, they had damaged it and rebuilt it".

The areas where they lived the first years of their lives were visited much later by Dimitris Simitopoulos, who went to Smyrna seven times and to Aydini three times, and also by Dimitris Mundrouvanos, who went to Artaki twice.

On the contrary, Anastasia Smyrnaiou from Iconium, Paria Parasidou from Sparta Iconium and Eleni Gavriilidou from Yailantsik never visited the places they left. Mrs. Parasidou, in fact, considers Thessaloniki to be her homeland because she lived there longer and led a better life, while Fotini Mertzemeni agrees saying:"where you live, there you belong".

The testimonies of the people who left Asia Minor are closed in a melodious way by Fotini Toloudi - Kosmas from Apollonia who sings in front of the researchers of the Historical Archive of Refugee Hellenism:"Where should I begin, my light to mourn, how to narrate my infinite sufferings , and my sufferings, to tell you...

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