Magazine article The Spectator

Christmas under Fire

Magazine article The Spectator

Christmas under Fire

Article excerpt

Of course it was a dream. It had to be. Things like that just don't happen. No way. But my eyes were open when I saw it, so how could I have been dreaming? I kept them closed for a while, too scared to open them and find out it was a dream, after all. Slowly, very slowly, I looked in the semi-darkness. The thing was still there. I quickly shut them tight in case it went away.

When I opened them again, I looked around my room. The steel shutters were closed tight, but I could see the snow through the bullet holes. The snow was packed tight inside the holes, keeping the weak sunlight out. It was very, very cold and eerily silent. Then I looked again, and in the growing light it was there, unmistakably so, and I jumped out of bed screeching with joy and ran towards it. It was the most beautiful castle I'd ever seen, made of tiny stones of many different colours, with ramparts and a drawbridge and with some soldiers scattered on the ground. Most of them had one leg or no arms, and some had no heads. Still, they made all the difference.

Then Fräulein came in, tall, erect, white hair in a tight bun, all in black, smiling and picking me up in her arms. 'Fröhliche Weihnachten, mein Liebchen Taki,' she said, taking me by the hand and into the bathroom for the daily torture scrub. When the mortar rounds began around 8 in the morning, I went to the shelter below with my castle, secure in the knowledge that it would protect me. 'Your father crossed the lines during the night and sneaked it into your bedroom,' said Fräulein.

Daddy had then apparently returned to the east of the Acropolis, where a gendarmerie regiment had been resisting for days. Completely isolated, tightly encircled, bombarded by artillery and mortars, pressed from all sides, the regiment held on. My father's factories were west of the Acropolis and had been burning for days. It was the thanks he got from the communists for having shut them down during the German occupation. Fotis, chief foreman, had tried to reason with the guerrillas but they cut his throat. Kostas, my father's driver, had been killed the day before Christmas when he ran out of ammo. He had been followed as he drove towards Plaka to bring food to the Makriyanni gendarmes. Once trapped and surrounded, there was no question of surrender. It was not that kind of war. Civil wars never are.

Greece at Christmas 1944 existed only in the centre of Athens in an area of about four square kilometres. …

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