Sotiris Joanidis

* 1939  †︎ 2021

  • “Later, when our parents came to Czechoslovakia in 1949, they were properly dressed because it was at the outset of winter. They would otherwise have frozen here in Rejvíz, as they weren’t acclimatized to the local climatic conditions yet. They were accommodated in houses that had belonged to the Germans. They were completely empty except for metal beds and blankets. They didn’t return us to our parents at first because there was no way they could have taken care of us. They had nothing. They made a little bit while working in the forests or in agriculture but it wasn’t enough to support a family of six. The first time we were allowed to see them was in 1952, in Gieshübl – Kyselce. The reunion took place after a very long time – it was almost five years since we saw them for the last time.”

  • “My dad joined the party because he thought that all people were equal, or should, at least, be more equal. He was a Communist by heart – he didn’t cherish any Marxism-Leninism doctrine. He wished people to be free and not usurped by some superior authority. That was the kind of democracy the Greek Communists wanted for their country. I think that even the highest officials in the party sincerely wished this sort of democracy. I think that all of Europe, had the idea that the classical Greek form of democracy has some kind of evolution to it, that it would progress in this way. That was their vision but it failed because the Soviet regime is about something else, than the democracy they imagined and wanted.”

  • “I had a wonderful job, I have to say. A dream job, so to speak. Even though it’s not what everybody imagines when you say you’re a forest ranger or a forester. That image of a ranger walking through the forests with his dog and a rifle on his back is pretty romantic. The reality is different, it’s a tough job. I used to be outdoors daily, in the nature, in the forests, and this kind of life automatically has an influence on you. It teaches you certain principles. For instance, when you’re standing on the top of a hill and see the overcast sky in the distance over the flatland, clouds all the way to Poland, but blue sky above you, standing on a forest-covered hill. It is catchy. I was all day long in the forest, every day, rain or shine. So you experience all the elements, all the things you should see in nature. The forest gave me a good education, it taught me to love and respect this stretch of land. Before, when I was a lumberjack, it was different, I didn’t care too much for the forest. But as a ranger and forester, I was planting trees, caring for them, cultivating the forest. This creates ties with the forest. I came as a lumber jack but the forest re-educated me, it works this way with everyone.”

  • “In 1948, when it was already obvious that they’re losing the war, they started to think about political emigration from Greece. They gathered all the children from the Gramos Mountains, from the north of Greece and sent them to fellow ‘People’s Republics’. The idea was that the exiled children would, learn Communism in those countries and then – someday – would return and spread it in Greece. It was kind of an odd idea but they carried it out. The kids eligible for that transfer were 2 – 14 year-olds. We were all taken – me, my brother, and my sister. They formed groups of 15 – 20 kids that were overseen by a teenager. So I was with a large procession of kids, let’s say 500 strong and we were marching through the mountains to Albania. Of course, kids this small can’t walk for too long. We would march for 7 – 8 kilometers per day. It was a catastrophe. Sometimes, we were under attack from the air. It was Greek pilots, that knew they were bombing Greek kids. I remember two or three air raids during those days, when we were wandering the mountains on the Greco-Albanian border. Some kids perished there. I was nine years old, I remember this.”

  • “We were stationed in Kysibl – Kyselce. Actually a part of our group was in Kysibl - Kyselce, the other part in Velichov nearby Carlsbad. My sister, who had a very awful-looking shoulder joint dislocation, had been taken to the hospital because it got worse during the distress on the journey. We were taught Czech songs and they were taking us around to sing, to the Czech kids. We were put into different school grades according to our age and to how well we had learned Czech. I got into sixth grade of elementary school because I was old enough for it and I spoke a little bit of Czech. I didn’t pass the first five grades of school, so theoretically, I shouldn’t be able to add, subtract, multiply, or divide. I passed the sixth grade in Bílá Voda near Javorník, the seventh in Loučná near Šumperk and the eight in Chrastava. My older brother attended a school somewhere else and my sister went to study at a medical school. We were separated in this way but we wrote letters to each other. There were around 110 children’s homes for approximately 4000 Greek children.”

  • “I was born in 1939, on January the first. It was in a village in the Gramos Mountains. I think the name of the village is Glikoneri. It’s in the north of Greece, about thirty kilometers away from the border with Albania. I was born in the altitude of 1300 meters. The village was like glued to the mountain. It was like a swallow nest. Back then, there were almost no roads or paths leading to that place. At least, no big ones. Today there would be a two-meter wide road to the village but nothing like that was in place back in those days. The only way you could actually get there was on a donkey’s back or on foot, of course. There was even no larger road leading to the district city. The most convenient way to travel was on the river, by boat.”

  • “I have two fatherlands, which, makes me a richer man. It’s the same with the other Greeks that came to Czechoslovakia. Even those Greeks that moved back to Greece, they’re still being called ‘Czechs’ in Greece. And they look back at the time they spent here with nostalgia and love. They take the Czech Republic for their second fatherland. This country gave them so much – the best possible education for example. Those who came back to Greece became very successful in what they were doing. They became top specialists in Greece because of the education they got in Czechoslovakia. My children have Greek names - Apostolos Joanidis and Konstantin Joanidis. Konstantin is the younger one. They speak Greek. One of my children even teaches Greek at university. They both love to go to Greece – it’s much rarer for them here.”

  • “Czechoslovakia cared for us, as if we were its own children and it must have been rather costly. Of course, by the time we arrived in Mikulov, we were ragged, dirty, and starving. Our clothes were tattered and we had almost no personal belongings. They had to feed us, wash us, dress us, and provide us with some shelter. We only stayed in Mikulov for a while, some two weeks, before another group of Greek kids came in. They then put us all together (we were about 450 kids) and brought us to Lesná u Varnsdorfu, where we arrived in September. I remember that we used to fly the Greek and the Czechoslovak flag there and sing the national anthems – it was almost as if it was a Boy Scout camp. Once, the Czechoslovak flag flied on half mast. We didn’t know what that means. It was on the day when Beneš passed away.”

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    Rejvíz, okr. Jeseník, 17.02.2006

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    duration: 07:05
    media recorded in project Sudetenland destinies
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“We were supposed to learn Communism in Czechoslovakia…”

Ja v LMS[1]..jpg (historic)
Sotiris Joanidis
photo: soukromý archiv

Sotiris Joanidis was born January 1, 1939, in Greece. He grew up in the village of Glikoneri that lies high in the Gramos mountain range, close to the border with Albania. After the Greek civil war, which, ended in 1948 with the defeat of the Communists, Joanidis together with about a thousand other Greek children was dispatched on a tortuous journey to countries that had a Communist regime. Sotiris Joanidis, along with some 4000 other Greek children, ended up in Communist Czechoslovakia. Between 1948 and 1955 he was stationed in children’s homes designated for migrant Greek children (for example in Lesná u Varnsdorfu, Kyselka, Velichov, Bílá Voda, Loučná nad Desnou or Chrastava near Liberec). He only attended the sixth, the seventh, and the eighth grade of elementary school. He then started to work as a forest worker. Later, he graduated from a forestry school in Strážnice (that was in 1963). In 1969, he very belatedly passed the school-leaving exam at the Jesenice grammar school (as a thirty-year old, he studied there externally). He then worked as a forester, a lumberjack, and he ran a sawmill in the forests around the village of Rejvíz, which is the highest situated Silesian village, in the Czech Republic. He has been in retirement since 1999. He is the author of several books, most notably Rejvíz a báje z okolí (Rejvíz and the myths surrounding it) which is currently in its third edition and is enormously popular. He is also considering writing a book about the advent of the Greeks to Czechoslovakia. Sotiris Joanidis belongs to those post-war refugees that, after substantial initial difficulties managed to successfully integrate themselves into their host societies. He may be counted among the elite in his region. Remarkable is his profound interest in the Rejvíz region, which became his second home.