George Vassiliadis – A Memoir

French Teacher

Daniel Gonzales, Staff Writer

“My mother was born here. She was born in Ohio. November 2, 1927. She’s 91 years old now. I think my grandfather had retired then and they moved back to Greece. So around 1941 the War started. They were looking for Americans and all that and they were on an island in Greece and the Nazis came and they took my late grandfather, my mother and my aunt because they were American citizens, and they were taken to a prison camp in Athens. They stayed there from 1941 until the end of the war. My mother praised God that she survived. Things were different there because they were not tortured. There were foreign civilians who were present, and there was something with the Geneva convention saying that you cannot torture. If they were not American, they would have been sent to prison camps in Germany. She was a prisoner of war for three years. She was separated from her mother and the rest of the family and nobody knew where they were — her, my late grandfather and my aunt. So for three years nobody knew where they were, so my grandmother and the rest of the family thought they were dead. They were hungry, had no clothes and were full of lice and diseases and they were isolated. In other words, this is a 14 year old kid, without a mother, but the father was there thank God. The father was there, and he was a very strong person, strong willed and strong physically too, so that’s one of the reasons why they probably survived.”

“She remembers those days and she starts crying. When they finally released them they went back home. My grandmother was in really bad shape. When they came back they couldn’t believe they were alive. They thought they were ghosts! For three years, they hadn’t heard anything, nothing, from anybody. Because of the war, they didn’t know where they were. Actually, my grandmother was bald because of worrying so much. She lost all of her hair, my mother told me that. She wore a scarf over her head so she wouldn’t show it. She thought she was the one who caused all of it, you see? It was a very bad experience. Every time I think about it I see my mother and what she went through. And when they ask me, “Are you an American?” I said, “Listen, I paid the price, maybe I didn’t, but my mother did for three years.” I mean, I’m thankful for the country, I’m thankful that in America we had a chance. Some other places you don’t get a second chance. We had a chance here, and we came here.”

“Every summer I go to see her. Of course I have to go see her. She made me what I am today. She forgets. She forgets things, every time I call her, she’s asking me, “When are you coming?” and you know, I feel bad. But I have to work right? How am I going to support the family? Everybody has a story to tell. She was never compensated for, being there, imprisoned, and that’s the thing that bothers me, also. But God is great and she survived, we came to America and we got an education here.”