Maria Stringos and her daughter Eleni Stringos in Egypt, circa 1930's.
Eleni Savides, née Stringos (1921-2007) was from Smyrna (today İzmir). The following testimony was submitted to us via our online questionnaire by her grand-daughter.
1. From which region of the Ottoman Empire were your ancestors from?:
My grandmother Eleni Savides (née Stringos) was born in Smyrna (today İzmir) on the 4th of February 1921. Her mother, Maria Stringos (née Koutsouradis) was born on the island of Chios and moved to Smyrna in 1920 after she was married to John Stringos who was from Alaçatı, a town in the Smyrna province.
2. How did their life change when the Neo-Turks and/or the Kemalists came to power?:
My great-grandfather John Stringos had a kafenio (a Greek café) in Smyrna, but no one alive today can remember the name of the establishment. They were a well to do family but the good times were short lived. During the events at Smyrna in September 1922, my great-grandfather was arrested. At this point, my great-grandmother Maria was pregnant with her second child and my grandmother Eleni was a year and a half old. Maria tried to buy her husband out of prison. She turned up with a purse filled with gold coins (or, 'pougi me xrisses lyres' as they called it) but the Kemalists confiscated all her gold. Then the Great Fire of Smyrna happened and my great-grandmother was forced to flee the city. We believe that John Stringos was sent to a labor camp or was murdered because they never heard from him again. At the time when all this was happening, John was in his 30s and Maria was in her 20s.
My great-grandmother Maria managed to escape the fires and ended up in Athens where she eventually gave birth to her second child, a little girl. But due to poverty and malnutrition, the baby died at about 6 months of age. Maria never healed from that loss or from the loss of her husband. Soon after that, she moved to Egypt with my grandmother. She had a sister Argyro living there so she had some kind of emotional support when she got there.
My grandmother was raised in Egypt by her single mother and life was definitely not easy for them. But my great-grandmother had a good job as a seamstress and managed to do well. She was able to send my grandmother to a decent school. My grandmother Eleni eventually met her husband John Savides in Egypt. His patronage is from Cyprus and Italy. They had two daughters, my mother Danae and my aunt Daphne. They had a good life in Egypt up until the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 when they were forced to flee. Because they were British subjects, they sought refuge in England and eventually moved to Canada.
One story that really resonates with me, is the story of my great-grandmother's wedding band. By the time of the Great Fire of Smyrna, all her money and gold was taken from her and she was so desperate that she had to sell her wedding band for the safe passage of her and her daughter on a ship. Years later, when my grandfather asked her why she no longer had a wedding band, she painfully told him the story. So he went out and bought her a new one. Growing up, this story was told to us over and over as the gesture was so symbolic to her and to my grandmother.
A photo of John Stringos in Smyrna before he was arrested by the Kemalists and went missing.
3. Were they deported during the genocide? If so, when, where to, and describe their experience:
Not that I'm aware of.
4. Were they held in a concentration camp or labor camp? If so, where was it located and describe the conditions :
My great-grandfather was held back and we believe he was taken to a labor camp but we don’t know any details about where or what officially happened to him.
5. Did they lose family and friends? If so, how did they cope?:
My great-grandfather, presumably murdered by the Kemalists.
6. Did anyone within Turkey including Turks try to help them during the genocide? :
Not that I'm aware of.
7. How did they cope emotionally with their genocide experience? Did it affect the remainder of their life? :
My great-grandmother Maria was never able to talk about what she experienced because it traumatized her deeply. She was often seen crying even up until old age. My grandmother had no memory of her father and it affected her deeply. She never got over not knowing her father. They were both resentful and hostile to Turkish people for the rest of their lives.
8. Did the denial of the genocide by the perpetrator (the successor state of Turkey) affect their ability to form closure?:
Yes! My grandmother was involved in a few lobby groups fighting to get the genocide recognized. My parents as well. I didn’t live through those horrible atrocities but I feel like there is definitely no closure and no justice. I feel like my history was practically erased. I don’t even know what happened to my great-grandfather and have no records of his ancestors. And there are so many others like us whose families were torn apart and homes and histories lost. And when I hear the stories, I feel deeply emotional. I think of my great grandmother fleeing for her life while pregnant with a toddler, losing her husband and her livelihood and how desperate and scared she must have felt.
9. How did they feel about Turkey after the genocide?:
There was a lot of hostility towards Turkey for years on.