A hitherto unknown aspect of history, which one cannot find recorded anywhere else, is vividly described in the oral testimony of Mrs. Vasiliki from Panagia of Imbro, which was recorded together with those 70 people, in the framework of cooperation of the Historical Archive of Refugee Hellenism ( IAPE) of the Municipality of Kalamaria and the Imbrian Union of Macedonia – Thrace.

It is about the hidden school, that is, the lessons that teachers gave secretly to the local children to teach them Greek as the school in Imbro was closed in 1964.

This is what Mrs. Vassiliki stands for when she talks about her life on the island, the problems the local population faced and the reasons why she was forced to leave her birthplace.

“In 1960 I was appointed, in 1964 they took back our license, closed the school and, in addition to that, they also took the buildings and everything inside that was not theirs,” he characteristically says and adds: “they stopped us, we couldn’t we are appointed there.” She herself, with her husband, stayed on the island from ’64 to ’76, and she remembers: “We had the children, he (the husband) used to go out to the mansion in France that I told you about, he had about a dozen small children, he had to to learn Greek, secretly of course. And they used to come, I had small children, they supposedly came to play with the little girls and I taught them until ’76. This was the hidden school.”

As she points out, the children only came to her house on certain days as “if they came every day they would be suspicious”. “I started with the alphabet, language, reading and writing. This. What else; History, of course, I couldn’t. It was very forbidden,” he adds.

Regarding the relevant initiative, he states: “we did this ourselves and we did not take money from any child, from anyone…”. As for the support he had, he notes: “we were given the salary from the consulate but not with the obligation to take classes because it was difficult. The salary we received was a part from the Greek consulate and a part from the church, they paid us from the community”.

Mrs. Vasiliki or otherwise “IMTE 15 informant”, as stated in the relevant file and in the book by Giorgos Stamatidis and Maria Kazantzidou, entitled “The history of Imbro through the Testimonies of its People”, states that this was indeed risky and she was aware that she was putting her life in danger, but she emphasizes: “when you study something, you want to pass it on to the children. You could see them and they were happy to learn Greek. There were still many adults. One, I remember, a neighbor said let’s go to Greece and I will kiss the soil, I will kiss the flag of Greece. We longed so much for Greece, but Greece did not look at us”.

“As strange as it seems to us, the hidden school worked on Imbro…”

Regarding the hidden school in Imbro, IAPE historian Maria Kazantzidou and author of the book points out to APE-MPE that it is something “that we will not find in any book and perhaps we will not find documents anywhere that confirm it, unless they are in the ministry Education information on the remuneration of these people’.

“As strange as it may seem to us, the secret school operated in Imbro from 1964 onwards, when the Greek schools were closed,” he adds.

According to her, from the testimonies of the Imbrios, it appears that “the teachers took over and secretly taught Greek to the children. They knew that if the Turkish state caught them, they would not live. The children used to get a basket in the summer. They would put the books underneath and fruits and vegetables on top of it and take them to the teacher. So he could teach them basic things, reading, writing, arithmetic, history, religion. Alternatively, all the children would gather at one’s house, that is to play, and the teacher would also go there. This was done so that they would not always follow the same tactics and be noticed.”

“They called me Turk…”

From the oral testimonies of the people of Imbro, the IAPE historian also singles out the reports of the “IMTE 001 informant” about the behavior he received when he came from Imbro to Thessaloniki. “Kids are cruel… in elementary school they called me Turkaki. I was also becoming -in quotation marks- a “Turk”, because of this thing and because I was a little husky, I had a little more boy than them, I even beat them. And my manager says: “why are you doing this?”. I mentioned it to him and the next day he took me out there, before the prayer to say: “nobody will call him a Turk again… for this reason”. Then the children stopped talking to us like that” are his exact words.

As for the girls from Imbro, Mrs. Kazantzidou points out that it was then customary for them to go from the age of 8 to the homes of Greeks or Jews or Armenians of Constantinople to work and collect money to later build a house in Imbro. Mostly they were service staff, they did the housework or read to the other children in the family. In the testimony of the informant “IMTE 004”, originally from Agridia Imvrou, one can read: “I left the city with others when I was very young. Now nine year old child where to go to work? What does a nine-year-old child know even in those years and from a village? But also the parents, that’s how much their minds were enough…”

Imbro’s fate is determined by her position

Describing the situation that prevailed in the Hellenization of Imbros, Giorgos Mavroudis, historian, associate of IAPE and PhD candidate in modern history, emphasizes, speaking to APE-MPE, that “essentially the fate of Imbros is defined by its position as whoever controls Imbros controls and the Dardanelles Straits”. For the historical context of the period in question, he states that in 1922 Greece lost Imbro and Tenedos, however the population of these two islands remained in their homes because the inhabitants joined the status of non-exchangeable.

This situation was maintained until the 60s when, as Mrs. Kazantzidou says, due to the large expropriations, people lost their property while for every acre they got an egg in return. In addition, exorbitant taxes were imposed, the exercise of certain professions was prohibited, prisons were opened with baripoinites in Schinoudi and settlers were transferred to the area. “But when the operation of Greek schools, the teaching of the Greek language and the Orthodox faith at school was banned, then the population felt that their Greekness was threatened and they felt that they had to leave their land,” he adds.

From 1974 onwards, according to Mr. Mavroudis, and after the invasion of Cyprus, the Greeks left for good and about 188 people remained on the island. So while before there were 9,500 Greeks and about 200 Turks living there, after 1974 there were 9,000 Turks and 200 Greeks. Today, after the opening of the Greek schools in Imbro, around 700 Greeks live permanently on the island.

The book entitled “The history of Imbro through the testimonies of its people” includes 70 oral testimonies of Greeks from Imbro who were in Thessaloniki or Athens, or who stayed on the island. The testimonies began to be recorded in 2015, while according to Mrs. Kazantzidou “out of these 70 people, twenty are no longer alive but their history survives through their words”.