Ioannis Charalambidis

* 1941  

  • “(What I remember most was the night when we escaped to Yugoslavia. The sky was clear, and the stars were shining.) I was sitting on a donkey. My mom carried my younger brother on her shoulder. She walked, and my older brother walked as well. We were like a convoy of refugees. Nobody was allowed to shout. But the kids coughed or cried from time to time. I remember that night very well. Then we reached some river. Partisans were standing there. They carried us, the children, over the river. They would take each of us in their arms and hand us over to the next partisan. Just like when passing bricks. This way we crossed the border to Yugoslavia. We experienced hardship there. For a month or two we were in a...we called it a hungry monastery. There was nothing to eat. We would go and steal eggs from the houses. It was terrible. I have very bad memories of that time. My eldest brother, the one who already passed away, was always going to steal something while we were there. One day he even brought a hen. Our mom was there with us. But then they put us on a train and mom went back. Before that, we had arrived from the camp to a town in Yugoslavia, it was called Bulkes. It was a big town and we spent some time there. Dad followed us there. He was there with us. He worked in a bakery, and in the mornings he would always bring us white bread. Oh my God, what a bread it was. There were already more of us, because other children were coming there. Later they put us on a train in Bulkes, and off we went. Some of us went to Czechoslovakia, some to Russia, others went to Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and there were even Greeks heading to Albania.”

  • „In 1954 or 1955 – I can’t recall exactly which – I escaped from that children’s home in Velké Heraltice with a friend. After midnight we climbed over the fence. It took us a long time to prepare it. The chapeau had a tall stone wall which we had to cross and then through some bushes. We went several kilometers at night on a hard dusty road with maize crops around us. I was scared. It was dark and calm. We got to a small village where we found a train station. Without a ticket, we got to a train and made it as far as to Albrechtice. In Albrechtice, there were plenty of Greeks, so we asked them: ‘Where do the Charalambidis’ live?’ – ‘Out there at the farm.’ There was an old house, rabbits all around in hutches when we spotted the women. ‘Yes, your mum works at the field out there,’ they said. We stood at the edge of the field when one older lady grabbed her back, straightened up, turned around and said: ‘Maria, your son is here!’ That was my grandma.”

  • “I simply wasn’t able to understand the radio here. I always tell this story. In Frýdlant, in the cafeteria where we used to sit, there was a socket, a cord, and the radio was playing. I used to come there, examine the socket and try to spot the people who were talking in there. Wondering if they sat behind the wall and how did they fit into it. We were so backward, really. I had no idea there was such a thing as a radio. Today, I feel embarrassed about it but it was the case.”

  • “My uncle had an apartment there – just a single room, a kitchen, and a toilet. This is where we used to live. I, Nikos, mummy, daddy, grandma, uncle and his sister. Then he got married and there were eight of us living there. It was terrible. There was no privacy. We would go bath in the city spa in Lidická street, near the dome. We went there regularly, paying three Crowns for half an hour. Mummy always rushed us to go have a bath. One day, daddy wrote to the presidential office. He said that he used to be a partisan; that he fought for freedom; that we live in such dire conditions and that we needed an apartment. Within three months the committee actually assigned us an apartment!"

  • “While we were with this priest, who was actually our indirect cousin, he told us that our parents had moved after they had driven them out of Turkey. That was a long time ago. So they arrived here and claimed a place down in the south, not where they lived later, but somewhere more down south. And people began dying there, one by one. People were dying every year and nobody knew why. The climate wasn’t suitable for them. Later they went to search for a better place--like explorers, you could say--and there they discovered this place and built a village there.”

  • “We asked where we were going. Somebody told us that we were going to Czechoslovakia. But we didn’t even know what Czechoslovakia was. We got off in Mariánské Lázně. They undressed us completely, because our clothing was full of lice. There was not much sanitation where we had been. They took all of our clothes, they deloused us, sprayed us with some insecticides, bathed us, we got new clothes, and they sent us to a chateau. It was a large chateau. There were nuns who were taking care of us. I think that those nuns spoke both German and Czech, and they were awfully nice to us. They were like our mommies, and they were taking care of us perfectly. While we were in Mariánské Lázně, we slowly began to learn Czech. But we lagged behind. I arrived there when I was seven years old. It took me about a year to learn Czech. Then we began with the first grade, and then we skipped directly to the third, and then to the fifth grade, in order to be on the same level with Czech children of the same age. But my head couldn’t take it. I was falling behind with the curriculum, but I was not the only one. Other kids had the same problem.”

  • “From Frýdlant I arrived at the children’s home in Machnín, near Chrastava. Then I moved from Machnín to Velké Heraltice, near Opava. And it was not far from Velké Heraltice to Albrechtice. Nobody knows it, but I have to confess it: one night I ran away from the children’s home there. At midnight. It was because I discovered that my parents were living close by. With a friend, we climbed over the wall at night. We were little boys, and the wall was thus very high for us. We climbed over the wall and we walked for about three kilometres to some village where there was a train station. We got on a train, without a ticket, and we arrived to Albrechtice. We asked some people where the Charalambidis family lived. The Greeks there all knew each other, and they led us there and said: ´This is the house where your parents live. I don’t know where your father is, but your mom is over there in the field.´ I went there with this boy and there were women and all of them were bent down. We could only see their backs. All of them were sorting carrots. Suddenly, and old woman stood up, and I saw that it was my grandma. She could speak only Turkish. She didn’t know a single word of Greek. She looked up and said in Turkish: ´Maria, your son is here.´ They quit their work, and then we began living with our parents. It was in 1953.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Bohutín, 11.11.2011

    (audio)
    duration: 01:33:05
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Šumperk, 04.07.2016

    (audio)
    duration: 02:00:55
    media recorded in project Silesia: Memory of multiethnic Region
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If they had caught us, they would have murdered us all

Ioannis Charalambidis in the 1970s
Ioannis Charalambidis in the 1970s
photo: archiv pamětníka

  Ioannis Charalambidis was born in 1941 in the small village of Tiriopetra in northern Greece. His father, Kostas, was a member of the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE). Due to the civil war, which was waged in Greece from 1944 to 1949, the family was evacuated to Yugoslavia. Ioannis had spent several months in the village of Bulkes in the autonomous province of Vojvodina before he was sent by train to Czechoslovakia with his brothers, Nikos and Alekos. During the following four years, he went through several children’s homes. His father was not reunited with his family until 1954. Afterwards, the whole family lived in Město Albrechtice and Šumperk. His younger brothers, Jorgos and Stavros, now live in Greece. Ioannis returned to Greece several times, but only for holiday. At present he lives in Bohutín, near Šumperk.