ource: Utrinski Vesnik
By Viktor Cvetanovski
Translated by Zlatko Nikolovski, UMD Member in Vienna, Austria
An eight-day long nighttime march through ice and snow.
“Together with another two women and 40 children, on March 26, 1948, we abandoned the village after the attack by government troops, who kidnapped 13 children whose parents were in the DAG divisions, while we hid ourselves with the other women and children. They also bombed the village. We traveled through the snow and winter at night, while hiding during the daytime.
“Near the village Trnovo, two government planes shot at us, but luckily nobody was injured. We joined a group of about 400 children being led by a few women. They were from the vicinity of Kostur (present-day Kastoria in Greece) and the women told us that their group had been repeatedly attacked by government planes, and had lost four children as a result. Near the village of Mavrochori, more refugees joined us, women and children from four villages (Dolno Kotori, Lagem, Turija, and Tren).”
This dramatic re-telling of the children’s eight-day journey from their birthplaces to the villages of Dolno Dupeni and Ljubojno near Prespa (in present-day Republic of Macedonia) is by Lena Sulevska from the village of Gorno Kotori, near Lerin. Miško Kitanovski and Gjorgji Doneski are retelling her story together with the traumatic testimony of other mothers regarding the uprooting of 28,000 children from Aegean Macedonia (present-day northern Greece) from their birthplaces in the book “The Child-Refugees of Aegean Macedonia.”
Sulevska said that at the time 20 women and 500 children gathered and traveled towards the north, moving only at night. “Throughout the journey we each carried three children, two in our hands, and one on our backs. From the village of Konomladi strong snows and heavy winds trailed us. We massaged the children’s feet to avoid frostbite,” recalls Sulevska, who was a replacement mother for 25 of the children.
When they arrived at the village of Štrkovo, a surprise air attack forced them with the children and local population to seek shelter in the mountains, where they remained the entire day. “The children were crying from fear and cold, and we were forced to light a fire. But then the planes came back, and we had to throw our clothing and the children rocks to put out the fire,” says Sulevska.
Fear of the airplanes prevented them from lighting fires again. At nightfall, they continued their journey and in two days reached the village of German; the following day, they unknowingly crossed the Yugoslav border. At daybreak, women from the Yugoslav Red Cross met them and wept at their hungry and barefoot state. The refugees were fed and transported to Bitola.
“The difficulties of traveling in the cold left visible traces on the children. Even after arriving in Bitola (in present-day Republic of Macedonia), our children cried loudly, the same way they did during the entire journey. Many of them were vomiting, we women had tears in our hands and necks and shoulders from carrying them, and our backs and chests had dark bruises. The children were flea-ridden and dirty because they could not bathe the entire way, and the path was 100km and eight days long. Their eyes were bloodshot and only had rags for clothing,” recalls “mother” Lena Sulevska.
Elena Eftova who fled from the village of Turje, also near Lerin (present day Florina in Greece), with 114 children tells a similar story. “The monarcho-fascists bombed the village with cannons. Six houses were destroyed and 34 houses were burned completely. Then they invaded the village, looted it, and let loose 500 sheep, while we watched hidden in the mountains. Our soldiers were nowhere, and the anger of the monarcho-fascists was unleashed on a few of the remaining villagers. During the bombing, a 10-year old girl named Lefterija Doneva was hit in the chest and wounded in her stomach. In her serious state, they took her to the basement of the house, while the bombing lasted. After the bombing, we took the girl from the village, but she died in the mountains in agonizing pain, and so we buried her near the village of Rula. The mother of this girl fled with us, though we lost track of her later and I don’t know where she is now,” says Eftova.
Vasilka Delova from Lagen fled with two other women and a girl, leading 71 children. “While the attacks by the government troops lasted, we hid in the trenches outside the village. We went into the village at night looking for food. By the village of Konomladi, we joined a second large group, and together we fled to Yugoslavia. Even after five months, even though the children were put up in orphanages, they could not free themselves from the trauma of the attacks on the village and the difficulties and tortures they endured while fleeing that military hell,” she says.
After the death of her husband, Jordana Jančova, from the village of Trsje, near Lerin, was left alone with her five children. Fearing that she too would be murdered, she decided to flee across the border. “At the time the mothers in the village left their children in my care to save them from the fearsome bombings of the American, British, and Greek planes,” she says.
“And thus came that black day – March 24, 1948. During the nighttime, the drama of goodbyes began. Near the school in my village of Rudari about 100 children gathered, divided in groups of 25; I was in charge of one of those groups. Among these children were two young brothers, Vasil and Goče. We gathered them into harnesses and left. The mothers ran after us to give the children their final messages: “Sandra, remember your mother;” Hrisula, daughter, don’t cry, we’ll come back;” “Kosta, be careful, son,’” tells, “mother” Stoja Jankovska, who was with the first group of 500 children.
Around midnight they arrived at German, and on morning of March 25, they left for Bela Voda, on the Yugoslavian-Greek border, where they met the other groups from German, Medovo, Rabin, Štrkovo, and where they hid all day from the airplanes. They met three guides who brought them bread and cheese, a final goodbye from the mothers they left behind.
“At dusk, when there were no more of the black “birds” in the sky (who were unsuccessfully looking for us all day), we left for the border, on the path of our long-sought freedom. We reached a large opening, laid the children down together, and covered them with whatever we had, rags, leaves, branches. Some of the other guides and I went looking for our border guards,” tells “mother” Stoja.
After arriving in Dolno Dupeni and Ljubojno, they were transferred onto trucks to Brailovo, and from there by train to Skopje. “On the platform at the old train station in Skopje there was a warm and heartfelt welcome for the children from Aegean Macedonia. They got off the train for a short break, while the women in white – the women from the Red Cross and from the AFŽ gave them candies for the first time in their lives. What joy that was! My children didn’t know that they had to unwrap the candy from is wrapper…” recalls “mother” Stoja, who added that despite the outstanding living and work conditions, despite the outpouring of care they gave to the children, regardless, even when they matured, they still cried and sought their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.
“Later, when the decision was made to reunite the families, we sought the parents of the children, via embassies and consulates, through the Red Cross and via letter-writing campaigns. We wrote letters, to which we received many replies. Thus began the correspondence between the children with their mother, father, sister, or brother,” says “mother” Stoja.
(To Be Continued)
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