Skopjan myth about Deca Belgaci exposed – Testimony of Irene Damopoulou Part II




The true story of a young girl, Irene Damopoulou from Kastoria, in western Macedonia, that began during the years of the internal Greek conflict (1946-1949)













Ioannis Bougas



Paidomazwma” – “Children Gathering”




A Short time after my uncle left for the safety of the city of Kastoria, our village passed under the control of the DSE, and became part of the area that the guerilas proudly called “Free Greece”. Then we heard for the first time about Paidomazwma, the plan of the Communist Party of Greece to take young children from their parents and bring them inside the communist countries. We heard that the children, accompanied by some men, were led to cross the borders into Albania or Yugoslavia, and from there they are spread into camps in all the communist countries of Eastern Europe.


Our village, and the neighboring one, Ieropigi, because they are very close to the border with Albania became often station for many children of Paidomazwma on their way to Iron Curtain. The children stopped there, for one or more nights, in order to regain their strength and until those leading them organize the crossing of the border undetected.


I remember very well, even today, three shipments of children that stopped in our village and slept in several homes there.  One shipment they said that had children from Thessaly, and another from the area of Kozani. However, the third and last shipment that stopped in our village, is the one that has remained more clearly in my memory. The children were coming mainly from Epirus. I believe that it was during the month of March.  The weather was very cold, and the icy winds were very strong, when they brought the children and distributed them to various homes in the village to sleep.   


The next day those leading the children ordered the villagers to bring their work animals – horses, mulls, and donkeys- in the center of the village. They also asked them to bring along those big coffins used to transport the raisins from the wine fields to make the wine.  In the coffins they were placing two-two or three-three the small children that could not walk. Their mothers, who had carried them until that point, could not carry them any further, since they were going to enter Albania, and they had to be separated from them.


Most children were crying hard and were trying to exit the coffins and come down from the animals. The mothers of the children were also crying and pulling their hair. Many of those children were very young; perhaps their mothers were still breast-feeding them. As the convoy was getting ready to leave, those in charge separated all the mothers that had come along and pushed them away from the children. Several of them began to cry very loudly, pulling their hair and calling the names of their children. The guerillas from their side were screaming as well. They were swearing and ordering on the mothers of the children to stop following. We were observing from our home those tragic scenes that were occurring a few meters away.  


After a while the convoy left, with the animals carrying the young children inside the coffins and the older children following on foot, in the direction of the Albanian border.  However, we learned that for some reason they were forced to stay in the forests, near the border, for three whole days. A rumor was spread then in our village, claiming that several young children died from the cold.


{The above brief description of Paidomazwma by Irene Damopoulou as she saw it in 1948, in the small border village near Kastoria, coincides with the description given by other eyewitnesses of this terrible crime. This is how G. Manoukas describes it: “In many places the abduction of the children had taken the form of battle. Children who were abducted from villages that were under the control of the (Greek) Army were taken during the night through raids by units of guerillas. They were asking all the guerilla units in the area to protect the convoys of children. In the middle were the children, while the partisans placed themselves in front, back and on the sides.  Between them, were the mothers holding their babies in their arms. They had been ordered to carry their babies until reaching the border, and then pass them to “forwarding units”. 


Many children tried to escape from the moving convoys, and for that reason they had taken special measures transferring them. They always moved the convoys of children during the evening. I have never seen a more dramatic moment than that of the children leaving their parents!!! I could not sleep during the fifteen days that this drama lasted, from the emotion I had felt. The children were arriving in the border by the hundreds, in horrible condition from suffering on the road for many days. Some were ill! The parents were kissing their children once, twice, … a thousand times. They would start to leave, after hugging and kissing their children, and then they would return calling out, “Wait! Let us kiss our children again”!! In groups the women, the mothers, were standing silent, some were lamenting until the carriages with the black belongings disappeared. The forests were full of the cries of the mothers who were left behind…”. ([6], pg 16-17).


In another place of the book, he says: “… Some, perhaps many, were lost on the road, because their move through the mountains by foot was not easy, especially during winter. For the parents, the abduction of a child is a much worst calamity even than the death of a child. The overall picture of this event was unbelievably tragic. When they were bringing the children in the arranged places to leave, they were screaming, and the mothers were crying and begging. Every attempt to keep their children was rebuffed abruptly. The village mothers were shocked, and knew that any resistance had no chance to succeed. ([7], pg 48)}.


I remember that during that period my mother became very concerned about the safety of my brother and myself. She wouldn’t let us go far from our house. I heard her talk with my two aunts how they were going to respond to a situation  if the communists would ask them to take us to Albania. What my mother had  feared soon became reality. One morning they called with bullhorns (“xonia”) by name all those who had young children to come to the center of the village   to explain to them their decision to take the children away into the Iron Curtain countries for their “protection”. Naturally, they called my mother and my two aunts. My mother and my aunts Alexandra Lazaridi and Polytimi Ralli refused to give their children. My aunt Polytimi was at that time a widow with three boys. Her older son, Demetrios, was placed in the public orphanage of Kastoria. In the village, with her, were her two other boys, Vangelis – her second boy and little Theofanis, the third one.


My mother, despite the threats and the pressure by the communists, adamantly refused to give away my brother and me, insisting that we were very young and already orphans by missing a father. As I have mentioned earlier, my father had disappeared before the birth of my little brother. The people from KKE who  came to the village for the Paidomazwma, but also the locals who were giving them information, warned my mother and my aunts that they not only would feel terribly sorry for their refusal, but their children would suffer a lot because of them. For several days after that, my mother would not allow us to go out of our house at al to play. Not too long after that, one evening, the the Paidomazwma took place. They gathered all the children of Agios Demetrios, took them into Albania, and a child’s voice could not be heard in the village anymore.


Unfortunately, they also took the last-born son of my aunt Polytimi, little Theofanis. They caught him in a village street and took him away without permission from his mother. Much later, in the sixties, my aunt learned that Theofanis was alive and lived in Belgrade. She went there to see him. Her description of their meeting, upon her return, was extremely dramatic. As the taxi was approaching the address they had given her in Belgrade, she saw him walking on the street! Despite all the years that had passed, she recognized him! Unfortunately her young son did not have the immediate recognition as his mother did. He did not recognize his mother. The scenes that followed, until her son was convinced that indeed she was his mother, must have been terribly hard for her.


Theofanis, still lives in Belgrade today. After meeting his mother, he did visit Greece a few times. However, he did not stay permanently. The main obstacle for his permanent stay in Greece, was the the issue of his employment. In Yugoslavia, he had graduated from a technical school and he was working in the field of electronics, but the school never gave him his degree…..

I should add that the second born son of my aunt Polytimi, Vangelis, shunned the Paidomazwma and presently lives in Cincinnati, USA.


In 1993, I heard Xarilaos Florakis talking on Greek TV and saying that in some villages the parents of young children were asking to give their children to the communist partizans for the Paidomazwma. He mentioned that the parents wanted to “save” them from the Greek State so that they get educated in the Iron Curtain countries!!

I am not disputing the fact that there were some parents who gave their children voluntarily and without resistance, because this did happen in our village, Agios Demetrios, as well. What Mr. Florakis did not tell us, was how many were these parents who willingly gave their children away? Weren’t they a small minority of fanatical followers of the Greek Communist Party, and a few more brainwashed by the propaganda of his/her comrades? Who were the individuals who went  around the villages under the domination of the guerillas and were spreading lies about horrible atrocities committed by the Army in areas under its control? Could it be possible that some parents were giving their children, because they were scared of the consequences of a refusal? Mr. Florakis never explained what happened to the parents, who either refused to give their children away, or were pressured, forced and feared the communist comrades. He never mentioned what their punishment was.


Some mothers lost their lives trying to keep their children. For example that was the fate of Sultana Petridis. I happened to see it with my own eyes and hear with my own ears the terrible torture she suffered in the hands of the communist partisans because she refused to give her children away to the paidomazoma. Sultana Petridis was from the village of Polyanemos of Kastoria. She was divorced from her husband and had two small children, a boy and a girl, whom she refused to give to be taken into Iron Curtain countries.

One day, as I was going from our house to my grandmother’s house, I met her in a narrow street of our village. She was walking between two partisans with guns, holding her head down and her hands behind her back. Two more partisans were following a few meters behind them. As the street was very narrow, I stopped and remained standing on the side for them to pass. When they reached the place where I was standing, auntie Sultana slowed her walk and asked me about my family’s name. When I told her, she asked me where my parents were. She asked first for my father, and then for my mother. About my father I said that I did not know, and for my mother I told her that she was at home.  As the guerrillas pushed her to continue, she turned her head a little and told me to give “greetings to my mother from aunt Soulta”.


Later that evening we started hearing Sultana’s cries and screams of pain from the torture she was obviously suffering in the hands of the communist guerrillas. The guerrillas had led her to my uncle Papagermanos’ house, which after his escape to Kastoria, was being used by them as their local headquarters. The torture of unfortunate Sultana Petridis continued late into the night. Next morning, the guerrillas put her on a mule and led her outside the village. Because of the torture she had suffered she could not stand on the mule. Thus, the guerrillas first placed a wooden structure on it and tied Sultana. As they were leading her on the mule by our house, she looked as having no life in her. Perhaps she was unconscious. My mother and I,saw this scene from a small window of our house. The guerrillas led her little further north from our village, inside the narrow valley and killed her.


{*According to the source H. P. that I met in Kastoria, the killing of Sultana Petridis by the communist guerrillas in the village of Agios Demetrios, in Kastoria, was carried out with a knife}.


The afternoon of that day my mother saw that the door of my uncle’s house was open. She decided to enter to see what had happened. I followed her.  On each of the four corners of my uncle’s bed they had tied ropes, which most likely had been used to hold down Sultana during her torture.  The ropes were full of blood, and there was blood on the bed and on the floor. We understood what poor Sultana had suffered and left quickly very scared.


During that period my mother had made arrangements with two-three young women from our village to come one at a time and spend the night in our house, because she feared that the guerrillas would make a nighttime visit. After what happened to Sultana, these young women informed my mother that they could not sleep in our house any longer.


The communists took Sultana’s children into the Iron Curtain countries. Later, they returned to Greece. Her son visited the area of Kastoria, and he was asking to find out “why the fascists killed his mother”?  One of those he asked was my uncle, Lewnidas Lazaridis, who related this to me. My uncle knew the real killers of Sultana Petridis, and informed him. He told him that the killers of his mother were exactly those people who had indoctrinated him and his sister with stories about “fascists killers,” while he was away in some communist country. I do not know if he was convinced, or if he pursued the matter to learn all the truth about the torture his mother had suffered in the hands of the guerrillas of the Greek Communist Party before her killing. I know that until recently, this son of Sultana lived in Thessalonica, and his sister Politimi lived in Chicago, USA.  


Reviewing what Mr. Florakis said I want to add the following. I was a little girl when I saw with my own eyes Paidomazwma. From the cries, the screams and the curses of the mothers who were following, many pulling their hair, I concluded that there were not many such Greek parents who gave the partisans their children voluntarily. Mr. Florakis, force, and the threat of force and of  promises of harsh consequences, made the Greek parents who had the misfortune to find themselves under your communist control, to give their children away to be carried in some communist country. Certainly, Mr. Florakis, you did know this obvious truth! It perplexes me why, even during the last years of you life you did not have the courage to admit it. It is not comprehensible to me!


{It appears, however, that Xarilaos Florakis must have had some change in his conscience because in 2001 in the introduction he wrote for the book of Demetry Servos “The Paidomazwma and Who is Afraid of the Truth”, avoided to make any reference to this subject. The only thing that he mentioned about Greek children of Paidomazwma is the following: “..Comrade Demetry, closing this letter, I feel it is necessary to comment specifically on the part that refers to the children who lived as political refugees. You include important issues that show what socialism offered to the people and especially to the unfortunate Greek children who found themselves living in the Socialist countries”.  ([8]).


Now, even for Xarilaos Florakis, the children involved became “the unfortunate Greek children”! Not a word, however, about how and  why the “unfortunate Greek children” found themselves living there, and the responsibility of his Party’s participation!! On the other hand, he makes no empty claims about taking the children to “save” them, or about the parents “begging” to send them behind the Iron Curtain. He leaves that to the author of the book who, I do not know,  why he did it, describes imaginary events and unbelievable stories about Paidomazwma. Consequently he claims that the Paidomazwma by the Greek Communist Party never took place! They ushered the Greek children inside the communist countries “Paidofylagma” and “Paidoswsimo”. That is, not to be taken by the “fascist” Greek State and put them into the camps for children that were organized by Queen Frederica. Yes, exactly like you read it, Demetrios Servos describes “Paidomazwma” in his book. Queen Frederica and the Greek State organized the “Paidomazwma”! Actually, he is not the only leftist author who makes such claims. 


All the decisions of the United Nations and of so many other organizations, the personal depositions by thousands and thousands of abducted children, parents, relatives, and even communists who took part in this crime against the Greek nation, are ignored. Particularly, the inhuman act of removing 28,000 unfortunate Greek children from their homeland has no significance to Mr. Servos and those like him. Not only they refuse all these horrifying acts but also they turn the events around and talk about Paidomazwma by the Greek State. In reality, the State in its attempt to safeguard the orphan Greek children of the border areas, and the areas under the control of the guerillas, often placed them into camps for children. 


The following brief excerpt from the above book, ([8], is included here for the reader to see to what length an author can go in his attempt to cloud a really tragic event of Greek history. «…When the shipments of young refugees, accompanied by young women, who were selected for this purpose from the villages of the children, were crossing the border, specialized committees from organizations of youth, pediatricians, child care givers, child teachers, and nurses from the Red Cross of the welcoming country, were receiving the scared and tired children. First, they were offering them a cup of hot milk and a plate of warm soup, and right away they were replacing their worn out clothes with new ones. After that, railways were bringing the young refugees to the cities where they  would live». ([8], pg 244).  


Compare the above description of Demetry Servos with that of George Manoukas, who was one of the people the Greek Communist Party made «responsible» to complete the task of Paidomazwma and an eyewitness himself. «…The «gates of entry» to the communist countries (Albania, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria) had been prearranged. In coordination between the representatives of the Greek Communist Party and the representatives of the aforementioned countries, the method of receiving the children had been arranged. At the time of their entry to the foreign country, the gates were open. At the the borders entrances there was no soldier guard. It was planned like that, to look as the children were ….. «under attack by airplanes and scared …were running towards the borders» and entered into the foreign countries in waves.

They had developed this horrible plan so they could present it as a weapon of defense to the foreigners. That is, that the children were entering like a scared herd, because of the bombardment by the airplanes. Near the borders they were setting up rough camps, where the children were registered before being sent elsewhere. …. The registration of the children followed by their distribution and shipment to the northern Iron Curtain countries.  The separation of the children was made without human criteria. There were separated brothers from brothers and children from parents with such roughness and so much secrecy that one would not know where the other was going…”. ([6], pg 17). 


This inhuman behavior shown by the Greek Communist Party in the application of the extremely harsh plan of separating the young children from their parents, their roots, and their country is unique in the world. It can be compared only with actions of the Ottomans and the Nazi. It is even more reprehensible, considering that the head of the Committee assigned with the responsibility of implementing Paidomazwma was the “minister” of Health and Education of the “Government of Mountains” Socratis Kokkalis, a medical doctor! Members of the Committee were the wife of Zaxariadis, George Manoukas, who later changed sides and wrote the book we mentioned earlier, G. Athanasiadis, F. Vetas, and the Slav Kotsef.


The abduction of the Greek children made no impression on the communists, not to the members of the Committee-with the exception of G. Manoukas- not to the leaders of the Greek Communist Party and the so-called Democratic Army of Greece. I am certain that they could understand, if they did not know first hand, the dramatic life the children had in the Iron Curtain countries, and their parents’ anguish. All Greek communists remained silent then, and they all later ignored  the calls of Greece and of the relatives of the children for their return. Others, such as  Harilaos Florakis, even assail the memory of the Paidomazwma victims by trying to convince us that their parents were asking the Greek Communist Party to take their children away from them, to bring them the Iron Curtain counties!


On January 8, 2005, a program of the Greek TV Station Odyssey 2 in Canada, which rebroadcasts the televised programs of MEGA and ANTENNA from Athens, discussed the celebration of Christmas and New Year by Greeks of Diaspora. The program included a part that was filmed in the village Belloyianis, in Hungary. At one point, the reporter speaks with an older Greek woman at the door of her “home”.

“Were you born here”, asks the reporter?

“No, I came here when I was 13 years old”, replies the old woman.

“Did you come with your parents”, continues the reporter?

“No! I came by myself! My mother was in Romania. We brought her later here, but she died.

“Alone! A 13 years old girl, how did you come alone”, the reporter asks with obvious surprise.

Ah, the guerillas took me”! Responds the older woman, shaking her head from the emotions of her memories, and making a tragic figure for the viewers.


The reporter however is persistent. He wants to enter her poor “home”, to see the decorations she had made for the holidays. The Greek woman refuses politely, telling him that she has not prepared anything…

Later during the conversation, that continues outside the door of her “home”, the reporter asks the old woman why she did not return to her home country.

“Why didn’t you return to Greece?” the reporter insists.

The answer of the early aged woman was really tragic.

“Hellas, my son, is gone for me”!!

Note that this tragic Greek woman from Belloyiannis, a victim of Paidomazwma, mentioned that she was coming from the most famous “mastoroxwri”(mason-producing village) of Epirus, the village of Pyrsoyianni. Obviously, the so-called “Paidofylakes”-children guards- of the Greek Communist Party separated her from her parents. She ended up in Hungary, her mother in Romania, and the rest of her family who knows where.  (Odyssey 2 TV, in Canada, January 8, 2005, 11:00 am).


 The case of the aforementioned Greek woman, victim of Paidomazwma, presents another aspect of this policy of the Greek Communist Party. They emptied from young people key areas of Greece, the mountainous border villages of Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace, since the largest proportion of the abducted children remained permanently outside Greece.  Unfortunately, the leaders of the Left never gave sensible explanations of many of their decisions of the period 1946-49. Their decision to move thousands of children to the Iron Curtain countries, in addition to the fact that it was an act against their nation, it was above all an inadmissible act on a humanitarian level.  Without hesitation, one can claim that it was also a criminal act, and all those that were involved will be regarded guilty against the Greek nation.


Among the leaders of the Greek Communist Party, major responsibility for the crime of Paidomazwma falls on its unchallenged leader, General Secretary, Nick Zaxariadis. Then follows  Markos Vaphiadis, the Commanding “General” of DSE, “Prime Minister” and “Minister” of the Army of the “Government of Mountains”, which was formed in the Grammos mountains in 1947. Finally, heavy responsibility belongs to the “Minister” of Health and Education” Socrates Kokkalis. The latter – who is the father of the current businessman Socrates Kokkalis – was the person made accountable for executing the Paidomazwma plan.


The Greek Communist Party and its apologists, since they do realize very well the significance of the national and social crime committed against the children and the their families from the border areas of Greece, make a coordinated effort to explain and argue their inhuman act.  Thus, they now present Paidomazwma as “Paidofylagma” (caring for the children) and  “Paidoswsimo” (saving the children). They claim that the Greek Communist Party took the children away so they can firstly protect them from the bombardment of the villages controlled by DSE by the Greek Air Force, and secondly to keep them away from the Camps for Children which were then operating under the direction of Queen Frederica. These claims are rather comic and without a trace of truth, but continue to be presented as valid even to this day. Since the fall of communism, the return of large number of victims of the abduction, and  opening of the archives of the former communist countries, the truth is now known to all that want to recognize it.


There is not a single verified case of bombardment of inhabited areas (cities or villages) within the Greek State by the Greek Air Force. Thus, there is no element of truth whatsoever in their first claim. It is a fact that Paidopoleis (Camps for Children) were set up in various areas of Greece. But these started operating several months after the beginning of Paidimazwma, a fact that nullifies their second claim as well. In these Paidopoleis mainly two groups of children were sent. One group consisted of children who had become orphans, or were left without a guardian, because their parents were victims of the guerillas, dead or abducted. The second group consisted of children from the border areas of Greece who were in danger of falling under the control of DSE and consequently becoming victims of Paidomazwma. The Greek Army, with the assistance of local authorities, was collecting such children and sending them to the Paidopoleis, set up in large cities for security reasons. These children were returned to their parents after the end of the internal conflict. The Paidopoleis operated for many more years, housing the orphan children and those coming back from the Iron Curtain countries, until their unification with their families}.


(*)  Text in Italic are the author’s comments





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