The Pain of Leaving Home

AS THE SUMMER of 1918 wore off, I was preparing to go to school in Sofia. For weeks there had been constant rumors that the combined Allied forces were getting ready tor a final push to break the Bulgarian-German lines on the Macedonian Front and, by capturing the Balkans, to outflank the Central

Powers. If the Allies accomplished this. they would enter Resen and Yankovetz and we w ould again have a new ruler.

This, which the elders feared most, they believed might really happen. But youngsters of my age, basking in the temporary freedom we enjoyed. discounted the rumors as enemy political propaganda being spread to demoralize our people.

Having pride in the fighting and enduring capacity of the Bulgariar, soldiers, and trusting in the undisputable ability of the German Higk Command, we sought to dissipate those vicious rumors and assure everyone that the Allied offensive would be crushed before it started. We said the Anglo-French armies and the contingents of Serbian and Greek troops would either have to lay down their arms or su im across the Aegean Sea to reach a safe haven. But our youthful military and strategic perception proved completely wrong.

That is why, when our lines were broken and the order was given to evacuate, we knew the return of the Serbian regime was inevitable. We were stunned and all our visions of the future disappeared. The Bulgarian occupation of our part of the country was coming to an end and, with that, the comparative freedom we had enjoyed after 500 years of Turkish rule and three years of Serbian dominationó1912 - 1915.

For, despite all of the shortages and the burdens of a brutal and unending war, for the first time in many centuries we had enjoyed a semblance of the freedom for which our grandfathers and fathers had fought and shed their bloodófirst against the Turks, then against the equally cruel Serbian regime.

Our Bulgarian schools and our churches, operated freely under the rule of the Ottoman Turks, had been ordered closed by the Belgrade rulers, our books burned, our language forbidden. Now, during the short-lived Bulgarian occupation, the schools and churches had been reopened, the language restored. We could sing without fear our beloved patriotic songs, read our books, speak as we pleased and proclaim without fear of recrimination our Bulgarian heritage. That is why we bore stoically the wartime inconveniences and sacrifices demanded of us. Freedom was so precious that it outweighed the scarcity of goods at the corner store, the shortages of bread and other staples. We thought peace, after the victory, would bring all the blessings of freedomóthe dream of our generation and many generations before us.

But then, one dayin early October ofthatfatefulyearof 1918, all of our hopes and illusions melted away. We had to face the reality of the moment. The Anglo-French forces had broken the main BulgarianGerman line at Dobro Pole, some 80 miles to the northeast of us. That put in great danger the forces in the sector some ten miles from Resen. We had to decide whether to stay or to follow the retreating Bulgarian army and seek refuge in Bulgaria proper.

Major Daskalov, military commandant in Resen, told my father there was no immediate danger. He assured him that it might take more than a week for the Allied forces to break the line south of us. At the same time, he ordered defensive trenches dug on the hill behind Yankovetz and Resen to guard the road to Ohrid.

As he was reasuring my father, a group of friends and relatives from Resen passed through our village on their way to Skopie and then to Sofia. My father urged me to pack my things and join them, but I did not want to leave without him. I was afraid that, as mayor of Yankovetz and nine surrounding villages and as a prominent citizen and patriot, he might be persecuted by the invaders.

My mother had already declared that she would not leave the house under any circumstances. She said to my father: "You go, both of you go. I am a woman and the other three children are too small. We cannot all go and leave the house. What will happen to it? Nicola, you go, and after the war, when things settle down, you may be able to come back. But Christo, he should stay in Sofia and study. "

My mother was a tiny, dark-haired woman endowed with enormous inner strength and beauty and the fenent patriotism of her brother, Clement, who in 1902, in a battle with Turkish soldiers, had given his life for the freedom of Macedonia. Her sparkling, dark-brown eyes gave no hint of what it was costing her to send us away. I know it was breaking her heart, although she revealed no sign of it.

Early the next morning a dozen of us, with three horses carrying our most necessary belongings, began a long and grueling trip as refugees óvictims of a war that did not settle the European problems, a war won on the battlefield, lost at the Paris Peace Conference.

There was disagreement about which road to take: the road to Ohrid, the ninth century capital of the Western Bulgarian Kingdom, then northeast to Galichnik and Gostivar to Skopie; or the straight but mountainous and rough road over the Bigla Range to the village of Boishta, then Kichevo. Kichevo was connected to Skopie by a narrow-gauge railroad, built jointly by the Bulgarians and the German army to carry supplies to the war front.

My father knew this terrain well. As an armed participant in the great Ilinden insurrection in 1903, he with his group had guarded this particular pass. Major Daskalov spread his military map and agreed with my father that the mountain road was best. Then he gave my father a letter of recommendation to the station master in Kitchevo, asking him to help get us on a train to Skopie.

It pains me to recall the heartbreaking parting, although more than sixty years have gone by since that fateful October day. The events are still vivid in my mind; they appear before me as if projected on a screen. I see my mother and my sister and two younger brothers holding on to me with tears flowing down their cheeks. I see childhood friends, most of them now dead, embracing me and begging me to write to them. I feel my heart beating as if ready to burst out of my chest, and I hear myself saying: " I will be back, all of us will be back. Don't worry. Keep up your spirits, don't despair and don't give in to the Serbs."

As I said this, I remember I felt embarrassment and something within me saying, "Why entreat them to be strong, to stand and fight, when you yourself are running away?" I felt certain shame. But then a sudden thought comforted me: At least some of us should seek shelter in a brotherly and free country and work for their freedom. Let the world know the injustices imposed on our people.

But still I felt embarrassed. After all, who was I, a youngster in knee pants, to make the world aware of the sufferings and oppression of our people. Who would listen to me? And then, like a lightning bolt, another thought entered my mind. The sturdy Bulgarians in Macedonia have never submitted to threats and oppression. They have resisted and they have survived. Sooner or later a new leader will appear on the horizon and revive the mighty Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organizationóthe hope and the protector of the right of our people. I will join and tight, or I will fight in any other way for the same cause. And then I remembered the words of my father: "We are oppressed, but we are not slaves. People who stand up and fight tor their God-given rights will never become slaves. "

I realized history had supported his words. Our people had outlived the five hundred years of cruel Ottoman rule, had survived as Bulgarians and Christians. They would survive the Serbian acts of national genocide.

It was time to leave. With tears in my eyes I gave my last embrace to my mother, my sister and my brothers. I managed a last glance at the wondertul home in which I was born and raised, waved goodbye to the rest of the people gathered to see us off, then ran to catch up with the group headed for the little town of Kitchevo across the Bigla, and then, hopetully, to Sofia.

As we reached the outskirts of the village we stopped to take a last look but the poplar trees, still in full foliage, obstructed the view. The only thing we could see clearly was the sturdy wooden cross atop the roof of our church. Dimiter Uzev, a retired teacher of Bulgarian history and the oldest member of the group, suggested that we kneel in silent prayer for the health and safety of the loved ones we were leaving behind and for ou r safe journey to Bulgaria.

When we stood I looked up at my father. His dark, handsome face was white and there were tears in his eyes. I did my best to control my own, then grabbed and squeezed his hand. He looked at me and patted me on the head.

We started our march northeast to Kitchevo, uncertain if that little strategic town, well behind the Bigla Range, was not already in enemy hands.

We reached the village of Kriveny. Here the good road ended and we took the narrow path uphill to the mountain range. The autumn sun had turned the leaves and the deep and thick forest presented a beautiful panorama of color.

The hill was steep, the path narrow. We walked slowly and silently, each absorbed in his own thoughts. It took us about two hours to reach the top. This was the unotficial dividing line between our county and that of Kitchevo, a spot from which we could see the wheat and corn fields of Boishta and the roofs of some homes on the hill.

Here the road became much wider. The hills were almost barren of trees, but thick with brush, rocks and some large boulders. To the right of us my father spotted Mechkin Kamenóthe Bear's Rockóa gray boulder almost as big as a two-story house. It had become part of the folklore in our part of Macedonia. Here many bloody battles had been fought between Christians and Turks; many heroes had given their lives defending the honor and safety of their loved ones. I remember my father singing songs of those battles to us at home and then explaining in full detail the events that produced the fighting. These stories always had had a great effect on me. Now, at this point, he stopped and asked me to look closely at Mechkin Kamen.

"This is where your Uncle Clement met his heroic death in 1902 in a skirmish with a regiment of Turkish soldiers," he said. "There were only five of our men, but they held the Turks at bay for many hours, until the last bullet was used. A dozen Turks were killed. When it was all over the commandant of the regiment called his men, pointed to the bodies of the fallen Macedonians and said, 'This is how a soldier dies in defense of his country.' The next day the villagers from Boishta buried our heroes. We still do not know where their graves are."

I had never seen my father so overcome by emotion. "Your uncle was a university graduate and a teacher, but first and last he was a patriot and a dedicated fighter tor freedom," he said. Then my father bent his head and I heard him whisper, "Bog do go prosty." (May God have mercy on his soul.) I wiped away my tears.

We entered the village of Boishta. The military patrol stopped us and asked who we were and where we were going.

"Kitchevo," my father said, "and then Skopie and Sofia."

 A n of ficer came out of the barracks. He told us that the front line at Dobro Pole was broken, but our rear guard was holding to slow the enemy and gain some time for the evacuation. According to his estimate we had four to five days and with luck we might be able to reach ourdestination.

It was getting dark and he offered us shelter for the night in the barracks. In the meantime, the village mayor and a small group of men had gathered around us and offered rooms in their homes. My father had previously met the mayor in one of the frequent district meetings. He invited us to his home. I was very tired and very sleepy and right after dinner I went to bed. The mayor and my father talked until long after midnight, discussing the situation and making plans for the next day.

Early the next morning we were on the way to Kitchevo. The mayor and his wife joined our group. My tather told our horsemen to return and we traveled with two large two-wheeled carts drawn by water buffaloes. I was the youngest of the group and they allotted me a corner in one cart. Every once in a while I asked the old teacher Uzeff to take my place.

The road was clogged with military and civilian traffic. When we reached Kitchevo early that afternoon the railroad station was swarming with people. We could hardly move a step. Everyone was pushing to get closer to the tracks and climb on the first available railroad car. The soldiers commanded them to be patient and promised that within the next 24 hours everyone would be evacuated, but this did little to appease the crowd.

One of the soldiers helped my father to get into the station and I accompanied him. When we got inside we were told that the station master was not there. His assistant, an army captain who looked as if he had not gone to bed for days, read the letter from Major Daskalov, smiled and asked my father, "How is old Ivan, I mean the major? Does he still wear his long Varnelia mustaches? Good old Ivan, he could swallow two liters of wine in two minutes and still be as sober as a judge. We have been friends for years."

He called over his assistant, a young and perky officer, and told him, "This is Mr. Nizamoff, an uncle of your favorite Bulgarian journalist, historian and critic, Simeon Radeff. Find a place for him and his group on the next train out."

We followed the young offlcer. He stopped by an open wagon, apologized that that was all they had, and helped us load our baggage.

 Five German soldiers who had been standing on the platform and smoking quickly jumped in, told the of ficer that the car was occupied, and dumped our baggage on the tracks. The of ficer blew his whistle and in a few moments half a dozen Bulgarian soldiers came over. He ordered them to put the German baggage offand put ours back in the car. Then he lashed the Germans in their own language (which in those days I knew well). "Stand at attention when I speak to you!" shouted our benefactor. "I am assistant commandant here and you will obey my orders. Understand?" The Germans saluted and said they understood. The offlcer bid us goodbye and told the Germans
they would travel on the midnight train.

As young as I was at the time, I detected that the alliance between Bulgaria and Germany had dissolved. Defeat and failure have broken many partnerships.

Our car was so full of refugees that no one could move around. By 8:00 p.m. it was hitched to the others, the locomotive started pufflng, the wheels began to turn and we were on the way to Skopie. The evening breeze in that mountainous region of Macedonia made everyone shiver. We kept warm by rubbing our backs against each other. My father began rubbing my arms and my neck to keep me warm. Then, quite unexpectedly, he whispered in my ear, "It is going to be like this all the way down to Sofia. Remember, if we should get separated, keep on going. Do not waste time looking for me. Our meeting place will be at the house of my sister, your aunt, in Sofia. "

The locomotive, which we called chainikot (the tea pot), was too small for the extra cars it had to pull. At times, especially when approaching a turn, it ran so slowly it seemed that the wheels were stuck on the tracks.

Gradually the last rays of the sun disappeared. The sky was heavy with clouds, dark and threatening, and the twilight did not last long. Deep darkness descended over the beautiful gorge and the hills. We could no longer see the unmatched beauty of this most picturesque part of Macedonia. It is no wonder that for almost two centuries the region has been the birthplace of some of the best artists and wood carvers in the world. Their paintings and carvings decorate many churches and monasteries in the Balkans and even in some parts of Western Europe.

The black clouds hovering above were threatening us with an unwelcome downpour. Everyone was silent, absorbed in his own thoughts and sorrows; everyone felt the pain and the agony of leaving his land and his loved ones behind. Occasionally we could hear the restrained sobbing of an elderly woman and the whispers of her husband trying to console her.

The storm did not spare us. A bolt of lightning struck and illuminated the hills; then came the thunder, reminiscent of the daily bombardments at the front, followed by a torrential rain which quickly drenched us. But, except for me and a few others, these were sturdy men and women who did not mind getting wet. What they feared was that the heavy rain might wash away the tracks and leave us stranded in the mountains. Many made the sign of the cross. Some raised their arms, turned their eyes toward heaven and implored the Almighty to grant us a safe passage to Skopie.

As we crossed the gorge and approached the open fields of Tetovo, the rain subsided and the first light of morning appeared on the horizon. It calmed us to know that soon the sun would dry our clothes and warm our bodies.

It was still early when our train pulled onto a side track and stopped at a station. A strong voice boomed over the loud speaker, saying: "This is Skopie. Everybody out. Walk down alongside the cars and come on this side of the station. Do not rush. Follow the orders ofthe military police."

The sad and fearful faces changed expression. No one was laughing or joyful, but everyone was relieved that we had reached safely the first stop of our forced journey. Then, quite unexpectedly, someone in the next car cried as loud as he could, "Hurrah! Long live Bulgaria. She will rise again." Like a brush fire his words traveled from car to car and reached the banks of the legendary Vardar River, the object of many revolutionary songs and poems.

The somber and tired military police were elated by this demonstration and applauded. As we descended from the cars, all of us felt relieved and grateful for a cheerful moment on this sad and unpleasant trip.

Our car was at the very front and my father and I began trotting to catch up with the rest.

"Don't hurry, you have plenty of time," said a military policeman walking along side. Then he added, "There are no other trains leaving today, and those on the tracks are full to capacity. Do you have any place to stay in Skopie tonight? Do you know anyone here?" My father told him we had no one here and we did not know where to go. "My name is Gencho Mitov," said the man. "I am the sergeant in charge of the military police. Perhaps I can help you. I see the boy is shivering from cold. "

By now we had reached the platform, and he said to my father, "Skopie is full of refugees. You go about four blocks down this street, then turn to the right and at the next corner you will see a small inn. Tell Bai Dimko, the proprietor, that Gencho Starshiyata sent you there. He will have a place for you. And remember fhisórest today and don't bother to look for trains to Sofia. Get here about 5:00 a.m. tomorrow. The trains on the first two tracks are reserved for military personnel. The one on the fourth track is for civilians on a first-come, first-served basis. I will try to be here and help."

My father said, "Sergeant, I do not know how to thank you. God bless you and save vou from harm." I grabbed and kissed his hand. He patted me on the head and said, "When you go to Sofia, get in school and study hard. I am a teacher by profession. See you tomorrow. "

The little inn was too small for the crowd that was already there, but when Bai Dimko heard the name of the sergeant, he found a little corner for us. He told us that in a few minutes he would have some tea ready to warm us, and perhaps some bread and cheese also.

People from many parts of Macedonia were present. There was a man from Bitola, Tsane Brashnaroff, who had had some business dealings with the Nizamoff family. Everyone was friendly and accommodating, and everyone had his own sad story to tell. We began to feel as if we had known these people for years. Misery and adversity sometimes draw people together in a closeness that lessens their pain and reinforces their will.

Early the next morning we were at the railroad station. Gencho Mitov was there waiting for us. He helped us with our baggage and took us to the train, which already was packed. The brakeman said, "Sergeant, take them to the next car. I have reserved some space for them." We thanked Gencho Mitov as we prepared to take our leave. He hugged me and said, "Ti si mlad. Glendai da se uchish dobre. Chuvash li?" (You are young. Study hard. Do you hear?) He spoke like a teacher with the authoritative tone of a military man.

Trains in the Balkans seldom ran on schedule. During time of war, or national disturbance, we could hardly expect them to be on time. But many passengers nevertheless became impatient, and some indignant, when our departure was delayed past noon.

The delay gave me a chance to go from car to car and see if our other friends were aboard. I saw all but two, a man and his wife from Boishta.

About 1:00 p.m. we heard a whistle, then another one; we felt the train begin to move slowly and then pick up speed. We were on our way to the Serbian town of Nish and from there, with God's help, on another train to Sofia.

The railroad car was packed. Some who had failed to get a seat put their belongings in the aisle and sat on them. Others stood, holding on to the backs of the seats. And yet, with this multitude of men and women crammed in one car, there was an almost frightening silence. The only thing to be heard was the monotonous screeching of the wheels. It gave us the impression of riding in a tuneral car, which was appropriate. For we were mourning the short-lived freedom of our beloved country, again to be enslaved after centuries of oppression and rivers of innocent blood.

From time to time, at the other end of the car, came a deep sigh and the words: "Oh, dear God, what have we done wrong, how have we displeased you to be punished like this?" The man was white-haired and old, his voice weak and hardly audible. Everyone was either too tired, or too deeply absorbed in his own thoughts and pains, to pay attention.

At this point our travel pattern changed. Before crossing a bridge, the engineer would slow down and await a signal from the patrol guarding the crossings and the track. We had entered Serbian territory and the military command had taken steps to guard against saboteurs.

I, too, was absorbed in my own thoughts and my own pains. I sat by the window with my father next to me. I was looking out, but my eyes saw nothing. My sight, my mind, my heart, the whole of me, were still in Resen and Yankovetz.

* * * * *

THE EARLY MONTHS OF 1918 had been glorious for me, both at school and outside it. I was active in, and often the initiator of, many public eventsóschool plays, debates, lectures by Bulgarian offlcers stationed in our area who in civilian life were teachers, judges or writers. The teacher's council depended on me and my friends for these occasions. Often I was privileged to introduce the speaker because I was a good mixer and relaxed in facing the public. On national or school holidays, such as the celebration of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the patron saints of our Bulgarian church in Resen, I was always assigned to say a few words, then recite one of Ivan Vazoff's poems.

During that spring and summer I had become fond of one of my classmates, Nadejda Tatarcheva, who was one of the most beautiful girls in our school, or so I thought. Nada and 1, always in company of my second cousin, Andronika Veleva (for that was the accepted custom at that time), studied together for the final examinations. Our teachers, all of them graduates of the famous Bulgarian Gymnasium in Solun (Salonica), were strict pedagogues. They did not tolerate unpreparedness' and would hold us back for any serious mistake.

Nada was not one of the best students in our class, and I was bad in anything connected with mathematics. At the study sessions of the three of us, I helped the others in history and Bulgarian literature (two subjects very dear to me) and Andronika, a wizard in math, tutored us in that subject. We all passed the preliminary examinations. At the end of the school year, I was exempted from taking the finals. My grades in the other subjects exceeded my deficiency in math. Our class master and teacher in composition wrote on my card (I still remember the words), "In homework on composition, Christo does not just bring in a paper, he hands in a complete short story."

O beautiful days of youth. How quickly they left us!

The second of August was a national holiday in Macedonia in commemoration of the great Ilinden insurrection of 1903 against the repressive regime of the Ottoman Turks. Even though it fell during vacation, by long-standing tradition the students came to school on that day dressed in their best clothes. Then, two by two, we marched through the center of town to our church for the holiday festivities.

Because of the war, and the proximity of the frontier, our new twostory school, with its spacious rooms, had been taken over by the military and turned into a hospital. Our classes were moved into the large and beautiful house of a Turkish nobleman who had gone to Istanbul after the Balkan war of 1912. The house had 12 very large rooms, a veranda that could hold more than one hundred people, and a spacious back yard surrounded by trees.

Groups of students and other volunteers had spent many hours in cleaning and decorating the house. The day before the event, the classroom benches and all the available chairs were taken to the back yard and neatly arranged. And because we expected a large crowd, we went from house to house to borrow extra chairs. No one denied us; some even gave us flowers to decorate the place.

When everyone was seated, the priest gave the customary benediction. Luba Bojanova, the high school principal, a gifted administrator, opened the festivities and invited M ayor Peter Strezoff to address the gathering. Strezoff had taken an active part in the historic Ilinden insurrection and, although he was not an eloquent speaker he made his point well.

His remarks were followed by patriotic songs by a group of upperclassmen, and recitations by boys and girls from the lower grades. Then Miss Bojanova announced that the school authorities had selected as the main speaker Christo Nizamoff, who was leaving Resen to continue his studies in Sofia.

I had been told well in advance that the teacher's council had selected me for this high honor. I had spent days in writing and rewriting my speech. I knew that our region was one of the main centers of the uprising and that, except for Yankovetz, all the other 32 villages in our county had been burned to the ground or pillaged. I wished to hail these sacrifices in words that would touch the innermost feeling of the people. I wanted to praise the heroism of those who had borne arms, those who had supported them, and especially the men who had fallen in battleówho had died for a just and worthy cause. Every time I reread my text I found something missmg, or some phrases not strong enough to touch the hearts and fire the audience.

After I finished writing it, I spent many hours memorizing it. I knew that if I read it it would lack the emotion I wanted to convey in the passages dealing with the bloody encounters between the oppressors and the oppressed.

I had recited and spoken before such gatherings on other occasions. But this was a very special event, and a special honor for me I spent hours in practice, reciting it without looking at the text, untii I was satisfied that I could carry it through without a mistake. And I did!

To my great astonishment, when I had finished everyone stood up and rewarded me with thunderous applause that brought tears of joy to my eyes. Colonel Komsieff, the honored guest at this celebration, Jumped from his seat directly in front of the makeshift podium, grabbed and kissed me and almost lifted me in the air. There was another round of applause. Miss Bojanova and Mr. Yosiphoff, our instructors in Bulgarian and Slavic literature, came over and congratulated me.

"Christo," said Miss Bojanova, "I knew, I knew you could do it and we are all so very proud of you." "I subscribe to that," added Mr Yosiphoff. I thanked them and embraced them.

 This ended the of ficial program. The band started playing and the back yard of the Turkish pasha's house echoed with music as we performed folk dances. Homemade snacks and sweets added special flavor to the festivities, and the celebration continued until after sunset.

On the way, groups of youngsters, and even their parents, kept singing the patriotic songs; it looked as though the whole town was celebrating and remembering the sacrifice of the Ilinden heroes.

I walked Nada to her home, which was quite a distance from the school. We did not walk arm in arm, or hold hands, but I knew each felt a special attraction for the other. As we reached her home I opened the door and bid her good night. She came closer to me, kissed me on the cheek and said, "You deserve it, you certainly do. Good night."

Little did we suspect that one month later both of us would be leaving our homes, our parents and our friends to seek refuge in Bulgaria, carrying with us the memory of that dayóa day whose beauty and solemnity could never be repeated, nor ever forgotten.

* * * * *

BACK ABOARD THE TRAIN I started as I awoke from the dream. My thoughts dwelt on our home, on my mother, sister and brothers, and I started to shiver. I could see the sad, sorrowful face of my mother hidmg her tears in order to wipe mine, and my little brother Boris holding on to my leg and crying, "Bate (brother),bate, don't go, don't leave me." I felt a sharp pang that shook my whole body.

What is happening with them now? Have the enemies arrived? Are they mistreating my mother, asking where her husband and her son have gone? Have the torture and the inquisition begun? No war, and especially no Balkan war, is complete without such terrible actions.

Seized by my fears I began sobbing, slowly, silently. I did not want to arouse my father, who was absorbed in his own thoughts and perhaps in his own fears. But he realized instantly what was happening, the agony I was going through. He put his arm around me and brought me close to him. Then, after a long pause, he said, "Don't worry, mother and the kids will be all right."

It was now well past midnight. In the clear sky a half moon seemed to keep pace with the train. I noticed that we were passing homes on both sides of the track. The train reduced its speed and it was obvious that we were approaching a stop.

Twenty or thirty minutes later the train came to a halt. The brakeman came in the car and announced:

"This is Nish. The station is small and it is crowded to capacity. It has been decided that these cars will remain on the track until 7:00 a.m. This is for your convenience. You may get off if you want to. But outside it is still very dark and chilly and it will be better to remain on board. Make your choice, and don't waste any of the water. "

My father and 1, and most of the people in our car, chose to stay.

It was a good decision. Spending the night in the train was much better than trying to find a place to sit in a small and crowded station. We dozed, but none of us slept. Yet the rest was invigorating.

Early in the morning my father and I ate what was left of the food we had carried with us and went to the station.

The night and early morning trains must have carried away most of the crowd. But still the small building was crammed with soldiers and civilians, everyone hurrying in one direction or another looking for the right track, the right train. At the station the load of traffic was huge, the urgency so pressing that no one actually knew what was going on. When my father asked a conductor when we could get a train to Sofia, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "Search me. I don't know and no one actually knows."

We stopped at one end inside the station and placed our baggage next to that of an elderly couple, who tried to make room for us. The man was of middle age, fairly well dressed. His trimmed goatee was a sign that he was either a person of some importance, a civil servant or a teacher. He inquired where we were going and how old I was. He told us he was heading in the same direction and said it might be good if we stayed with him and his wife. I deduced that he knew something about the program of the trains.

In the meantime, a man from our group came over to tell us that our people were outside the building. He said someone had told them that there might not be a train to Sofia today, because the Germans were requisitioning every available vehicle.

"Those are wild rumors," said our friend. "Don't be taken in by them. The fact is that the train to Sofia will be late. Go back and tell your group to stay where they are and wait. "

The name of the elderly gentleman was Ivan Dimitrieff. He told us he was a financial clerk, but I do not remember if he was on duty somewhere around Nish or just happened to be in the vicinity.

Sometime in the afternoon a young man, wearing a uniform, told Mr. Dimitrieff that in about half an hour we should go to the platform. "Follow us," he said to my father. "There will be a train for Sofia." We did, and signaled to our group to follow. The train pulled in and stopped about 50 feet from where we were standing. We rushed as fast as we could but a trainman stopped us. "This wagon is reserved for persons holding official positions," he said.

"Dump that bureaucracy," said Mr. Dimitrieff. "We are all citizens of Bulgaria, we are all Bulgarians. Do you see these people behind me? They have left their homes and families in Macedonia, because they are good Bulgarians." Then, turning to us, he said, "Get in. Offcials, my foot. They don't see that our country is cracking up, they just want to save the bureaucrats." The trainman shrugged his shoulders, mumbled something, then stepped aside and all of us got in.

The car was already half full of men, most of whom wore goatees, the trademark of the bureaucrats of that day. They were gesticulating and arguing loudly, trying to determine who in Sofia was to blame for this second disaster in less than five years. They were oblivious to our presence. My father and I sat behind two of these gentlemen who were engaged in heated conversation between themselves and with others in front and on both sides of them.

Mr. Dimitrieff, who sat in back of us, said to my father, "Do you hear them? The country is going to pieces and, instead of talking calmly of ways and means to save what is left, they are trying to put the blame on everyone who holds office. They have completely forgotten our national motto: 'Soedinenieto pravi silata." (In unity there is strength.)

One gentleman from across the aisle said, "The only hope Bulgaria has today is in the American president, Woodrow Wilson, and his 14 points for peace and the prevention of another war. "

At this point our Mr. Dimitrieff got into the fray. " Mr. Wilson is an idealist," he said, "but idealism has lost its strength and its meaning in the twentieth century. Do you think that France will accept Wilson's ideology, or even England? The French tiger, Clemenceau, will drain the last drop of blood from defeated Germany. He will encourage the Serbs, the Poles, the Czechs to do the same. Certainly Bulgaria did not declare war on America. But Bulgaria declared war on France's allies and there is the rub."

"You talk like a socialist," said one of the men. "I talk like a Bulgarian, not as a partisan," snapped Mr. Dimitrieff.

These sometimes heated discussions, which continued all the way down to Sofia, were my first introduction to Bulgarian political polemics. It seemed as if they had become part of the daily life. We later heard them at every corner in Sofia, in every coffee house, wherever a group was gathering. They even invaded the university and the gymnasiums (high schools). Sometimes the accusations and counter-accusations ended in fist fights. As I grew older, and more mature, I discovered that these discussions were predominant in all the Balkan states.

Outside a torrential rain beat on the windows. It was pitch dark. The train was late because it had lost time in unusually long stops at different stations. Now it slowed again, then came to a full stop and the conductor announced, "This is Tsaribrod." The wonderful couple, Mr. and Mrs. Dimitrieff, said goodbye to us. Mr. Dimitrieff took my hand and said, "Remember this: When you grow up, be a Bulgarian first and a partisan after."

The rain pounded relentlessly on the windows. Our next stop was to be Sofia and the arguments had subsided. In an hour or so, the train slowed down and halted temporarily. After a signal from the tower it changed tracks, came to a complete stop, and we heard the longawaited words, "This is Sofia."

The doors opened and one by one we began stepping down to the platform. To our great astonishment, we heard a voice saying, "A11 those from Resen meet me at the main door, all those from Resen meet me at the main door." Had we heard correctly? How could this be? The voice kept approaching, louder and louder, and we headed for the front door.

It was not an illusion, it was a fact. Husky, well-dressed and goodlooking Mito (Dimiter) Yayeff from our village of Yankovetz was there to meet us. There were embraces, there were tears.

"Dobre doshly, dobre doshly" (Welcome, welcome), he kept saying. "It is terrible outside. I want you all at my house. All of you."

I had seen Mito Yayeff in Sofia in 1916. And who was this generous and hospitable man?

About 1911, just before the first Balkan war, when most young men from Resen and Yankovetz were leaving for the United States, Mito stayed home. He was poor, had no collateral, and could not raise the money for a trip to America. With all of his friends gone, he became lonesome and bitter. Then one day (this is what my father had told me), he came to our store and asked my father to loan him enough money to go to Bulgaria. The family was poor, but good and honest. My father loaned him the money with no interest attached. "When you can, pay me just the principal, " my father had said .

In Sofia, Mito met some friends and distant relatives from our village. They found him a job in a grocery store and fruit market. He worked 12 hours a day, six and a half days a week. He worked and he saved, sent money to his mother, paid my father. His diligence impressed his friends. They all chipped in and helped him to open a fruit stand on Maria Luisa Street, close to the railroad station. A year or two later he rented a nearby store. Happy Mito, as they called him, became popular with the neighbors. His success surpassed his expectations. He added a meat counter and a delicatessen counter, and in two or three years was able to buy the two-story buildingóstore on the main floor, apartment on the second.

Gregarious and hospitable, Mito wanted us all to be his guests. He would not allow his friends to look for lodgings at midnight, and in the rain.

His place was across the rail station, two blocks down on Maria Luisa Street. His young wife stood at the door in welcome, greeting us, kissing us. There were four or five Resenchani in his house who had arrived a day ahead of us.

"We will be crammed," said Mito, "but we will get by. But first let us have a glass of wine. The turlee guevech (mixed vegetable stew) is ready. " This was the first hot meal any one of us had had in five days.

"Eat, eat good, fill your bellies," said Mito, "there is plenty of it. And don't worry about sleeping. We have room for all. "

And he did. He put my father and me in a small room. There was no bed, but there was a mattress and blankets. Others slept in rooms in the b asement, still others on gunny sacks on the floor in the store.

"Tomorrow," he said, "we are going to find rooms for all of you." Then turning to my father he said, "Uncle Nicola, your sister lives quite a distance from here. I will take you there tomorrow. Now relax and forget your troubles. The good Lord will help us. Be sure of that. "