After the end of the German invasion, the Greek royalty and high-ranking officers who had fled the country were, with the help of the British, brought back to Greece. In the meantime, the Communist-dominated National Popular Liberation Army (ELAS) of which many Macedonian partisans were a part of, controlled the country. The British navy arrived in Athens and told everyone to put down their arms and to vote to see who was to govern - otherwise they would start bombing. The pro-communist ELAS put down their arms but once they did, many were placed in prison. As a result, further escalation of violence occurred. This started the Greek civil war (1946-1949) between ELAS and the republican Greek National Democratic Union (EDES).

The ELAS said that they would help give the Macedonians more rights after the war - schools, language, religion, etc. Our Macedonian brigades fought together with them but as it turned out in the end they too would turn against our people. I believe most Macedonians wouldn't have even understood what communism was all about but simply sided with an organisation that was willing to help our cause - freedom from oppression.

The partisans would attack at night and hide in the mountains during the day. Large numbers of people were killed from both sides. You would not know if the person you were speaking to was a pro government sympathiser or a pro partisan sympathiser. Neret was a reasonably large village but by the end of the civil war, there wouldn't be a house that didn't have a member killed due to the fighting. I remember it well - Mrtva Sabota (the day of giving for the dead - the day before Easter (Veligden). The civil war had finished, and everyone was at church with buns waiting to offer food for their loved ones (soldiers) when they came home. Unfortunately, many did not return as they had been killed. The church was filled with a sea of tears as not one household remained unaffected by the loss of a loved one.

During the fighting, the Greek government decided to shift all the people who lived in the mountainous villages down to villages in the valley so that the partisans would find it hard to seek assistance (food, shelter, etc).

We went to Armenevo, a village just northeast of Lerin. We were forced to live with other families that we didn't even know - it was hard on us as well as the families that had to put us up. We had no work, we were hungry, and we were getting in their way. After a short period of time, we decided to go back to our village without the authorities knowing so that we could tend to our fields and grow crops to feed ourselves. We had a beautiful crop of wheat that year but couldn't harvest it because as soon as you went out into the field you would face machine gun fire - again we struggled for food.

There were many atrocities that occurred during the civil war. From my village, my Striko Risto Kirev's shura (brother-in-law), Tanas Tolev (who was the village mayor at the time - appointed by the partisans) was hiding from the Greek army but was dobbed in. The Greek soldiers pulled him out of his hiding spot and stoned him to death.

In another incident, Tanas Velov's wife had been making bread and her younger daughter was helping her by flipping dough and placing it in the oven. The Greek army arrived, coming down the Giamova Plotcha, and for no reason killed her daughter in front of her. Why kill her? You could argue that her mother had done something - maybe she was working with the partisans, but to kill the young girl - why?

Gina Staceva, also from Neret, was killed at an area called the Rachische Bojino Dere (creek) by Greek soldiers because her son was a partisan. They mutilated her body - ripping open her stomach, removing her private parts, cutting out her eyes, nose, and ears. This lady was a hardworking family focussed person who cared for everyone. Why mutilate her? What had she done that warranted such a thing to be done to her? These were the sort of things that happened often but who could you go and complain to? These sorts of unimaginable things seem like dreams, but they weren't - they happened.

On our way back from one occasion when I had gone with my father to Sveti Gora to do timber cutting, when we got to Solun (Thessaloniki), the Greek authorities refused us travel beyond that point. We had to remain in Solun for 30 days. We were finally allowed to travel back towards Neret but when we got to Lerin we were again held up because of the fighting. I stayed in Lerin with Risto Tashev (one of dad's relatives) whilst dad went on to Nevoleni (just outside on the southern side of Lerin) where he found work making saddles. My mother and younger siblings joined dad in Nevoleni because they couldn't stay in Neret. We were all caught up in the fighting and it would be 2 years before I would be able to go back to my village.

Whilst I was stranded in Lerin, Risto Tashev taught me how to become a shrewd businessman. I used a wheelbarrow in which I placed chocolates, peanuts, lollies, etc and I would go around to places where there may be gatherings, or I would simply pick a street corner where there may be a greater traffic flow of people so that I could sell these items and try and earn some money. This was whilst the civil war was raging around me. On one occasion the partisans started bombing the town with cannon fire (topje). Just a short distance from where I was, there was a young boy selling cakes - he was yelling out "Fresh cakes, fresh cakes." A young girl came out of her home and called for him to get back inside and shelter from the bombing. She yelled out to him "Can't you see that there is bombing happening - get inside now". She got the boy (presumedly her brother) inside, but meanwhile another bomb went off before she could get inside, and she was struck in the head by shrapnel and died. She was the daughter of one of the directors of the hospital in Lerin.

On another occasion when I was selling chocolates from my wheelbarrow, a bomb struck the timber railing of the balcony directly above me. I walked away without a scratch, but the timber was in pieces. I think someone must have been looking over me as there were many close calls where I could quite easily have been killed.

The apartment where I was living in was right next door to a travel agency. The father of two young children must have been signing paperwork in one room whilst the children were in another. When the bombing started, the two young children got frightened and raced outside the building just as another bomb went off - they were both killed.

On another occasion, the Greek army had gathered at the old bazaar when suddenly the partisans started bombing. Many Greek soldiers were killed.

The Greek army burned down houses belonging to families known to be partisan fighters and the partisans would burn down houses of Greek sympathisers. There were thousands of people in jails such as the island of Makrinos, Kerkira and Endicole (underground jail in Solun). Quite often it was just a case of someone going to the authorities and making a statement about you and that was enough to get you thrown in jail. You had no way of proving your innocence in these lawless times.

An example of this is Neret man Velo Gazilainov (Filippou). Velo was being stirred by a prosvika (Greeks who were previously living in Turkey and were resettled because of the mass exchange of people between Greece and Turkey) who asked Velo what language he would like to speak in - Greek or Macedonian. Velo replied to him "What would you like to eat - honey or shit." The prosvika replied "I would like to eat honey." So Velo replied "Well in that case you had better speak in Macedonian." Velo was dobbed into the police, and he ended up being thrown in jail. That's where he spent the rest of his life and was only let out just before he died. Similarly, Petre Ristovichin also spent the rest of his life in jail where he ended up dying. The authorities also took his home away from him.

Neighbours would have arguments over trivial things. To settle the score, one would say that the other was a partisan (Macedonian sympathiser) and the police would throw him in jail. On the flip side you could be dobbed into the partisans by someone claiming that you were a Greek sympathiser, and they would kill you even if you weren't.

Lerin was a strategic town that the partisans were desperately trying to take over. On this one particular day, the Greek army had a large number of troops on the ground as they had gained information that the partisans were going to hold an all-out attack to try and overrun the Greek army and take over the town. The night before, I could hear gunfire in the streets. When daylight came, there was continual machine gun fire and mortar bombing (olmi) all around the area near Sveti Marco which is between Lerin and Nevoleni.

The partisans would move in and then get pushed back. They would again move in towards town, then as before, get pushed back again, and so on. I would view things as they were happening from the balcony of the unit that I was living in. The grounds were littered with dead and dying from both sides. After the fighting subsided, the Greek army still maintained control of Lerin. They picked up their injured and dead and took them away. They then brought in trucks (not ambulances) and picked up the dead and wounded partisans. They would pick up these bodies as if they were logs laying on the white snow and throw them into the back of the trucks. The bodies were taken to a field and laid out on top of the snow which was stained with blood. A large mass grave was made, and all were buried. It was said that some of these partisan soldiers may have been badly injured but not necessarily dead before they were buried. I was told that 812 had died in that round of fighting alone. Many of the dead were Macedonians because both the partisans and the Greek army were made up of Macedonians - sometimes brother would be pitted against brother.

Towards the end of the Civil War many children were sent out of the war zone to numerous countries such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, and Yugoslavia. My wife to be (Ristana Dimova/Popova) was one of these refugees (begultsi) who ended up in Serbia. The borders were closed after the war and many who left because they were considered communist sympathisers and traitors, were never allowed to return to Greece and see their families again. This hard-line tactic held by the Greek government, to some degree even up to today, only fuelled more resentment. My immediate family lives in Australia now and even though we are free to speak Macedonian and practice our religion, my grandchildren can barely speak any Macedonian and have taken on the Australian way of life. We have no animosity, but in fact only admiration, for what Australia has given us. This could have been the same in Greece, but the Greek governments have gone about things in exactly the opposite way. Our people suffered and the Greek people suffered as well.

There was constant bombing and very bloody fighting with Gramos falling first and finally Vitcho but not until the British got involved to assist the Greek army. When the Civil War had pretty much ended, the ELAS, who were previously fighting together with the Macedonian brigades, turned their attention to driving the Macedonian brigades out of Greece.

I can recall when the ELAS troops with their heavily laden mules came through Neret and headed west through Turie towards Prespa to fight the Macedonian brigade headed by Goce Kimargia. They drove the Macedonian brigade back until it crossed over the border and headed towards Bitola. In the end, the Macedonian people were back where they were before - under the oppressive rule of the Greek government.

After the Civil War, many people decided to leave their villages and head off to the USA, Canada, or Australia but that wasn't an easy process either. If you were dobbed in as siding with the partisans, you wouldn't be able to leave Greece (more likely to spend time in jail instead). You needed to have a clean record to leave. Because I spent most of my time with my father and went to work with him wherever he went, I had a clean record and so was able to come to Australia.

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The Life Story of Tanas Kirev


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