The Twenty Fifth of March, the day in which the Greek people celebrate the re-genesis of their nation should be a day of jubilation.

Regardless as to whether chooses to commemorate the Greek Revolution on 23rd March, as the Kalamatans do, or on the 24th of February, when Alexandros Ypsilantis proclaimed the Revolution at the Three Holy Hierarchs Monastery in Iași, Moldavia, or as the vast majority of Greeks do, on the feast day of the Annunciation, one thing is certain: without the principled stand our ancestors took, at great risk, for freedom, equality and tolerance, it is arguable our people would not exist today, save as shadowy remnants of an ever diminishing past.

Yet for me, even as I attend the many ceremonies organised to commemorate the event, even as I ritually dress myself and my children in national costume to participate in our annual national day parade, my sense of pride is invariably tinged with ennui, a sense of uneasiness and deep disquiet.

I have been carrying this sense of loss all my life, as if searching for a missing part of me, one that lurks in the background, only to remind me of its absence every March the twenty fifth, by jarring my soul.

I must have been there, that twenty fifth of March, and every twenty fifth of March prior to that, although as far as I know, I was never the recipient of the “aleph,” the mystical document created by a family member and then handed down, written in mystical codes for the purpose of warding off the wiles of Lillith, Adam’s first wife.

I must have been there, from the beginning, when my dust was kneaded into a shapeless husk, an unfinished human being, incapable of speech, when the aleph from the word of truth incised upon my forehead was removed, bringing about only death, so that I was unable to hear the command: “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

I must have been there, a leaden seal verifying the privileges granted to them by Emperor Andronikos II in 1319, by way of a chrysobull, for on them was set the seal of approval.

That Pesach, there was no hyssop to be found to daub the blood of a slaughtered sheep on the lintels and door posts, so that the Angel of Death could pass over them, for one among the many betrayed them.

Debates had been raging in the community for a while now. Should they take up arms, as some of them had already done so, joining the ranks of the guerillas in the mountains, or did safety and salvation lie, as it had always done, for centuries uncounted, in strict adherence to the law?

It was cold that day, a biting wind picking up the damp of the great lake of Ioannina, a vast brooding repository for the bitterness of the ages, subsuming and sequestering all evidence of man’s ability to be brutal to his own kind within its toxic mud, arising through the reeds that fringed its shores only to throw itself upon the townsfolk’s faces, marking them out as victims.

One by one they were torn from their slumber, and given the news, as Esther Stella Cohen remembered:

“I go downstairs, open the door and there was a gendarme. “Read it!” he says. In two hours you are leaving. I close the door on him and go upstairs I knock on my brother’s door crying. He gets up, opens the window and that scream is heard, those laments, those knocks on the windows on the doors, the people were deflated, in two hours they had to chew everything they had, what could they take, what could they take?”

Snow was on the ground as they dragged themselves to the square, like lambs to the slaughter. How does one pack up a life within a space of hours? Which memories, what intensity of feeling is shut out and left behind arbitrarily at the last moment, when the suitcase of resolve is deemed overflowing and barely able to shut? Which baggage, cultural, religious or social is deemed worthy of remaining a continuous burden as one looks down at the bed which framed one’s dreams and out at the window that has framed one’s hopes, for the very last time and then passes through the door frame, forgetting to touch the mezuzah, not looking back, never looking back, out into the cobblestoned streets with ice like steel repositories of hatred lurking between their crevices, towards the slaughter-yard? Which prayers, which lamentations, which expositions of law and lore serve to ward off evil as the icy wind penetrates all human endeavour and renders it completely futile?

My great-grandmother was there on that day, and she couldn’t stop them taking away her friends, our people. We were all there that day. We shrug our shoulders, lift up our palms skywards and offer condolences, regret the suffering and offer up excuses.

What a terrible thing to happen. If only we could have done something. But what could you do? The enemy was too powerful, too terrible. Of course we should commemorate them, it is such a dark mark upon the copybook of humanity, not outs of course, we weren’t responsible, but how horrific it was.

And some of us remember the words of Kolokotronis: “When we decided to make the Revolution, we didn’t think about how many of us there were, or that we didn’t have weapons, or that the Turks were besieging the castles and cities,…. our desire for our freedom fell upon all of us like rain…and we all resolved to this purpose… and made the Revolution,” and others remember the time he said: “People called us crazy. If we were not crazy, we would not have made the Revolution, for we first would have considered the question of munitions,” and we shrug and say “That was different.”

Photo: German Archives/Bild 101I-179-1575-08 /Wetzel/CC-BY-SA 3.0/Free distribution

And I remember a young, sickly bespectacled poet, Joseph Eliyah who mercifully died before all this came to pass, writing by flickering candlelight in a room overlooking the field of Death in a poem about Purim:

“Your son won’t be bringing you candles or flowers from shul tonight, mother. And if your crying is bitter, don’t lament too deeply. My Fate has been decided, and poverty — poverty, mama – has no feel for sympathy.”

Just recently, I learn that the girl in the photo has a name: Fani Haim and she was nineteen on that last day. Happily, she was one of the few who survived. Alone of her family, she survived the death camps and returned to our town. Fani married, had children and grandchildren before dying in 2008. If memory serves correctly, she lived near my great-aunt’s house, in the Castle of Ioannina, around the corner from where Jewish inscription, a revenant of a past that is refused rest, was clearly visible until about a decade ago.

There is a hole in Ioannina and in our hearts, the size of all those who were uprooted and transported to their deaths. They are always with us, for they refuse to leave us, and we cannot forget them. Every twenty fifth of March, Joseph Eliyah appears before me, his book of unfinished poetry wide open:

“It’s Purim tonight! The thrill and joy of the great feast!

Light in our souls, and a smile on the lips of all.

And I, my orphaned mother, the refuse of exile

Waste away in a chill joyless corner.”

There is no other kaddish.