Blog Review Ikaria # 4 Special Edition 1947

I am very interested in reading personal accounts about my island. To keep in touch with the place, media is good but there’s nothing like reading actual people’s impressions and looking at their photos.

This is the fourth part of the list of blog entries about Ikaria that I like. As I said in the forenote of the first part, my ambition was to review, not just blogroll, so I wrote a few words about each blog entry and I picked out pictures and quotes. These quotes I sometimes hid “behind the pictures”.  Move your mouse over to read them.

However, this is a special occasion. The «blog entries» I am going to review for you are from the times of handwriting and the photos are scans of old black and white pictures most often taken with smuggled in KODAK cameras. It’s the times when Ikaria was an island of mass exile: 1947-1948 in the peak of the Greek Civil War.

I am dedicating this post to the memory of my grandfather on my father’s side, who I hardly met. My motivation was to blow a horn of courage to today’s Greeks and in particular to my friend Nana, the light of my eyes, who recently farewelled Athens and moved to Ikaria.


The story of the exile in Ikaria is best described in Greek language by


The entry related to Ikaria is «Τόποι Εξορίας – Ικαρία«

Of the many old pictures in this entry I have chosen the following four


And in English inside the outstanding site of the

based in the small remote island of Ai Stratis which was also an island of exile during the same period. The related to Ikaria entry is : «Civil War: a tragedy for all Greeks«, the first part: «1944: Liberation and renewed political conflict«. Ikaria never became a Prison or a Camp subject to military discipline. From this very enlightening article I have chosen the following documents

Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis  Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai StratisΜουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis

(I can’t help commenting. That was such a moving letter! «Send me money to buy a proper meal. How are the girls? Did you party?«)


And now some professional photos by Stelios Kasimatis who during the exile found his subject:

I am  copying 4 photos from the excellent



They were wonderful, they had a high moral, they believed they could change the world. Rest in peace. Dreams never die and though we can sometimes be in the dark for a very long time, nothing stops progress.


15 σχόλια on “Blog Review Ikaria # 4 Special Edition 1947”

  1. Ο/Η angelosk λέει:

    «…And there are prisoners really, here in the hills, who would not agree
    To sign for their freedom, whether in doubt of
    Such freedom or having forgotten or never having known what it meant
    to be free.
    Louis McNeice «The Island»

    You wanted to surprise me? I didn’t know this photo from the MUSEUM OF DEMOCRACY!

    The man with the glasses was my uncle! After Ikaria he was deported to Makronissos. He signed and was set free. He later became a civil engineer in Athens.
    I will ask around about the others…

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    • Ο/Η Eleni λέει:

      Yes! it’s «The Island»!
      No, I didn’t mean to surprise you. I thought you knew about this picture, so here it is, even better, I surprised you!
      Please tell the story, will you? From his exile I only know the part about my path and later the story about the house in Armenistis.

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      • Ο/Η angelosk λέει:

        (As I am writing I am imaging I am talking to you. I am smoking a long cigarette and you are wearing a large hat so I can’t see your eyes.)

        In spring 1947, as the erratic battles between nationalist and the communist forces in the mountains of northern Greece had developed into a civil war which was foreseen to last and the outcome was unknown, the nationalist Greek government, in order to prevent a rebellion in the cities, decided to liquidate the rear by arresting thousands of left sympathizers and deporting them to the islands.
        Arrests and deportations had been carried out all 1946 but this time the operation was executed in mass. A night of that spring many hundreds of working class and middle class citizens were brutally snatched by the police from their homes. Without luggage, some in pyjamas, they were thrown into military trucks and driven to Piraeus where the boats were waiting already on steam.
        One of them was my uncle. As soon as he walked up the ladder, he asked a sailor “Where is the ship bound to?”. And he answered “You wouldn’t know the place. We are going to Ikaria”. Good old uncle, son of a refugee mother from Asia Minor and a refugee himself, knew as much as to not say anything nor show his feelings. He found a quiet spot on the deck, took out his identity card from his pocket and threw it to the sea. He was afraid that he would be transferred to another boat because there was word already in the city that deportees were never sent to their own home village or island.
        Just on time the gendarmes escorting the captives came to check papers came to him. “Where is you ID?” “At home. They didn’t give me time to take it with me”. “What’s your name?” “Angelides” (he made a name out of his mother’s first name, Angela) “Where are you from?” “From Smyrna Asia Minor” “Ah you are a Turkish seedling, refugee scum. Sit down and make no trouble”.
        Uncle was happy. After many years while communication between Athens and the islands was broken because of the war, he was going to see Ikaria again. Only when he set foot on the island he realized there was a slight problem. When he lived on the island or visited it later he was very popular to men and women alike, so now when his old friends recognized him in the crowd of the deportees, they greeted him warmly in a very loud voice! “Hey, you are here! So glad to see you! How are you!”
        Poor old uncle turned his head away and pretended that it wasn’t for him. That his friends were talking to somebody else. To someone -his very best friend- who insisted, he finally said “You are mistaking me for somebody else. My name is Angelides” and winked.
        The friend, who of course knew my uncle’s mother’s first name, got into the meaning. He said “I’m sorry. We are very lonely here. It was the war and we have missed our friends. Sometimes we mistake strangers for them”.
        And he rushed to tell everybody the secret.
        My uncle had a very good time -relatively speaking- as an exile in Ikaria. Also, because he knew everybody and everything, he helped his fellow exiles in many ways. Most important of all, he made clear to them that their terror was unfounded. By a game of fate they weren’t sent to hell but to a “good island”.
        So the first hardest weeks of the exile passed.

        (With your permission I will continue this. There’ another story. This time, from the side of the ones left in Piraeus. Stand by.)

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  2. Ο/Η egotoagrimi λέει:

    I have already started translating…

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  3. Ο/Η angelosk λέει:

    Now, back to Piraeus, while my uncle and the other prisoners were getting on board the steamers, crowds of families gathered on the docks. They shouted and cried, “Where are you taking them? Where are you taking our men?” But instead of an answer, the police turned their guns to the crowd. There was silence.
    As the steamers whistled, some sailors who were late, made their way through the crowd. The women grabbed their jackets and asked them in tears “Where is your ship sailing to? Where are you going?”
    “To an island out there. To Ikaria”. And they rushed to the boat.
    The word spread like fire in the crowd. “What’s Ikaria?”
    At that time the smaller islands of the Aegean were practically unknown. Some people were familiar with Lesvos, Chios and Samos, but islands like Amorgos or Ikaria were nonexistent.
    Someone said “Who has ever heard of this place. Maybe it’s a rock”.
    Another added “A dry piece of rock in the middle of the sea”.
    The crowd stirred. Not many years had passed since the war and everybody remembered the atrocities committed by the Germans on the population. The terror was the same; the brutality was the same; the absurdity was the same. It was a matter of minutes for an old woman to make the connection. “They are going to throw our sons on a piece of rock. They will abandon them there. And as they are so many and the rock will be so small, there won’t be enough place to stand. As they get tired, one after the other they will fall in the sea and drown”.
    Again the word spread fast; the women moaned and screamed “No, no!” Some fainted. The younger and more daring took a few steps against the line of armed policemen.
    Suddenly a sharp loud voice in the crowd, a woman’s voice: “Don’t cry! It’s not a dry piece of rock!”
    It was an Ikarian. She had come down to the port to take a glimpse of familiar faces on board the steamers and perhaps wave goodbye to them when an old lady a few steps next to her had a fit “They will drown them! They will leave them on a shoal and they will drown!”.
    As she tried to to calm her down she realized that the lady was not the only case. It was mass hysteria. So she shouted and ran in the crowd “My father lives in Ikaria. I grew up there. It’s a big island with a lot of people. Calm down, calm down. Come, come here everybody. I will explain”.
    Now this Ikarian was a tall woman with fair hair and a serious face. But her eyes were kind and smiling. She was a dressmaker. During the war she had taken part in the resistance. She knew how to talk to people. “Ikaria is a big green island with waters and fields and a lot villages and some small towns. Honest hospitable people live there. The island is spacious and there are a lot of trees and houses. Years ago, before the war, the population was twice as large as it is now so you must understand that there will be plenty of room for the exiles. They will not fall in the sea. They will have a good life. They will not suffer.”
    As they listened to her words the women calmed down. More and more came to the Ikarian to ask questions “Is there a post office? How often are steamers to the island?” “How do we send clothes and provisions?”
    Everybody was calm now. The boats whistled and took anchor. They turned prows and set off to the sparkling Aegean. On the docks white handkerchiefs waved and shouts were heard: “farewell loved ones”.
    A small battle had been won.
    Time now for the women to run home. Time now to be practical. Gather clothes and cans of food. See to how to send them. Write letters at night. See to that they are ready to get into the first post bag -whenever that would be. See to that their beloved ones did not feel they were forgotten.
    _ _ _ _

    On the side of the exiles now, through similar small but victorious battles, their life in Ikaria was soon settled. It was no prison or confinement; only exile. And as more and more boatfulls arrived it became clear that it was exile in mass -of a scale first time recorded in history- therefore the conditions were mild. My uncle used to say “We weren’t prisoners and we didn’t call ourselves exiles. That would be disgracing. We were not outcasts. We thought of ourselves as fighters of democracy so we called ourselves hostages. And we went through in good spirit and high moral.”
    After the end of the war my uncle -like many of his fellow exiles/“hostages”- got to work and ran successful businesses, gave work to many, helped build Greece back from the ruins. It was in Ikaria that they had tried their hand. There medical students saw their first patients, musicians wrote their first pieces, future architects and engineers repaired houses, stone-paved lanes, cisterns and watermills, philosophers-to be wrote essays, politicians-to be gave speeches,.
    It’s never a dry piece of rock. It’s up to how one sees it.
    Never forget that sometimes small battles can win big wars.

    *to the memory of S. (for the house and the toys)
    *to the memory of F. (for the house and the stories)

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    • Ο/Η Eleni λέει:

      I suppose you are through with stories and cigarettes so I can turn my head to you and speak…

      turn and speak

      This is in fact ONE story, isn’t it? The way I see it, it’s a story about fear.

      The first two paragraphs are very solid and clear. They could make the introduction for a film. A film, yes! because a) it pulls many strings, b) it’s the human dimension, 3) it connects to the present wonderfully, 4) it’s not loud!

      x x x

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  4. Ο/Η Jernej λέει:

    One thing I keep wondering is why (and who) chose Ikaria as the destination for exile? Makronissos, Gyiaros, Ai-stratis are barren in comparison to Trikeri, Chios and Ikaria. So the idea can’t have been «send them to some rock to work until they die».

    Μου αρέσει!

    • Ο/Η Eleni λέει:

      Hello Jernej!
      A lot of people have the same question. I think an answer is in Angelos’ story he wrote in his two comments above. In the introductory paragraph he writes:
      «…developed into a civil war which was foreseen to last and the outcome was unknown, the nationalist Greek government, in order to prevent a rebellion in the cities, decided to liquidate the rear…»
      Also where he says, «Arrests and deportations had been carried out all 1946 but this time the operation was executed in mass
      So the government was taking preventive measures against people who hadn’t done anything other than assumably vote for the Left and assumably again answer the call of the Leftist army and run to the mountains to help or organize an uprisal in the cities.
      The fact that they hadn’t done anything (as yet at least) together with the fact that they were so numerous as well that among them there were many high class citizens must have been embarassing as to what the government should do with them, So they decided not to punish and «rehabilitate» but only to isolate. I think this is why Angelos’ uncle was saying, «We thought of ourselves as hostages».
      You know from your own experience how perfect Ikaria is for isolation…

      Later of course as the rebels were loosing the war, Ikaria wasn’t good anymore. They released the «less red» and they punished or shot the «very red» in death and prison camps like Makronisos etc.

      When I was young and I heard the stories and I read the books I had so much wished the exile had stopped with Ikaria and that the Civil War had ended with a compromise.
      But… life is unfair…
      Thanks for coming by.

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    • Ο/Η angelosk λέει:

      I am burning to say this. There was word that Ikaria was the US ambassador’s idea. He was an ignorant and vulgar American who wore Hawaian shirts and drank beer and coke in the Parliament. The word says that he was shown a map and when he saw the name «Ikaria», he associated to the American «Icaria», Cabet’s utopia in Iowa, as that is a well known part of the US political history. They say that he said: «There’s a place inhabited by communists! This is where you should send your communists. They will be happy and leave Greece alone!»

      Though totally unconfirmed, there is truth is this, believe me.

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  5. Ο/Η Jernej λέει:

    I can understand isolation but then there are many, many choices in the Aegean alone where isolation could be achieved. Doesn’t answer why Ikaria specifically.

    Perhaps it was just coincidence, someone in the decision making chain didn’t like his visit there or just randomly selected an island on a map? But if there was a specific reason then what was it?

    PS Ikaria, these days, is much easier to get to than many other islands. I can fly either to Athens or Samos and take a ferry (or flight) from there. On the other hand I’ve been thinking of visiting Samothraki (and a few others) for years now but it would take 2 or 3 days just to get there (fly to Athens or Istanbul, train/bus/flight to Alexandropoulis, take a ferry… none of the stages can be done on the same day from what I’ve been able to find).

    Usually I just end up wishing I would have a sailboat and solve the problem entirely. Drive 1h to our coast and a week later I’d be in the Aegean 🙂

    Μου αρέσει!

  6. […] Ikaria (blog since 2006!) Blog Review Ikaria # 4 Special Edition 1947 […]

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