2017 Scholarship Recipient

Julia Moore

My Family’s History on Kythera

During the Great Depression, five-year-old Panagiotis (Pete) Pericles Coukoulis worked two part-time jobs: selling Liberty Magazines in the streets of St. Louis and as a market bag carrier. Earlier, in 1918, Panagiotis’s father had immigrated from Kythera, Greece to St. Louis, Missouri because he finished his fighting for Greece in WWI. Later, Panagiotis’s mother (Katerina) joined her husband and gave birth to him on March 6, 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri. During the Great Depression in the U.S., Panagiotis’s father (Pericles) and uncle lost their candy shop, so Pericles went to work in a shoe factory, where he tacked on the heels to the shoes. Katerina was a homemaker and at times worked as a seamstress. As the Great Depression continued, she borrowed money and boarded a ship to Greece with six-year-old Panagiotis and his two brothers, while Pericles stayed in the U.S. to work and send them some money.

 Julia’s Great Great Great Grandfather Theodoros Katrakis, born 1 Nov 1819

On the island of Kythera, Greece, Panagiotis lived in a two room house with his mother and two brothers. Panagiotis’s white-wash, stone house was poorly insulated, had no electricity, no running water, and no outhouse. Because there was no outhouse, Panagiotis would have to dig a hole outside to relieve himself and cover his waste with ashes, but there was no newspaper to wipe himself. Panagiotis especially loathed having to relieve himself in the middle of a winter night, in which he went outside in thirty degrees with the heavy rain and wind. Since there was no running water, Panagiotis had to walk about a mile to a spring and carried home a bucket and a vase of water, which was carefully used for drinking, cooking, and taking a sponge bath once a week. Panagiotis’s family had a vegetable garden, a few small farming fields, and animals (a few lambs, goats, and chickens). When there was no school, from May to December, Panagiotis would wake up at four in the morning and get up from his cot, which had no springs, caved in, and felt “like you were sleeping in a tub,” and go work in the fields. His jobs in the fields varied; sometimes he would shepherd his herd of animals, weed the garden and wheat fields, prune the trees, plant seeds, pick olives, fruit, etc. In the summer, he worked in his uncle’s tavern as a nine-year-old waiter. After three months of working six days a week for ten hours, he made three dollars, which he used to buy a pair of shoes. During the school year, he would walk three miles to grammar school.

 Grandfather Panagiotis (Pan) Coukoulis

In 1936, General John Mataxas lead a coup and overthrew the government. He dissolved the Parliament and proclaimed martial law. Also, he sent the Parliament members and other politicians into exile on several rocky islands. The new government did not allow its citizens to vote except for their local mayors. Also, the new government censored all mail, newspapers, etc. After Panagiotis’s family received a letter from Pericles that expressed controversial views regarding the new government and religious issues, the sensor clerk blacked out several lines on the letter. He also advised the family to notify Pericles to stop sending controversial letters or else there would be consequences.

            By mid 1941, the Italians and Germans controlled Greece, and the Greeks’ conditions grew worse due to WWII. Frequently, the rations distributed were very scarce, and families starved. During the first winter of 1941, about 3,000 civilians died everyday from starvation in the streets of Athens. In the island of Kythera, the ration per person was two pounds of rice, two pounds of sugar, and ten pounds of flour per year, and Panagiotis’s family struggled with hunger. In addition, Panagiotis’s family had to give about fifteen percent of their supply of olive oil to the Italian soldiers. Italian soldiers frequently raided their garden and fruit trees, so Panagiotis would eat dandelions and other wild plants with olive oil everyday for months, except for the summertime when the vegetable garden was producing. On Kythera, the Italian and German soldiers enforced a curfew, which was at ten thirty at night, and the Greek civilians needed the soldiers permission if they wanted to leave the island for travelling. When Panagiotis needed (once) to go to Athens for medical care, he travelled for three weeks on a small motor boat to the Athens Hospital.

In late 1941, when the Italians and Germans were occupying Kythera, a German fighter plane landed on a Kytherian beach. A few days later, the German pilot was preparing for departure and realized that the beach was too small for his plane to take off. As a result, the pilot removed his torpedo (bomb) and left it on the beach. A few weeks after that German plane left, Panagiotis’s uncle, cousin, and a friend sneaked out at night to the torpedo sight because they wanted to collect nitroglycerin for fishing. While Panagiotis’s uncle stayed watch, Panagiotis’s cousin and friend took the torpedo into a nearby church sanctuary, which was only used 2-3 times a year. As the two men attempted to disarm the bomb inside the church, it blew up the church and everything within a 100 feet away and killed the two men. As soon as Panagiotis’s uncle saw the explosion from his hideout, he ran home in the dark night. The Italian occupation soldiers quickly investigated and saw that the torpedo was missing, and they observed the remainings of the explosion. They easily figured out what happened and decided not to punish the local Kytherian residents.

In the spring of 1941, Britain sent 50,000 troops to help the Greeks defend themselves against the Italian soldiers, but the British and Greek soldiers were defeated. The British troops left on their ships and retreated to Egypt, where they could fight the Germans in North Africa. Some British troops were not able to leave, but leased small motor or sail boats trying to reach some British naval ships remaining in Crete. As one of these boats passed Kythera, they marooned an extremely sick British soldier on a Kytherian beach about 250 feet away from Panagiotis’s sea ranch fields. A Kytherian woman was working with Panagiotis’s mother and saw the nearly lifeless soldier laying on the beach shore. The woman and Panagiotis’s mother took the soldier on a donkey to a neighbor, who spoke English. The neighbor only let the British soldier hide at his house overnight because he was afraid that him and his family would be caught and executed by the Italian or German soldiers. Quietly arrangements were made to hide the soldier, and the town priest and his daughter decided that they would hide him in church that was rarely used. The British soldier was hidden in a tiny, countryside church for about two weeks, and the priest’s daughter and three families brought food to him. About every two weeks the British soldier was relocated so that he would not be discovered by spies or Italian officers. After a year and a half of hiding the British soldier, a local anti-Mussolini Italian officer heard about the hidden British soldier, but he did not bother to capture the British soldier because he wanted to stay peaceful and continue black market trade with the Kytherians. When the German soldiers left Greece, the British soldier came out of hiding, and he was in need of dental assistance because most of his teeth were rotten. As a result, the local Kytherians donated golden rings and coins, which a local dentist melted and made into crowns and bridges for the British soldier’s teeth. Meanwhile, the British soldier and the priest daughter fell in love, and she eventually became with child. Later, Panagiotis spoke with the British soldier and learned that he was from New Zealand and was a mechanic before the war. By 1943, a British fleet returned to Kythera, and the British soldier reported to service. After the war ended, the British soldier returned to Kythera and married the priest’s daughter. Shortly after, the British soldier, the priest’s daughter, and their child moved to New Zealand. In later years, visited Kythera a few times.

By 1945, WWII ended and Panagiotis moved to Athens, Greece for 9 months. From Athens, Greece, Panagiotis immigrated to the United States. After living through the Great Depression and surviving WWII on sometimes only dandelions and olive oil, Panagiotis’s continuous perseverance built a hard working character. When he came to U.S., Panagiotis was determined to learn English and go to college, even though he only received an education of middle school in Greece. Eventually, Panagiotis moved to Long Beach, California with his wife and four children, and he joined the Kytherian Society of California and became vice president. Today, Doctor Panagiotis Coukoulis is a retired clinical psychologist and Jungian psychoanalyst and lives in a beautiful country home surrounded by acres of redwoods in Navarro, California with his daughter, son, and granddaughter. “The hardships of the Great Depression and even more devastating living conditions during WWII had a tremendous influence in developing compassion and caring for others and to feel more confident about life no matter how bad things may ever get in life.”

Julia (left)  with sisters, Mom (in middle), uncle, and grandfather

Julia with her grandfather

 Su   © KSOCA 2012