My Three Birthdays

I was born on the 7th of December 1947 during a cold winter day (according to my grandfather) in a remote village nestled in the rugged region of south west Macedonia. (This region had been annexed to Greece and is now part of north west Greece). At that time the region was in the middle of a civil war.

My father was Mitre Germanchev, my mother was Fania Trenova, my grandfather was Petre Germanchev and my grandmother was Stojanka Matina. On my mother's side, my grandfather was Stefo Trenov and grandmother was Mara. That is how we introduced/ identified ourselves. People in the village want to know your immediate family, in other words they want to know to which family you belong. The family name was very important in the village. People are respected by the family's moral standards and work ethics. The family reputation is paramount for south-eastern Europeans.

Other family members included my grandfather's younger brother Pavle and his family who lived in the other half of the duplex house. If I were to include all the uncles, aunties and cousins who lived there at various times they all would add up to a substantial and interesting lot of characters. Due to the Civil War most adults were dispersed in different places, including war zones, jails and detention camps. Young men, but old enough to fight for the partizani (partisans) would run and hide after being tipped off that the partizani were looking for recruits.

Photo of Dedo Petre's immediate family. Back row from left: Vasil and his wife Tsila; Noume and his wife Lefa; Ristana; Dad. Front row from left: Tinka, Para, Baba, Dedo, baby Manoli and Mum.

During my birth, which was at home mind you, only the two sets of grandparents were home and two young aunties to help Mum deliver her first born in a house without running water, no electricity and no medical support. It wasn't a good start for a newborn to survive under such difficult conditions. My father wasn't present at the birth due to the Civil War which was raging at the time in the nearby hills. The Civil War promised independence and freedom for the historically tormented Macedonians but failed to deliver. I won't go into the political history of the nations in that area as it's very complex and in addition to that most of the recorded events are inaccurate due to biased recording of the facts by the victors, suffice to say that Dad (along with his brothers, cousins and many villagers) was involved in that unnecessary Civil War against his will. His forced participation in the Civil War against the Greek National Army had dire consequences for us the Germanchevi in terms of his future prospects in that country that recently occupied our land and that didn't acknowledge us as a separate ethnic group. A risky birth under primitive conditions during a heavy snow-fall brought Manoli Germanchev to the world on 7th of December 1947 in a village that we call "Mala" but was re named "Tropeouhos" by the Greek government. In Dad's absence and due to the heavy snowfall my grandfather decided to report my birth at the village police station the following day. At the police station, grandad had difficulty making himself understood because of his poor command of the Greek language. So, as a result of that miscommunication, my date of birth was recorded as the 8th of December 1947 (the day that Dedo showed up at the police station). This date was to be my official birthday for the next 16 years.

By the age of 16, I was in Australia and I found myself attending Richmond Technical School in Richmond, Victoria and attaining very good results, in fact I was top of the class each year and because of that, one of my teachers suggested that I should apply for a scholarship to finance my tertiary studies. In order to qualify for the scholarship I had to become a naturalized British subject. This required me to produce my birth certificate which of course was in Tropeouhos, Greece. I wrote to the government office in Tropeouhos requesting a copy of my birth certificate. Several weeks later I received a crude copy that had a scratch mark in front of the number 8 that looked like the number 1. As a result of this copy, my date of birth read as: The 18-December-1947. As a result of my naturalization for the purpose of applying for a scholarship I became a British subject at the age of 16; by the way I was awarded a scholarship which funded my tertiary studies for a period of four years.

This is how I ended up with three birth days:
7th of December 1947 is my actual (Macedonian) birthday.
8th of December 1947 is my reported (Greek) birthday.
18th of December 1947 is my official (Australian) birthday.

I was christened by our family Noumko (Godfather), Lazo Gazolainov, who lived in the village of Neret. (By the way, newly born children are named by the Noumko, not by the parents.) He named me: Emmanouil (Manoli as the common name), a religious name relating to Christianity. It was customary to be given a religiously related name if one was born close to an important religious date. My brother for instance who was born close to Easter was named Anastasios (Stase in Macedonian), meaning resurrection. If a child wasn't born close to Christmas, Easter or a saint's name day it would be named Risto (Chris) after Jesus if it was a boy or if it was a girl she would be named Mara after the Virgin Mary or Ristana (the feminine name for Risto) after Jesus. That is why a lot of Macedonian families have children named Risto, Mara and Ristana.

Our family name of Germanchev had been changed earlier, sometime in 1930 to Germantsis (a Greek version of Germanchev). The Greek government began to systematically change all Macedonian names including villages and geographic features in a mass ethnic cleansing operation. The name changing started during the 1920s and continued until 1996. Further to the agony of the Macedonian people, the use of the Macedonian language was banned in public places from 1924 onwards. Fines were imposed on anybody caught speaking Macedonian in public.

A story that my Dedo used to like telling people goes something like this: "I was overheard by a policeman ordering my donkey to stop, calling out to it "zastani" which means stop in Macedonian. The policeman heard me and reprimanded me. He stated: "That barbaric language is banned; you must speak Greek from now on." "But officer, the donkey does not understand Greek," I replied."

Although the Macedonian language was officially banned in public places, we spoke Macedonian at home. Unfortunately no one in our family could read or write in Macedonian; in fact nobody knew the alphabet so we only knew the spoken Macedonian language. Our ethnic background and our family's involvement with the partisans during the Greek Civil War and our insistence for our human rights and refusal to convert to the Greek ethnicity consigned us to a life of subsistence farming without any prospects of work in the Greek public service or for any future government assistance.

However for a healthy young boy with a loving family around him and living in a clean natural environment, life was good; I didn't know that anything better or different existed. I simply enjoyed everything around me.

Short version of the Germanchev family tree.

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