At the end of April 1942 the Italian Police occupying Greece finally came to our home and arrested my mother and me for harboring an enemy of the Italian forces. They knocked on the door and Mother let them in. 

They read the charges against us and told us to go with them, not allowing us to take anything with us in the way of clothing or even a toothbrush. Fortunately, they took Apollo’s age into account and didn’t arrest him. Mother kissed him, and after giving him instructions to go to Aunt Seva's house, we followed the Police out the door. 

They took us to Athens to a cell in the basement of a building. It was extremely dark. It was dirty, wet and musty, with a dirt floor and a heavy solid door and a very small window in the center. There were small, narrow cots on each side of the cell. The guard stared at us for a moment, then left, locking the heavy door behind him. Mother and I looked at each other, fell into each other’s arms and cried. We knew at that point that we were in serious trouble. I wasn’t sure how much time had gone by. It seemed like hours before a guard came to the door, opened it, and handed us each a bowl of soup and a slice of bread. I wanted to ask him how long we would be kept there, but I couldn’t communicate with him. I spoke no Italian and he spoke no Greek or English. 

We assumed we would be spending the night there since we were being fed. We ate our soup quietly, and when we were finished went to sleep. The next day we were taken to an office on the second floor. We were kept waiting in an outer room for about half an hour. We held each other’s hand and waited. Finally, an Italian captain came and over hours interrogated us both separately. He told us things would go very bad for us if we did not cooperate. He wanted us to disclose names, places and activities of Norman and his friends. He said if we cooperated, we would be released. When interviewing me I continued denying any knowledge of espionage or of any resistance activities by any of the people I knew.  The captain stood and became very angry and insistent. He threatened to beat me, but after I pleaded my innocence, he stared at me, lowered his hand, and went back to his desk. He was silent for a few moments. Then, in a softer tone, he asked, “Why did you help this Englishman? Didn’t you know what the penalty would be if you were caught?” “Yes, I did know,” I replied. “But I had to help him. He is my fiance and I love him. I couldn’t let him be captured as long as it was in my power to prevent it.” 

We could see from the back of the truck that we were leaving Athens, but we weren’t sure what our destination was. Mother was familiar with the boulevard we were traveling on. She had ridden the bus on that route several times with her sister to visit friends. But, she wondered why they would be taking us there. And then, suddenly, it dawned on her. She knew where we were being taken. She said this is the way to Averoff Prison. It is a prison for criminals, felons, and murderers. The truck came to a sudden stop. The corporal signaled us to get off. There was a gray wall surrounding the building. Jutting out from it one could see the second story with its barred windows set up high. As we looked up at the windows, here and there a face would pop up and then disappear. We looked at the lettering above the main door and knew that our worst fears had been realized. We entered the building and were led to our prison cell. Tears flowed in a constant stream, with an uncontrollable trembling taking hold of my body. Mother took me into her arms and tried to comfort me and make me believe that things would turn out all right as I fell asleep in her arms. 

The next morning I wasn’t quite sure, at first, whether I was awake or dreaming. I saw a very beautiful young woman, dressed in black, standing in the doorway. I noticed the big cross hanging from her neck and realized she was a nun. She was smiling and placing a large ring of keys onto her belt. Her voice was soft and soothing. She introduced herself as Sister Eugenia and explained that there were 6 nuns to help us during our stay in prison. She said she knew that the first night in prison must have been very frightening and that she would be helping comfort us from here on out. 

During the next few days we became acquainted with many of the other prisoners on our floor. They all had similar stories to tell. Some had been arrested by the Italians, others by the Germans. The charges and sentences imposed depended on the seriousness of the crime they had committed against the occupying forces. If they had harbored the enemy, the sentence was from three to ten years. If all they had done was spit on a German vehicle, they were given at least a year. Their ages ranged from teens to 55. At that time, I was the youngest. Later during our imprisonment, a young girl of 14 was brought in. We were allowed to go downstairs in the courtyard for our tea just before the dinner hour, and whenever we wanted to use the laundry room. 

I learned soon enough that it was a lot healthier to use our own bathrooms on the second floor to do the laundry. The procedure in the laundry room was simple. All one had to do was fill a bucket with hot water taken from a large, heated vat in the corner of the room, then use one of the laundry tubs that lined the walls to do the wash in. The first time I poured the hot water in the tub I screamed. The water was full of dead lice. Several of the inmates in the room laughed when they heard my scream. “You better get used to it, honey,” one of them said. “They’re with us always.” Nothing prepares you for this type of experience. You just survive or you don’t. We survived. My mother was 41 and I was 18 when we were released from prison almost 1 year later in 1943. 

* Adapted from Six Years to Freedom ©, unpublished manuscript by Angeline Spillias, 1992; ©Kenneth Spillias, 2017, 2019, 2022.