The memories of the Second World War are everywhere in Hania, where I’m spending some time with family this summer. Literally, everywhere.
On street names and on street corners, in parks and central squares of the city, and in olive groves and dusty roads in far-flung mountain villages.
I’ve stopped at as many as I can, to read the names, pay tribute to the heroes and grab my iPhone for a bit of Google research to try and find out what transpired at the various spots– exact locations of massacres and horrible events, where the memorials are usually mounted.
But one memorial, in the center of Hania in a coastal neighborhood known as Koum Kapi, hit close to home. Literally.
One of the stories I grew up hearing from my late father was that of the fateful night in June of 1944 when he woke up in the wee hours of the morning and watched in horror as the residents of his entire neighborhood were rounded up and taken away.
He was a teenager at the time so his memory of the details– even a few months before he passed away in 1997 were still very vivid.
My dad lived in Οβρεακή in Hania’s Old Town, the local vernacular for “Hebrewtown.” His family was one of the only Christian families on Kondylaki Street, a neighborhood that was populated by native Cretan Jews (also called Romaniotes) whose families had populated the island for two thousand years.
Some of those taken away and never to be seen or heard from again were his friends, his classmates, teenagers he grew up sharing joys and sorrows with.
The memorial to the 200 or so Cretan Jews who perished is a ship with sails that resemble ladders– appropriate considering their ultimate fate of drowning on the Tanais, with doves perched on the a abstract masts and sails of the ship, as if they are using the vessel that ultimately killed them as their stairway to eternity.
Included in the memorial were hundreds of Cretan (Christian) partisans, rebels and civilians who were arrested and scheduled to be sent to Auschwitz.
There was a dried up wreath at the memorial and it made me feel good– that people are still remembering these tragic events and the heroes that made them epic.
Read more about the infamous events here in a story I called The Day they all Just Disappeared.