American Kid: Nazi-Occupied Greece through a Child’s Eyes by Constance M. Constant reveals a chilling story of WWII Greece.
Constance M. Constant: Chicago roots
Constance M. Constant is the daughter of Greek immigrants. She traces her Greek roots to Mercovouni, Tripolis, and Alea, (old name Piali), Tegeas. Born and raised in Chicago, she has lived in Southern California for 46 years. A die-hard Cubs fan, Chicago remains close to her heart.
“I’m very proud to be a Chicagoan. My husband and I have traveled to many places, but Chicago is still my favorite big city. Coming back is always exciting. I was thrilled when the Cubs won the World Series!”
She grew up on Chicago’s West Side, down the street from her father’s restaurant, called Austin Lunch. The family attended St. Basil Church. When her family moved northwest, they attended both Assumption (Panagia), and St. Demetrios Chicago.
“Then when St. John the Baptist opened in Des Plaines, we became members there. My husband and I were married there by Father Emmanuel Lionakis in 1970.”
Going to California
After earning her degree at DePaul University, Connie taught elementary school in Skokie, IL. When she married her husband Robert, also a Chicago Greek, she moved to Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, where Bob was living and working as an electronics engineer.
While raising their son, Nikos,, she taught part-time in the Palos Verdes School District. There she taught enrichment classes in which she introduced Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, along with Greek mythology, to 4th and 5th grade students. She introduced them to Greek-based prefixes, suffixes, and root words in English.
“The aim was to broaden their English vocabularies by exposing them to Greek, since nearly 2/3 of the English language is based on Greek. Those were very enjoyable classes for me to teach and the kids had a good time, too.”
She began writing more than 25 years ago. She was compelled to memorialize the family stories she’d heard when she was young.
In 2005, Connie published her first book, Austin Lunch: Greek American Recollections. Aptly named for her father’s restaurant, growing up with Greek immigrant parents, her older siblings’ stories about the Austin Lunch, and colorful family stories. Since Connie’s family didn’t own a TV at home until she was 10, one of their favorite pastimes was hearing old stories.In essence, Austin Lunch describes the life of Chicago Greek immigrants prior to 1945.
“My father passed away in 1964; my mother died in 1984. After her passing, I thought I should write down the family stories my parents told my siblings and me.”
Curious, two friends asked to read her writings. They encouraged her to publish the stories. It took almost 20 years from the time she began recording her family memories until Austin Lunch was published.
Inspiration for ‘American Kid’
Bob introduced Connie to a Greek-American family who had survived the Nazi occupation in Greece.
“They were Americans who went to Greece before WWII and then got trapped there. I was mesmerized by the account because it was something that could have occurred to any of us ordinary people.”
She said that of the hundreds of books written about WWII, however, few had been written from a child’s perspective.
“There are so many books about generals, presidents, the armed forces, and the like, but few of these books are about innocent civilians, people like you and me. I felt this story needed to be told in honor of and in memory of not only the mother, but also for the millions of innocent civilians and refugees — mothers, fathers, children, etc.– who were — and still are today — trapped in war with no way out.”
Connie said that this book is for all those born after WWII who know very little about this time in history.
“Most non-Greeks, even senior citizens, do not know that Greece was involved in WWII.”
She hopes that readers will relate to a real story about real people.
“Philosopher George Santayana wisely said, ‘Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.’”
The book is a true story, with dialog added to better convey the story to the reader. All three of the “kids” of the American family were proud to share their stories. It took about 9 years from the first interview to publishing this story.
About ‘American Kid’
The Depression hits Chicago. Andrew shuts down his restaurant and can’t find work. Years earlier, he’d invested in an orchard in Kalamata, that his brothers would run. Thinking that his family could live there and have plenty of food, he sends them to Greece to save them from poverty. Little did he know the fate that would await them. By 1937, Katherine and the children board a ship enroute to the homeland.
In Kalamata, the family receives a poor reception from part of Andrew’s family — relatives that he’d helped financially. Katherine learns that one of the brothers had pulled a fast one — Andrew’s name was not recorded on the deed to the orchard. Katherine and her children have no rights to the property. She wages a legal battle and wins, but it depletes their limited funds.
Meanwhile World War II breaks out. Greece is occupied by the Italians and the Nazis. Katherine and her children are stuck and can’t leave. Following the Axis bombing of Kalamata in April 1941, Katherine seeks refuge in her family home in a remote mountain village near Sparta. All mail in or out of Greece is halted — including Andrew’s letters with support money. After Greece becomes occupied, he has no idea if they’re alive or dead.
The Nazis eventually invade the village. They sometimes occupy the family’s home. The Nazis take food, livestock, and valuables from the villagers — until there’s nothing left. A devastating famine rocks Greece; many die of starvation. Greeks dread the Germans’ deadly, unconscionable wrath. Everyone lives in fear. No one knows if or when the Germans will return to the village, and and what they’ll do. The American family remains trapped in Greece, for 3-1/2 long years. How will they survive? Will they make it back to the States?
Review of American Kid: Nazi-Occupied Greece through a Child’s Eyes
Told from young John’s perspective, we learn about the German occupation in Greece through the innocent eyes of a child. This child must grow up really fast and trust his instincts — it’s a matter of life and death. This chilling — and true — story will tug at your heartstrings. Constance M. Constant takes this tragic story, and skillfully weaves in dialog to create a narrative fiction that reads like a film script. You follow the family through the horrific events of the occupation, as the mother risks everything to keep her family alive. Generally, when we hear these types of war stories, we don’t hear the child’s perspective. Here, history is personified like never before. This book has inspired me to probe further into my family’s own story of that time — when my own father was just a young boy living through the German occupation. This is a must-read. Put it on your list.
By: Constance M. Constant
Publisher: Year of the Book Press
Other books by Constance M. Constant: