Σάββατο, 22 Απριλίου 2017

Dem Bones and What Happens to Them

Dem Bones…

When beginning our project we thought that, once a person’s burial in the First Cemetery was confirmed and we looked hard enough, we would find the grave. We had not considered that graves and their contents could disappear. 

The Reasons:

 If a family dies out or the upkeep for a grave is not paid after a certain period, or a rental period has expired, the space reverts to the municipality and is then re-allotted.
The bones from these graves are most often placed in a box and then may be moved to a small ‘locker’,

to the large ossuary in the Plaza, 

or be re-interred in smaller plots. 

By law, disinterment requires the presence of a family member.

There is a less attractive solution for bones if not claimed; they are then buried in a common grave. This has occurred frequently in the last years because of the ongoing economic crisis in Greece. (1) 

Even in permanent family tombs, when space is required, bones might be disinterred and arranged in smaller containers and placed in compartments in the same grave precinct. 

 A stroll almost anywhere in the cemetery will reveal debris from abandoned or forfeited graves:

   Some plots await a new occupant:

Some are in the process of renovation:

This explains why a recent burial may very well be found in the oldest part of the cemetery and why a regular visitor notices so much activity going on in the cemetery that is not always related to funerals.

Bones are Not All Equal in the Sight of the Municipality
There is a mechanism in place that, if a committee considers a person’s or a family’s contribution to the state to be significant enough, they may agree to a grave remaining in spite of the rules.  This has worked pretty well, - well enough for Dimitrios Vikelas’ comment that the cemetery was a modern Greek pantheon to be true - but mistakes happen and some graves, like those of the architect  Stamatis Kleanthes and Ernst Ziller are no longer there. (2) 

 The Graveyard Shift

There is ample evidence that city fathers, over the years, have taken measures to add to the “pantheon”, overcoming the inconvenient fact that many Greek heroes and intellectuals died elsewhere.

 Many have been brought back and re-interred – some at public expense, some privately. 

IoannisVarvakis, one of Greece’s earliest benefactors died in 1825 in Zakynthos, but now rests in the Number Two spot in the Plaza.

Plaza, Number 2

 Adamandias Koraiswas buried in Paris in 1833. His bones were brought here in 1877 and placed beneath the impressive monument that Athenian intellectuals of the day believed he deserved.

Section 2, Number 110

And then there is George Averoff, whose impressive mausoleum was commissioned by the city in order to receive the great nineteenth century benefactor’s remains from Alexandria in Egypt where he had died and, in fact, lived all of his life. 

Mistakes Have Been Corrected…
OdysseasAndroutsos, was considered a traitor in 1825 when he died ‘trying to escape’ a Greek prison on the acropolis and he was buried unceremoniously somewhere on the north side of the acropolis near the Church of the Metamorphosis. When the government changed its mind in 1865, a funeral was held in the Athens cathedral church and attended by politicians and his wife who was still living. His bones were brought in procession and laid to rest in a small grave just inside the original gates of the cemetery. 

Section 1, Number 160 

And History Nudged …

The Communist Party of Greece brought back the bones of Chyssa Hadzivassiliou, a party member who had participated in the Varkisa agreement of 1945  but who had died in Bulgaria, exiled from Greece and her own party in 1950. They reburied her in a tiny grave directly behind Agios Lazarus church. 

Section 2, near Number 444

The same treatment was given to the remains of Nikolaos Zachariadis, the famous Communist General Secretary and resistance fighter who died in Siberia under mysterious circumstances in 1973. The KKE brought him to the First in 1991, perhaps feeling that his presence could act as a counterbalance to people like Ioannis Metaxas, Nikolaos Plastiras, and  Napoleon Zervas who were already there.

New Section Δ 3 (East of section 8)

Dem Bones Gonna Walk Around

Bones can leave too. As regions in Greece have developed their own sense of local history, some areas have demanded their heroes back. (3)
The bones of Theodoros Kolokotronis, Greece’s greatest hero of the War of Independence were transferred in 1930 with great pomp and ceremony from his grave in Athens to Tripoli in Arcadia. 

His bones with a rider dressed as him parading past his equestrian statue on Stadiou Street! (4)

The veneration of bones goes back to early Christian times and the founding of Constantinople by Constantine the Great. When he founded his new Rome on the Bosphorus, the transfer (called ‘translation’) and veneration of Saints’ bones had political as well as religious overtones. He was bringing the saints ‘home’ to be venerated at the seat of his power and their presence enhanced the city, the Church, and his own rule! (5)

                                     Cenotaph Vs Grave

There are a number of cenotaphs in the cemetery, for some members of the Filiki Etairia, for example and, of course, the grave of Kolokotronis is now a cenotaph – something we did not know when we wrote our text about him.  

Does the presence or non-presence of bones make a difference? One day we were discussing the transfer of Kolokotronis’ bones to Tripoli. Filia commented that his empty grave was not a problem for her. I, the lapsed Protestant, agreed.
But, I have to confess: somehow it isn’t quite the same these days when I pass by Kolokotronis’ empty grave… 


(1)  We are not sure of the fate of the boxes we spotted in a shed behind the Ag. Theodoroi Church.

(2) We have noticed that the attrition rate for architects is especially high. But that may be because we have lately been looking for their graves. 

(3)  I have read, but cannot yet confirm, that the bones of Odysseas Androutsos were transferred  yet again to the area of his birth in Previsa on the west coast of Greece.

(5) In Byzantine (and Roman Catholic) practice, there has been no prohibition of a saintly bodies being dismantled and their veneration shared in many locales. The same holds true of some of Greece’s civic saints although to a lesser degree. Constantinos Kanaris, for example, is buried in the First, to the west of Agios Lazarus Church, but his heart is encased in marble and on display in the national History Museum on Stadiou Street.

 Note on “Dem Bones”.  This famous spiritual seemed like a good frame of reference for the blog entry, especially because of the choruses: “Dem bones gonna rise again” and “Dem bone gonna walk around”. Certainly no disrespect is intended but, that was the song repeated in my mind as I considered ‘the bones’ and wrote!

Δευτέρα, 10 Απριλίου 2017

Eleni Papadaki

                                                                Linda's Notes

Eleni Papadaki                                                        ΕΛΕΝΗ ΠΑΠΑΔΑΚΗ

Born 1903                                                                Died December 21, 1944

Section One, Number 375

Sometimes a story writes itself and is easily forgotten; sometimes there is one impossible to forget and even harder to write about. Who knew that would be the case with this monument?  I had passed it many times in the early days of exploring the cemetery. Truth to tell, I thought it was kitsch – a blank faced sphinx! I was using it as a marker, pointing to the many Phanariot graves in front of it to the south. I did not know who Eleni Papadaki was. My interest was piqued when I looked closer one day for a sculptor’s name and saw that the Greek poet  Angelos Sikelianos   had written her epitaph (1). She must have been someone in the arts… 

It was then that I discovered she had been one of Greece’ great actresses, and very much someone in the wrong place at the wrong time. On December 21, 1944, she was brutally murdered by a Communist ‘people’s court’ set up by OPLA ‘the people’s police’ –stripped naked and hacked to death as a collaborator.  It is a chilling story.

Her Early Life (Act One) 

Eleni was born in 19O3 or 1908 to an educated and well-off middle class family. Her father held a high position in the Ionian Bank and her mother was the daughter of well known university professor.  She attended the German School and would learn to speak English, German, Italian, and French fluently. Eleni wanted to become an actress from an early age, even making sure she learned enough ancient Greek to be able to study the classics in their original form.  She played the piano, studied voice, – did all of the right things to prepare herself for a stage career. 

Her first appearance was in Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. It was 1925 and she was an immediate sensation. Her next appearance was in the same year in Oscar Wilde’s Salome.  In 1926, she joined the New Company. She appeared frequently with many famous actors and actresses and was known for her beautiful voice and versatility.  She would star in Dumas’  Camille, Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman , Shakespeare’s  Othello and Merchant of Venice as well as classical tragedies such as  Electra  Antigone, Iphigenia in Tauris, and Hecuba.

 In I931 she appeared in the only film she ever made. It was not a success and she re focused on the stage joining the National Theatre soon after it was founded in 1932.

The Complication 

 Timing is everything in acting and in life.  Eleni had become known for her brilliant performances just about the time that Marika Kotopoulou’s (who was some 20 years older) bright star was waning and the National Theatre of Greece was formed. This was both lucky and unlucky. With her amazing talent, she may have been ready to be the next theatrical great, but her career in National Theatre was overshadowed for years by another great actress and contemporary, Katina Paxinou. Katina had been one of the founding members of the Theatre and she, together with her future husband Alexis  Minotis, dominated its stage all during the thirties. During a time that Eleni and her admirers firmly believed that her star should have been burning brighter. Professional jealousy and the factions it caused in the theatre world would, under normal circumstances not have proved fatal, but the circumstances in 1940 were anything but normal.

 It may explain why, when Paxinou’s absence  after 1940 (2) left the stage clear for her at last,  Papadaki  felt that her moment had come, no matter that it coincided with the Italian and then the German invasion of Greece. She was focused on her career, not politics. 

As the Occupation progressed, she did not seem to comprehend her vulnerability. There was no such category as ‘non-political during this   terrible period. Germans and Italians also attended performances at the National Theatre. (3)   She enjoyed the fervent admiration of dapper Ioannis Rallis, 23 years her senior, who in 1943 had became the third quisling Prime Minister under the Nazis. He had been a long time friend of the family. Apparently she would often arrive for a performance at the theatre driven by his chauffeur.  She scoffed at the rumors that she was his mistress. 

 Is character fate? Eleni was apparently a free spirit at a time when free spirits were in short supply. She never married, she smoked, proudly drove her own car, and was rumored to be bi sexual.  Living just beyond the city center at her home on Patission, she was poised by temperament and talent to enjoy the prime of her life to the fullest. She was in a position to help others did help many of her left wing colleagues when they got in trouble with the Gestapo. Did she think the Germans were here to stay?  Did the possibility of being labeled a collaborator trouble her?  It should have.
Eleni relaxing

When the Germans were driven out of Athens in October 1944, the entire political dynamic changed with lightening speed.  Ioannis Rallis had been responsible for setting up the hated Security Battalions a Greek military organization whose role it was to rout out communists for the Gestapo, and in October a jubilant ELAS/EAM, anathema to the people supporting the Security Battalions, was in Athens in force. For a brief and magic moment, it looked as if, in spite of everything, the resistance fighters might join with the royalists and returning government-in-exile to form a government representing everyone.

This brief high point for EAM/ELAS required some fast footwork on the part of many in the Actors’ Guild who feared they might find themselves accused of fraternizing with the enemy. The best defense is a good offense and it appears that many felt that one sacrifice to the Furies would have the double effect of assuaging the public’s urge for retribution while at the same time polishing up their own anti- German credentials. 
That may have explained why on November 20th 1944, the general assembly of the Actors’ Guild expelled her with cries of “Death to the Whore”.

 Eleni refused to appear before the Guild and answer their charges of collaboration. She believed that ‘time’ would exonerate her – and that she had time…(4) This and articles like the one that appeared earlier in a resistance newspaper  saying (October 1943)   “the prime Minister won big on the exchange market, and gave a present to his mistress worth a hundred million drachmas, a platinum belt” set the scene for the climax, which occurred during the time of the now famous Dekembriana.

The Dekembriana (The Climax)

 The British (and many Greeks too) had no wish to accommodate the Left.  Britain was already looking ahead to thwarting Russia’s expansion and the Greek politicians in the government in exile were happy to reinstate the pre-war status quo – with the old guard in politics and the king in his palace. There was no place for EAM/ELAS in this scenario. When the government asked the leftists to give up their weapons but not the Security Battalions, the leftist staged a huge demonstration against what they saw as an unfair and dangerous plan to exclude them. Greek government gendarmes, with British forces standing in the background, opened fire on the demonstrators, killing 28 and injuring dozens. This left a large angry and frustrated  EAM/ELAS contingent in Athens ready to take matters into their own hands. Using their people’s police (OPLA), ‘collaborators’ and all manner of right wing supporters were to be rounded up and put on summary ‘trial’.
The danger to people like Elenis was all too real. On the day she was arrested, friends had warned her to go with them to Kolonaki – an area held by British forces where she would be safe.  She refused saying she had nothing to be afraid of. (If this were a play instead of her life, this naïve declaration would have “hubris’ written all over it.) She was arrested at her home in Patission by OPLA who apparently ransacked the house looking for that platinum belt. Even then it is reported by survivors that she was convinced that the hastily arranged ‘trial’ would acquit her. It did not. She was brutally murdered along with several others and buried in a mass grave – only to be discovered in January of 1945.

Her funeral was held on January 20th. After the madness of the Dekembrianou had subsided. Melina Mercouri, Anna Kalouta and other colleagues, and her many admirers, publically mourned her death. (5)

The Denoument

Her story has captured the imagination of many. Plays have been written. Even the communists’ hard core Stalinist leader, Nikos Zakariades, would later say that her death was a ‘mistake’ and he sentenced those involved to death.(6) But what about the others in that and other mass graves –the nameless people with no dramatic story to tell, no names to be recognized,  and not poet to eulogize them?  Were they a ‘mistake’ as well?  So much death then, and so much after: on all sides. 

History and the way we recount often fails us. Our own need to tell a story with no loose ends encourages us to fill in gaps and, according to our knowledge at a particular point in time, and to put our own slant on events. Guilt, innocence, collaboration, or just wanting to get on with life? Motivation is always guesswork, hindsight always clearer.

Eleni Papdaki’s story was my own personal introduction to the horrible and confusing reality of the German Occupation and the resulting Civil War – a war with no heroes, no absolutes, and no closure.  It is a sobering story no matter what the perspective.
I can never pass that monument today without a frisson of fear and sorrow. 

The sphinx’s face remains enigmatic, but it is no longer impersonal. It is the face of Eleni Papadaki.  And, in my mind’s eye, the face from that first shallow grave will remain forever super-imposed upon the white marble. It is an exact likeness.(7)




1.     Sikelianos’ Epitaph is very difficult to translate:
Μνήσθητι Κύριε: Για την ώρα που η λεπίδα του φονιά άστραψε
κι όλος ο θεός της Τραγωδίας εφάνη.
Μνήσθητι Κύριε: για την ώρα που άξαφνα, κ’ οι εννιά αδελφές εσκύψαν να της βάλουνε των αιώνων το στεφάνι.
Μνήσθητι Κύριε *:  at the moment the blade of the killer flashed, and the God of Tragedy appeared.  At that moment, the nine sisters bowing, placed upon her the eternal victory wreath.
* The meaning of Μνήσθητι Κύριε is almost impossible to convey. In the Bible it means “Lord, Remember”. In the vernacular it is an expression of amazement for something that is almost beyond belief – a kind of “Can you believe it?” I suspect Sikelianos was playing with many meanings. I would appreciate seeing another effort to translate this.

2. Paxinou  had been in London when the war broke out and did not return to Greece until 1952.
3. The National Theatre was formed in 1932 by an act of parliament signed by the education minister, George Papandreau. It was meant to be a cultural flagship.  During his dictatorship, Metaxas had tried to ban Antigone, fearing its message was subversive. He settled for altering lines.
4. Andre Gerolymatos wrote in An International Civil War that the death of Eleni Papadaki was an example of the tragic convergence of fear, greed, and professional jealousy. There is a persistent rumor that Kaiti Economou, a fellow actress married to a German agent had denounced her.
6. The subsequent signing of the Treaty of Varkiza (12 February 1945) spelled the end of the violent incident known as the Dekembriana and ultimately the end of the left-wing organization's ascendancy.  But it was too late for Eleni. ELAS was partly disarmed, EAM lost its multi-party character to become dominated by KKE and the right then unleashed pogroms against the supporters of the left.
(7) The sculptor, Vangelis Moustakas, says that he chose to depict her dressed in her role as Regan in King Lear.