Thessaloniki, Kidonies (Kydonia), Elliniko, Kilkis, Greece
George Petrides was born to Christopher and Maria Petrides in Thessaloniki, Greece, on October 16, 1933. After his birth, they returned to their village, Kidonies, outside of Kilkis, and lived there until Saturday, October 25, 1941, when the Germans murdered Christopher Petrides and 53 other Greek men.
“That morning, he went out to plow the last winter wheat for the season. He got up and put his work clothes on and proceeded to go to the farm area, but he soon came back to the house when some soldiers told him to go back home. He changed clothes and put on his Sunday best and then came out in the living-room. Two Nazi soldiers marched into our house without knocking on the door; they just opened it. They asked my father to raise his hands and searched him. They found a pocketknife in his pocket and asked him what that was for. He answered, ‘I’m a farmer and my wife makes my lunch and puts a piece of bread in it and I use the knife to cut the bread.’ About that time, my dog, Mourgo, jumped on one of the soldiers and knocked him down. The other soldier kicked the dog real hard, the dog ran out into the cornfield, and the German soldier pointed a submachine gun into the cornfield and fired, but the dog was gone.
“Then, the German soldier told us to go to the village square. By the time we arrived, it looked like the entire village was already there, all lined up in front of two machine guns about 20 feet apart. On each side of the machine gun, there were three Nazi soldiers with submachine guns; three on the left and three on the right, next to the machine guns. And there were two Nazi officers about ten feet behind the machine guns and there was also a man dressed in civilian clothes, who was the interpreter…. A motorcycle with a sidecar driven by a Nazi soldier approached those officers, shut the engine down, and handed the high-ranking officer, a note. The two officers and the interpreter talked for a few minutes, then the high ranking German officer and the man in the civilian clothes came in front of us said, ‘All men, step this way and women and children step that way.’ And they separated us.
“The interpreter said to us, ‘You are to go to your homes and get anything that you can get out and leave the village in a half an hour…. Anyone who is left in the village after that will be shot.’ So, we went back to our house and the rest of the villagers did the same thing.” Maria hooked up the horse and cart and told George to throw some pillows and blankets on the wagon, and to scoop up some grain into a piece of canvas. “I did exactly that and I was only eight-years-old, so I did what I could.” Maria drove the wagon with George and his sister Victoria, who was not quite three-years-old, to the neighboring village, Elliniko, the seat of their district. They stayed there in the schoolhouse Saturday and Sunday.
“Monday morning the Greek police came to the school house and told the us to go back to the village and bury our dead. My mother did not want me to go, but I wanted to see what happened. When we got to the village square, there were 54 bodies lined up. It looked like the Nazi soldiers sat down about 20 feet behind the bodies and had something to eat; they left their containers there…. People arrived from the villages from the surrounding area and dug a mass grave, which took quite a long time to do, and put all the bodies in that mass grave and covered it up. Then, with axes they went into the nearby woods and cut down small trees and made posts all the way around; and found barbed wire and put it around the posts. Before they buried the posts in the ground, they started a fire and burned the ends of the posts in the fire because once charcoal is formed on the post, it will take them a lot longer to rot.”
Later, George learned that the reason for the massacre in Kidonies, and in two neighboring villages Kleisto and Ampelofyto, was that “they said they found two Nazi soldiers on the main highway above our village. They were shot dead and a motorcycle with a sidecar attached to it was burned beyond recognition and that’s why they retaliated. In the first village, they put everyone in the church and blew up the church on top of them. And the third one, they did exactly what they did to us.
“We went back to Elliniko and we stayed there for a week, and then we moved to another village where my father’s brother, Avram, lived and we stayed with them that winter. In the spring of ‘42, we went back to the village and occupied what was left of our house. Half of it was blown up and had fallen down and all of the contents of our house were burned out. But my mother managed to save a corner and made us a bed and we stayed there the summer of ’42 because she had to harvest whatever she could…. That was the summer I got malaria, and I had it until the summer of ’43, when the doctor finally gave me a small container of yellow pills; after I finished the last one, I became well.”
During the war, Maria took care of not only her family, but also all of the people in the three villages. “Before the war, my father raised cattle and would take 10 or 12 cattle to Kilkis and sell them to the butcher. He demanded payment in gold. So, all the gold coins he collected for 20 years, the ones he didn’t have to spend to sustain ourselves, he buried in the garden at the corner of the house on the outside, right in the garden, and my mother knew where they were. So, when this happened, she went and dug them up and put them in a bag and that’s what sustained us all through the war; plus, she helped all the villagers, because most of them had much less than we did. She used that money to buy medicines and all kinds of stuff. So, they made her the mayor of the three villages. And everyone called her ‘Proethrina,’ which means Mrs. Mayor. And that’s what she did. She used all that money on other people.” She also would go to the train station with a bunch of other women and take water, and bread, and cheese, and stuff like that and give it to the Jewish people being taken to the camps.
About the end of ’43, Maria went to the governor of the district, Theo Thoridis, “a very good friend of my father, and told him, ‘We can’t stay anymore because we are putting a great strain on these people.’” So, he found them a duplex in Kilkis that had been built before the war to house refugees from Asia Minor. “We moved into this duplex and it got us out of the weather. But, Kilkis was every bit a concentration camp because they had a curfew from sunup to sundown. Nazi soldiers patrolled the neighborhoods and they made us have black curtains in all the houses so that there was no light showing outside.
“One day, I think it was in 1943, my cousin, Vasili, and I were in a marketplace in Kilkis, selling water and bottles of soda, trying to make some money. All of a sudden, the marketplace was surrounded by German army vehicles and the larger trucks had machine guns on them that were mounted on a round steel structure. A soldier behind the machine guns trained them on the people in the marketplace. The next thing we know, they bring in some carpenters and they build a scaffolding and then they drag three Greeks that look like they haven’t had a bath or shaved for weeks; they were people who worked in the forest making charcoal. I guess the Nazi soldiers found them in the woods and thought they were the underground, so they brought them to Kilkis on a Saturday and made us watch a hanging.” Many years after the war, George recognized in a newspaper photo the face of the officer who was with them as the head of the United Nations in New York, Kurt Waldheim. He told a friend, “And the next thing I know Kurt Waldheim was kicked out of the United Nations, which was a good thing because as far as I was concerned, he was a murderer like the rest of the Nazis.”
George also was a witness to what took place in the underground during World War II under the Nazi occupation of Greece. “These people, as young as 15 and 16-year-old kids, volunteered to go up on the mountains and join the underground and fight the Nazis. Of course, we paid a price, because in Kilkis, the Nazi hierarchy posted posters all over the city that said, ‘For every German soldier you people kill, we are going to kill a hundred of yours.’ So, every time a German soldier got killed, they would go in the coffee houses and empty them out and take the civilians who hang around the coffee houses out into the limestone quarry. And they shoot them and then they tell their relatives to go get their dead and bury them.
“We lived in Kilkis until the war ended in ‘45, when all of a sudden there were no longer Nazi soldiers in Greece. They were all gone. One day they were there, and the next day they just disappeared. And there was a big celebration. The whole city of Kilkis was having a big celebration. Everyone was out in the streets, dancing and singing and carrying on.
“And then the civil war started, and it was no longer safe for us to stay in Kilkis, so we moved to Thessaloniki, because it was a much larger city and anonymity was much easier.” In 1948, George enrolled at the American Farm School, graduated in 1952, and got a job with the University of Thessaloniki. He worked in their forestry department, rebuilding a mountaintop lumber factory that was burned to the ground by the Italian troops that occupied Greece along with the Germans…. A school friend, Tony Zacharias, helped arrange for him to enroll at a Presbyterian junior college in Asheville, North Carolina. He got a Greek passport “and then I went to the America Consulate in Salonika and the Consul was very warm and very enthusiastic that a young guy like me was willing to go to America. So, he was very helpful in doing all the paperwork that needed to be done and next thing I know I am in New York City.”
George’s message for today’s generation “is be kind to your fellow man because what happens to them, it can happen to you. And war is anything but pleasant; and every effort must be made to avoid war because the children pay a tremendous price, because of health reasons, because the lack of education when education gets disrupted. And the effects of war last many generations.”
Date of Interview: September 22, 2016
Length of Interview: 62:18 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Mark Einhaus