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Prisoner’s tales

My wife’s parents, Giannis and Elli, are communists. They were imprisoned for their political beliefs during the Greek dictatorship: Giannis for five years, Elli for three. With their permission, I’m collecting here some of the stories they tell about those years.

About books

Their mail was read, and censored: no political news, two letters per month, and only to family. After writing a letter of five pages to his sister in Sweden, Giannis was told, “I can’t read all this. Write to her: Dear sister, may you be honest and true, with love, Giannis.”1

So of course they worked to get an uninspected message in or out. Elli sent a book with thick cover boards: the back endpaper was peeled off so that she could hollow a space in the cover itself, which she filled with messages written on onionskin paper, before gluing the endpaper back in place.

Not every book was allowed in, though: there was a list of acceptable literature, which certainly didn’t include the works of Lenin. Giannis had a friend send him one such work in the covers of a less incendiary book, and since the jailers were (as he says) more or less illiterate, the deception was not discovered.

On another occasion this lack of literary appreciation worked against him. He had been sent a Larousse dictionary, but was denied access to it: with a name like “Larousse” (which in Greek sounds suspiciously similar to “The Russian”), surely this was the work of a communist sympathiser, if not a communist himself?

About pigs and radios

Elli’s group had a forbidden radio, which they kept in a hollowed-out loaf of bread. One day one of the women who served them their food, and who didn’t know the secret, took away the loaf with the rest of the remains of the meal. Elli and her friends consoled themselves with the thought of the pig who presumably ate the loaf: a pig who undoubtably was now tuned to the classical music station.


  1. Αδελφή, να είσαι πάντα τίμια. Με αγάπη, Γιάννης []


  1. paul wrote:

    onionskin paper? is that very thin paper or actually the skin of an onion?

    Monday, December 30, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink
  2. tikitu wrote:

    I meant this stuff.

    Monday, December 30, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  3. Piotr wrote:

    Coming from a country where it was the communists who were putting people in prison (for their non-communist beliefs) reading your post is a bit… surreal.

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  4. tikitu wrote:

    Gosh yes, I can imagine — well, I can’t really.

    Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink