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Monday, March 13, 2017

The Hoarder

I saw this post in The Facebook group, A Good Greek Read and I thought the book title looked familiar, Inside Hitler's Greece.

Sure enough, I found the book among many others in my basement, where books seem to accumulate.

Copyrighted in 1993, I remember someone in my family reading it, so with the prompt from Facebook and the fact that I had the hardcover in my hand, I decided to read it.

It's not a light easy read by any means, but it is an interesting one, especially when considering my father-in-law, Tomas, was among the resistance fighters who fought against the Germans and was very much privy to the wide spread starvation that occurred as a result of the German occupation.

As I read the book, memories of Tomas emerged. Both the Germans and Italians occupied Greece during the second World War. Tomas told me some stories about the Italians, which at the time, I thought were just his way of being nice to me, his Italian-American daughter-in-law. But I've just read similar accounts in this book.

According to Tomas, the Italian soldiers were mostly kind-hearted and tried to help the Greek civilians. He told of Italian soldiers giving their food rations to the children of the village and then catching turtles to boil and eat, instead. The children would aid the soldiers in catching the turtles, knowing they'd get the soldiers' food in return.

The Italian government also did as much as they could to supply some food to the starving Greeks. This was in contrast to the German government and soldiers who took what they could and shipped much of the Greek food supply back to Germany to feed that hungry population. Thus, especially in the cities, the Greek civilian population dwindled rapidly under these dire conditions.

Another memory of Tomas and his war stories is about two men who had come to the countryside from Athens in search of food.
They hadn't eaten in many days so Tomas and his companion gave them some cornbread in milk. They tried to stop them from eating too much as, apparently when one's body is starving to death, it should not ingest great qualities of food. One of the men died soon after eating his fill of corn bread.

Tomas also talked of the need to have something to trade for food. Something--anything--was better than nothing. The black market prevailed, as the author of Inside Hitler's Greece confirms: "Down in the muddy alley of [Athens], hoping to buy oil and eggs, [a middle class housewife] found herself surrounded by 'some dirty unshaven' men who cautiously showed her some samples of their wares, beans and chick peas."  But what did she have to offer? "Hoarding took place on a massive scale."

So, were those the days for Tomas that resulted in his infuriating and somewhat pathological hoarding of later years?  I wonder.

Here is an excerpt from the memoir, The Nifi:

It was that summer that I realized something about my father-in-law. Tomas was a hoarder. 
          He spent much time laboring over what Nick called shacks, which he built in different areas of the yard to keep his stuff. Each time an olive oil container was emptied, he would flattened it into a sheet of tin and squirrel it away. He dragged home random pieces of wood that he found on his walk to town or on the farm or among the olive trees. Nothing was thrown away: shards of metal, plastic containers, rusted nails and bolts, old roof tiles, broken tools. And when one shack was full, he’d start constructing another, which in itself was made from random junk like the rotten wooden shutters his children had replace on the little house which he had taken and stuck together with wire and tree branches to form a wall for one of the shacks.
          The process infuriated Nick, as he watched the older man labor intensely in a way he had never seen him do when he and his siblings were growing up hungry and poor. It seemed that with each new improvement that the brothers and sisters attempted—the cement driveway and courtyard, the indoor kitchen and bathroom, the roof for the old house—Tomas would argue, hinder the labor, chase the workers away and then create yet another shack and fill it.
          One day, at the onset of a rare passing summer rain, I scrambled to take cover in the little house with Nikki, Thomas, Marianna and Dina. As the giant drops began to splatter on the courtyard cement, Nick found his way to us. I sat with the children on an unkempt bed. The little house consisted only of two rooms, both being bedrooms. Nick paced restlessly, waiting for the rain to subside.
          “There’s no place for us to go,” he mumbled.
          I had been painfully aware of that fact from my first moments at the family house, nine years before, but I hadn’t realized it was a frustration for him also.
          As the clouds parted for the returning sun, Nick walked briskly across the courtyard to the other house and instead of going into the front entrance that then led to the indoor kitchen, he opened the door next to it and attempted to enter the storeroom.
          I had never given much thought to that door.  It was a pest-eaten wooden door that scraped the ground noisily as it was pushed inward. Inside was a large rectangular windowless room with a dome-like ceiling. There were a few sacks of flour and some cans of olive oil but mostly it was filled with old wood, pieces of plastic and metal, broken shoes and an array of other useless items.
          Nick stepped up onto the dirt floor, squeezed into the crowded room and began throwing items out into the courtyard.
          “Come here. Help me.” He motioned to the children and we all worked until we had a pile of junk in the courtyard and an empty storeroom. Fotis heard the commotion and came to see what was happening. He called his friend, Kolios to help. The three men worked with shovels to dig out the dirt floor, attempting to make it level with the other rooms.
          At some point Tomas came home and saw the men working. Memories of the events as they happened that afternoon are a little murky, but the argument that ensued is as clear as the crystal sea .  .  .


Independent authors often have quite a challenge in getting exposure for their work. I hope, dear reader, you will consider writing a review on Amazon or Goodreads.com.

2 comments:

  1. This aspect of WW2 is not at all well known outside Greece. Had a friend who also lived in Athens during the Occupation. Her only comment was Zoa, Zoa.

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    1. That's a good point, Hellenophile. The bit about starvation rarely makes it past a line or two in the history books of the conquerors. So sad! It's such a terrible legacy of war . . . civilians in the way of someone's ego, to conquer and rule
      : (

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