CULTURE

‘Smyrna of Smyrnians,’ as witnessed by one who has not forgotten

At the age of 98, and having lost his sight, Giorgos T. Katramopoulos, who came from a family of gold merchants in Smyrna, dictated 156 pages of memoirs that have just been published, illustrated with photographs saved from the flames that destroyed the city in 1922. Titled «Smyrna of Smyrnians,» the book aims to show how the city of Smyrna that he knew is not a ghost town, a monument, but is alive with the author’s memories of his childhood and youth, as one of the few living survivors of the Asia Minor catastrophe 80 years ago. «I am trying, with the eyes of my soul, to recall the beauties and joys of my beloved homeland, a city of joy and work. It was a city you could enjoy without spending much money, just walking up and down the famous Quai, with its orchestras playing everything from Viennese waltzes to authentic rebetika songs, as the sea breeze cooled your brow.» His two previous books «How Can I Forget You, Beloved Smyrna,» and «One Century, Two Homelands», also published by Oceanida, were awarded prizes by the Athens Academy. These works could easily be considered for the Guinness Book of World Records, as they were written by a man who wrote his books at the ages of 92, 96 and 98. «Unless we wait for the book I will write when I am 100 and have lived over two centuries,» he says. The photograph shown here is of the author at the age of 17, which he presented to his mother Athanassia, a teacher, when he finished his school year with top marks. It is dated August 26, 1922. The torching of the city began on August 31 (under the old calendar). He took the photograph with him, along with others shown on the cover of the book. He believes the city was destroyed «because the Turks had already decided to remove the Greek population. History cannot be falsified. It is not measured in years or decades, but centuries and millennia,» he says. That is why he has contributed his own account of what happened on that dockside, when the Turkish guerrillas rode up bareback, with ropes for reins and set fire to the wooden balconies and upper floors, not just thieves but exterminators.