Correspondence for the New York Evening Post

Albert Sonnichsen




Dead Spies and Village Cinders

By Albert Sonnichsen


New York Evening Post (Saturday, April 14, 1906)

Saturday supplement

Pages 1 to 12


[Special Correspondence of The Evening Post]




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The grim side of Macedonian revolution at close range


How Emissaries of the Greek Patriarch Visited the "Island of the Two Republics" — They Were Given Turkish Coffee and a Cigarette, then Taken for a Boat Ride from Which They Did Not Return




MACEDONIA, March 12.


A few days ago there occurred an event, which has impressed me with the tact that playing the Macedonian revolutionist is at times a grave thing. As Luca and we Chetniks were seated at supper, a courier arrived and gave our chief a paper, Luca glanced about, chose five men, and ordered them to attend the courier on his return to the village.


''We shall probably have guests to-morrow," he said to me, as we rolled in our goat-hair cloaks that evening.


I had forgotten this by breakfast next morning. But suddenly an exclamation from a chetnik sentry brought us all out of the hut. Two boats were coming down stream. In the bow of each sat a man, his arms bound tightly behind him.


"Spies! Spies!" went the exclamation from mouth to mouth.


The boats made a landing, and the prisoners rose stiffly and stepped ashore. The five guards followed, unbinding them. The first captive was fat, black-skinned, and filthy of dress. He stepped up to Luca and offered his fat hand with oily assurance. The voyvoda mechanically shook it. The other was gray, moustached, a week's white stubble oh his withered cheeks. His mouselike features wore an expression of resignation. His clothes wore those of a peasant, but I noticed that his long, lean hands were not toll hardened.


The crowd of chetniks parted to let the newcomers enter the hut; whore they silently seated themselves by the fire. The face of the little old man was pasty. His hands trembled as he rolled a cigarette. The fat man began a conversation in language that proved him to be a genuine Bulgar, or perhaps a Bulgarian gipsy, for he was not of a Slavic type.


Then Luca came, slowly over and settled himself on the rug on which we three, he, Theodor, and I, sleep.


"What were you doing in our village?" he asked.

"We came," said the fat prisoner, with fawning familiarity, "to buy corn."

"You are from the Greek monastery, aren't you?'* continued: Luca.

"Yes, the abbot sent me."

"Who is your companion?"

"A friend of mine, a Vlach "

"Also in the employ of the monastery?"

"No, a poor workman; a simple laborer from Karafferia, who works for three piastres a day."


"That's a lie," broke in one of our Chetniks, a Vlach. "I knew this man in town before I joined the cheta, and he's no laborer. Look at the palms of his hands, and you will see I speak the truth. He's a churvagee (a man who lives without toil).


"I was a goldsmith," said the old Vlach, in good Bulgarian. "Now I am too old to work."


One of our Vlach couriers rose from a corner. "I know this man, too," he said. "I saw him only last week in town, and he was dressed as a churvagee in gold laces and silk trimmings to his cloak."


"And you," continued Luca, turning to the Bulgarian prisoner, "why didn't you take my warning when I had you before? I let you go then because I had no positive evidence against you. "


"And you have none now," retorted the prisoner, smiling confidently. "I am innocent."


"This man," said Luca in German, turning to me, "is a Bulgarian patriarchist. He lives in a Greek monastery close by in the mountains. The Greek andari have been making that monastery their headquarters; there they kept supplies and hid. The abbot, although a Greek priest, protested to the Patriarch, saying such work did the cause of the Church harm, but he was told to obey. One day I went there, burned the outhouses, and destroyed the stores. I found this fellow among the servants. I had been told he was a spy, but had no proof, so I let him go.


"A week afterward one of our chetniks was killed in a fight. His father came to pray over his grave, when suddenly a band of andari appeared. They killed the father; an old man of seventy-three, by beating him with their gun butts. He was found dead on his son's grave. Through a Vlach shepherd, who saw the incident from a distance, I know this fellow was with the andari. Also, one of the andari afterward came into town and while drunk told the story."


Luca told me this as a lawyer would put forth an uninteresting bit of testimony.


"What were you doing in the Greek priest's house?" he said to the captives.


"We thought that he could best find us the people who would sell us the corn and wheat," the old Vlach replied.


Suddenly the chief rose and went outside. One ot the Chetniks had been making Turkish coffee which he gave to the prisoners. The old Vlach's hand trembled so that he spilled most of the liquid in his cup. I went outside and Theodor followed me; Luca was seated on an overturned boat with his back toward us. One by one all the men came out of the hut, the two prisoners with them.


The fat Bulgarian waved his hands as he addressed the silent chetniks. He was too dirty to show any pallor, but his swart skin shone with an oily sweat. The aged Vlach stood twirling his hands.


After a while Luca arose and began pacing up and down. "Let them go," he commanded. "Anton, take them away to the lower landing "


Anton, one of the oldest chetniks, quietly' shoved out a boat. The chief's eyes observed his men; he called three by name. They took up their guns.


"Go," commanded Luca to the prisoners. "Get into the boats. Don’t come near our villages again."


The captives were about to obey when two chetniks seized each and began binding their arms. The Bulgarian had lifted his goat-hair cloak, but Anton took it from him and threw It down.


"You won't need that " he said.


The fat prisoner started. For the first time his assurance left him. He began to whimper, his legs utmost gave way, and his exposed, hairy chest shook.


"Give me my cloak." he blubbered. "Luca, he's taken my cloak from me; I want it,"


To me, all the man's repulsiveness had disappeared; he seemed a great, helpless, sobbing boy, about to be punished. Luca stooped, lifted the cloak from the ground, and gave it to the man.




The two were then put into boats, each sitting far forward, cross-legged, like helpless penguins. Anton quietly slipped our large wood axe behind him as he stepped aboard. Neither of the prisoners saw it. Then, two chetniks in each craft, they shoved off.


Luca stood watching them until they disappeared beyond the rushes. The axe in the boat I remembered. Spies are never shot.


When the two boats returned, an hour later, the four chetniks said nothing, nor have their comrades asked them anything. No one seems to be eager for any details of the tragedy at the "lower landing."


This is how the trouble began this year: In Karafferia is a Greek bishop, who represents the Christian population to the Turkish power, although the people are mostly Rumanian and Bulgarian by race. The bishop waves his hands over these people and says, "You are Greeks." And they, in terror of the "soldiers of Christ," have obediently responded, "We are Greeks." Then the bishop sends priests to their villages, who chant hymns in a tongue the people do not understand; and sometimes he sends schoolmasters to them who repeat strange-sounding words to their children.


There are nine villages, each within four hours walk of our camp, in which the people speak Slavic. Officially, they are recorded as Greeks. When the bishop learned that the nine villages were harboring soldiers of the Organization, and that they were collecting rifles for the great struggle to come, he called the captain of his guards from a neighboring mountain, and said:


"Kosta, these foul barbarians are contaminating the chastity of my people. Write my flock a brotherly letter, and warn them against the wiles of the betrayer. Be gentle—but firm."




So Capt. Kosta wrote. Here is a specimen from one of his brotherly letters; received by the head of the village of Mareno, and immediately turned over to the Organization. I have sent the original to the Balkan Committee in London:


For he who protests against us, we shall kill, him, his wife, and his children; no one of his shall be spared. His whole family is lost, for we shall cut them into small pieces. Think well. You need not fear the Bulgars, for we shall be ever near to help you. The Buigars have not really come to liberate you, but to force you, to renounce your faith. Because we say this, you need not believe that we consider you our enemies.


You henceforth shall know where your good is, and come to us as brothers, and henceforth come to market in Negush. If you do not, we shall consider you our enemies, and we kill all who do not join us. If you do not join us we shall slay your families, burn your villages, and you shall be entirety as lost. You must know, this. If you don't heed us, you shall regret. Understand well. Otherwise, the fault will be yours.



In other letters of this sort, these Greeks describe themselves as "warriors of the faith," and, more often, "soldiers of Christ," and warn the villagers against the "unbelieving infidels," who wish to make them dissatisfied with their conditions. At the same time this letter was sent to the villages the Greeks burned 140 houses in the mountains. During the last year they have burned more than a dozen towns in this province alone. Up in Monastir they burned Zagoritchni, killing over a dozen women and children. Hitherto, the policy of the organization has been to make no reprisals. They have been wise enough to know that, such work kills sympathy in Europe, and in the end they must depend on European help. Individuals they have killed, those whom they have judged guilty and have been able to catch.


The letter to Mareno was disregarded. The villagers still refused to come to market to the town of Negush, which has been avoided as the principal headquarters of the "soldiers of Christ" since the 24th of last September, when a Greek band killed twenty-three unarmed peasants. For a month there was quiet.


The night of March 10 was clear and moonlight; so bright that the snowy, peaks of the mountains were visible beyond the plain. We had not yet finished our late supper in the big hut, when the sentries called an alarm. From over the plain, across the swamp grass came the crackling of rifle firing.


"The Greeks are attacking Mareno," called one of the men from a tree.


In ten minutes all save the sentries had embarked, and we padded for the landing, reaching it in half an hour. Then across the plain we went at a trot, through mud and water. As we ran the firing ceased. Ten minutes later we entered the village. This is what had happened:


An armed band, about sixty strong, had forced the doors of two houses and abused the inmates. One house was fired. Fifteen men of the village gathered, took position behind a hedge, and opened fire. After an hour's fight the Greeks fled, leaving behind five dead. Of the villagers one was killed. One of the dead Greeks was evidently the secretary of the band, for with him was a dispatch bag full of writing materials and paper.


For two days Luca was silent and morose. He ate little and spent much time reclining on his rug.


"I can't endure last year's programme over again," he said to me. "Ten times we met the Greeks, and each time they fled. Their policy is to avoid our armed chetas and terrorize our villages. Houses burned, unarmed men and women and children killed, girls outraged, all on record la consuls' offices; still Europe does nothing The day of my own endurance is coming to an end. I have never burned a Greek village. I have ever carried on a legal warfare. Look through the consuls' records and see that I speak the truth. But —who knows what I may do this year?"


We discussed the question deep into the night. It was decided that we should prepare proclamations to the consuls, the Balkan Committee in England, and the London Times, calling attention to the fact that there could be no repetition of last year's outrages, that endurance was coming to an end, and that unless the Powers whispered that word to the Sultan or the Greek Patriarch, which should end the bloody fraternal compact, there would be reprisals.




It was two in the morning. We sat on our rugs talking over this plan, Luca, Theodor, Apostol, and I. Suddenly, across the marsh outside came the rattle of Grat guns. We rushed outside; the sky was blood red to the northward, flames and smoke shot up beyond the short, stumpy trees not two miles away. Then, a thundering boom, and a fountain of burning sparks and cinders. Dynamite bombs!


Apostol and Theodor put off with twelve men in punts. The firing ceased suddenly, the flames died down. Luca and I returned to the rug, the boys remaining outside. Theodor returned after two hours.


"Golo Celo attacked." he reported. "Two houses burned, a villager wounded. Greeks retreated toward Nici."


I knew then the fate in store for Nici. None of us spoke for an hour. Then Luca said:


"Well, is it to be Europe's opinion, or the lives of our people?"


"Not women and children," I replied, continuing what I knew to be his real train of thought.


"My men are not savages," he said gruffly, "nor am I a barbarian."


"Soldiers of great nations lose self-restraint," I suggested.


"My men and I are comrades," he retorted.


We were up early. There were a dozen empty bottles in our cook hut. They were filled with kerosene. The boats were examined, guns cleaned, ammunition belts and bags filled, and an early dinner prepared. At noon we embarked, twenty-five strong, in seven punts, leaving only four men behind as a garrison.


Apostol's men were just boated as we reached his island. In all there were fifty-five men; eight Vlachs, forty-six Bulgars. In one long string, we started, a patrol of seven boats ahead, the rest of the fleet separate behind. In the centre was the largest boat, big enough to hold four men, in which sat Apostol and I, back to back.


Our password was "Freedom and Macedonia." Women and children must under no circumstances he harmed, and only armed men were to be fired upon. At sunset we came to a space clear of rushes. We could look across to the village of Nici here. Through the binoculars I could see people walking among the houses, of which there were about sixty. We waited until almost dark, then, Apostol taking the lead, we paddled until we struck what seemed to be a long mole running out into the marsh, or lake, for the water was deep. A red moon was rising as we landed. Up in the village the dogs were barking.


From where we landed ran a road parallel with the shore of the lake, from which forked a small path up the hill. As it was possible that Turkish soldiers might use this road from a garrisoned village an hour away, and attempt to cut off retreat, an outpost of seven men was stationed here. With this outpost I remained. Another outpost of five men made a circuit of the village to a road leading to another garrisoned village beyond, to guard against surprise from that direction. Luca advanced toward the upper end of the village with his men, and Apostol took the lower end.




For ten minutes we eight listened anxiously for the "opening up." Then a row of flame flashes, and a crashing volley broke the stillness. A second volley—Apostol's men. More bright dots and tongues of flame shot from several windows. There was not much noise. The inhabitants fled silently. Five houses were burning now, and a few dogs scampered out into the fields, horses, cows, sheep, swine —


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one common herd—following them, noiseless as shadows.


We could see black figures running from house to house, and several times heard the cry "Parola," and the response, "Macedonia" or "Freedom," as two groups met. More houses were aflame; twenty were burning at once. Several times we heard the reports of Männlichers.


In the centre of the village burned a large two-story house. All at once from it came a rattling of exploding ammunition. We learned later that this was the priest's residence. In several other houses Grat ammunition crackled as the flames reached them, notably the village inn. An hour passed; half the village was burning, when we heard a shot which was not from a Männlicher. Then followed a volley, and bullets whined past us. The firing was from up our road; Grat rifles, "soldiers of Christ" were near. We responded immediately, flat upon our bellies. From the village the boys opened fire, too. The fields before us were dotted with flashes in a line a kilometre long, the Grata exploding with the heavy beat of cannon; the small-bored Manniiehers only "zipping".


Another half-hour passed. Now nearly all the village was burning. Then, in the outskirts, a brilliant ball of light burst out, and an explosion followed, which must have been heard in Salonica. Luca had thrown a stick, of dynamite to impress the country around. Meanwhile the Greeks had not come nearer but kept up an incessant firing from the fields. Presently we saw figures between us and the flames, "Parola!" cried one of our outpost; "Macedonia," came the response. A rush and we were embarking just two hours after the first house had been fired. As we paddled out into the lake, the sky behind us was crimson. At dawn we reached Apostol's island and slept till noon.


Later I got details of what occurred in the village. Two Greeks were killed; one by accident, another intentionally; he being a notorious spy. Two Albanians, caretakers of the bey's estate there, were also killed. They must have thought Turkish soldiers had made the attack, for they called out "We are Mohammedans, we are Albanians, friends of the Sultan." They were shot speedily.


All the houses were searched before being fired, to see that no small children remained behind. In one were found a young woman with two babies. They were escorted to Luca, who took them under his protection. The woman was quite calm, although later she burst into tears and asked why she, who was innocent of the crimes of the "soldiers of Christ," should suffer. Luca gave her a letter to the mayor of the village, explaining that the time of reprisals had began, and if the Greek communities wished to escape the flames, — they must not harbor Greek bands nor assist in attacks upon villages friendly to the organization.


The result has been that now almost all the Greek villages are empty, for despite their fanaticism the Greeks have a holy terror of real danger. But unless the bishop of Karafferia orders another attack on a non-Greek village, they need not fear. Next week the "soldiers of Christ" themselves will be hunted for.


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