Camp Life as Refugees

 

Refugee Camps in Cyprus and Palestine were provided for the Castellorizians whilst World War Two continued. Life went on in these camps and various contributed stories telling of the experiences are detailed below.

 

Arthur Athans recalls his time in Nuseirat:

 

Finally we arrived at our destination which was Nuseirat near the city of Gaza in Palestine. Nuseirat was a very large camp in sand dunes with tents and galvanized military wards. There, I stayed with my mother and sisters, Glykeria and Katina, sharing a tent with another family, segregated with a blanket. The camp was administered by UNRRA.

 

One night during a sandstorm, we lost our tent over our heads and saved our selves by holding on to each other. The same night we were given a better accommodation in a military ward.

 

Being 12 years old I was sent to school and after school I was helping at a clothing distribution office of UNRRA.

 

 

I remember clearly that during our stay in camp "K" we had some reasonable facilities such as canteen, cinema, school, medical centre, attended church services and it was possible for us to visit Jerusalem for pilgrimage.

 

Zabetta Boyatzis (nee Gabriel) whose sixth child, Dialecti (Betty) Boyatzis (later Papadopoulos) was born at Nuseirat, also gives an account on life at Nuseirat:

 

The Nuseirat camp was nearly an hour by vehicle north of Gaza. The camp consisted of huts and tents, each housing three to four families. The camp contained three to four thousand refugees from Castellorizo, Kalimnos, Samos and Hios. There were four sections, A - D, which were several miles from each other and over sand dunes. Most Castellorizians were in the main camp which had the most facilities such as a school, church and medical services. Often at night the tents were cut into by the locals and looted.

 

From Katina Verevis (nee Simonides):

 

On arrival at the camp we were registered, given a number which was tied around our necks, our clothing disinfected, we were showered and underwent a medical examination, which was repeated every month. There were hut ablutions and food was cooked in communal kitchens. We would line up three times a day and collect our cooked food and eat in our huts. The morning breakfast consisted of tea, bread or crackers with jam. The lunch and evening meal consisted of meat, potatoes and vegetables. Sometimes we boiled eggs and the like simply on a kerosene primus. Activities for the young included games, soccer, boy scouts and girl guides.

 

Evdokia Agapitou (nee Mihalaki) recalls her time in Nuseirat:

 

The doctors at the camp were Doctor Hadjiyiannakis who was from Castellorizo and Doctor Serafim from Samos. Major medical treatment was carried out at the hospital. Confinement of Mrs Zabetta Boyatzis, who gave birth to Betty, was attended by Doctor Spirou. An appendectomy was also carried out on Nina Michalaki. Sometimes major illnesses were treated in Jerusalem hospitals.

 

Facilities were gradually provided which normalised life in the camp. Huts were converted to churches, schools, canteens, coffee shops and other environments. Andoni Moustakas conducted pre-primary school and others taught in primary and secondary schools. Mr Kerathanasis from Samos was headmaster. Others in the camp ran the canteen or performed trades such as a coppersmith, making coffee pots, etc.

 

 

Prince Peter of Yugoslavia visited us at Nuseirat and admired the beauty of the Castellorizian ladies costumes. He enjoyed a cup of coffee and donated three thousand Palestinian pounds for the purchase of wool to be knitted for the needs of the refugees. When the Greek Government Minister, Mr Souvlakis, visited the camp he was welcomed by the boy scouts with banners depicting the islands including Castellorizo.

 

And from Paul Boyatzis:

 

Belongings were gradually accumulated from items sent from Egypt, Australia, America and other parts of the world. Money sent by relatives allowed us to purchase objects during frequent trips to Jerusalem and Gaza. Castellorizian traders renewed their various contacts in Gaza that they had established in the past. Many families also travelled to Jerusalem for a pilgrimage. Transport by bus to Gaza was frequent or often people were taken there by army vehicles. A taxi fare to Jerusalem from Gaza was five Palestinian pounds.

 

Despite the strains of life in the camp, traditions were generally maintained. Visiting compatriots from Egypt helped to elevate the spirits of the Castellorizians and was also the opportunity for the occasional matrimonial union to take place. Weddings were celebrated in the camp with some taking place in Jerusalem with all the religious splendor one would expect in that holy city. Whether Gaza or Jerusalem, the Castellorizian flavour was well and truly evident. Not only traditional customs but attention to food and drink was not bypassed. Despite the scarcity of some food products, Castellorizian women persisted in the preparation and cooking of the inevitable 'halva' and 'katoumaria'.

 

Wedding Photo Economos Finikiotis to Anna Exindari Gaza Palestine C1944

Named persons in this photograph can be viewed at the following URL (after registering on the website):

www.castellorizo.org/showmedia.php?mediaID=1029&albumlinkID=1038

 

 

Wedding Photo Kostas Moustakas to Despo Komninos Zervos at Gaza in Palestine Aug 12 1945

Named persons in this photograph can be viewed at the following URL (after registering on the website):

www.castellorizo.org/showmedia.php?mhttp://ediaID=686&albumlinkID=567

 

Clothing that arrived in the camp was distributed under the supervision of Evdodia Agapitou (nee Mihalaki) who was employed by UNRRA and had a staff of twenty to thirty ladies. As with other employees they were paid well for their duties. Evdokia was given a hut in which she lived, with her family. This also became the clothing store and factory. Apparently when the officer of the camp, Major Gallaway, saw Evdokia's sewing machine which was rescued from Castellorizo, and learned of Evdokia's ability as a seamstress, he arranged for a further twenty machines to be purchased. Thus the factory was created. They manufactured shirts and dresses, which were sent to the war front. Subsequently a knitting enterprise was created, employing more girls, making socks and scarfs. The factory was also a distribution point of parcels of clothing that arrived from Egypt and overseas. These efforts of Evdokia were officially acknowledged by the UNRRA.

 

Castellorizian Refugees at Nuseirat, Gaza

Named persons in this photograph can be viewed at the following URL (after registering on the website):

www.castellorizo.org/showmedia.php?mediaID=1802

Castellorizian Refugees at Nuseirat, Gaza

Named persons in this photograph can be viewed at the following URL (after registering on the website):

www.castellorizo.org/showmedia.php?mediaID=1803

 

With the passage of time, however, the yearning of us Castellorizian refugees to return home increased. Whilst our families were kept reasonably well informed of Allied successes towards the end of the war, little information was disseminated to them regarding the British occupation of Castellorizo and the picture of destruction that awaited their return.

 

We remember the celebrations marking the end of the Second World War. Thousands of torch bearers were marching at night, singing with elation and rejoicing at the prospect of at last returning home to Castellorizo or the other islands.

 

At last, in July 1945, word reached the refugees that arrangements were being made on the island for our return. It seemed somewhat strange that 'repair works' were being performed on Castellorizo in anticipation of our return. Most of the refugees assumed that they would return to find the island in much the same state as they had left it.

 

Arthur Athans also recalls the end of World War Two:

 

The Second World War ended and we were looking forward returning to our precious island when news came that the island was destroyed by bombing and fire and most of the houses were in ruins. At that time we did not realize the extent of the damage the island had, and since we were holding the key of our house we were happy and ready to go back. UNRRA announced that the Castellorizian refugees will return to the island in three contingents. The first two arrived just fine and our family was scheduled to depart towards the end of September with the third contingent.


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