Heritage and Memory of War: Responses from Small Islands ed. by Gilly Carr and Keir Reeves (review)
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Reviewed by
Gilly Carr and Keir Reeves, editors, Heritage and Memory of War: Responses from Small Islands. New York and London: Routledge. 2015. Pp. xiii + 320. Cloth $148.

The editors of this interesting volume do not insist that islands are uniquely proficient in remembering the past, but as with other bounded geographies, islands can have considerable capacity for retaining information that might otherwise become forgotten over time. Islander memory traditions benefit from [End Page 249] population continuity and physical isolation, which means these traditions are less susceptible to extraneous influences.

In regard to wartime, these can have particular kinds of effects and leave distinctive legacies. The editors, Gilly Carr and Keir Reeves, claim that islanders can find it harder to dispose of, or recycle, war "debris" (4–7) by which they mean actual debris, infrastructure (for example, jetties and bunkers), memorabilia, and graves. As many of the chapters show, each category can play an important role in keeping wartime memories close to the surface of local consciousness. Why wartime memories should matter inevitably has to do with the particular kinds of traumas that island communities are prone to suffering. During World War II, for example, Greek islands were places where people starved because there was limited scope for foraging, fishing was forbidden by the Axis occupiers for security reasons, and escape was a perilous exercise. Most Greek islanders, however, were spared the kinds of traumas that were experienced on Crete, which was large and rugged enough to wage a resistance struggle. As a consequence, Cretan civilians were exposed to more direct forms of wartime violence.

Wartime traumas inform social identities in a variety of ways. Heritage and Memory of War: Responses from Small Islands seeks to examine how small islands—Crete counts as a small island in this book—have dealt with questions of heritage and social memory relating to wartime experiences. Carr and Reeves present case studies from the Atlantic, Pacific, and the Mediterranean, while including many chapters that deal with Greek islands. Given the target audience of this journal, this review will confine itself to the latter.

In chapter 2, entitled "Fragmented Memories," Hazal Papuccular discusses World War II memories of the Turkish-speaking Muslim communities of Rhodes and Kos and contrasts these traditions with those of the Greek Orthodox and Jewish communities. As owners of much of the prime agricultural land, Muslims fared better than other confessional communities when it came to food access. They also acknowledged that given their association with a neutral power (Turkey), the Axis occupiers treated them less harshly than the Greeks and, needless to say, the Jews. Of course, the Muslim communities did suffer wartime privations, but their experience could not be ascribed any political meaning. While the few Jewish survivors could erect a Holocaust memorial in Rhodes's Old City, and Greeks could claim that the war led to independence, for the Turks, the war resulted in Greek rule, leaving them nothing to commemorate or celebrate (48).

The following chapter, by Elena Mamoulaki, examines the relations between the people of Ikaria and the large political prisoner population interred [End Page 250] on the island during the Greek Civil War. Mamoulaki tries to explain why locals retained positive memories of those times, especially as prisoner numbers equaled that of the indigenous population. Looking deep into Ikarian tradition, she notes the prominence given in local lore of an egalitarian ethos and a history of autonomy, which fostered empathy for the prisoners as victims of state persecution. In being kind to the prisoners—a kindness which prisoners have corroborated—Ikarians also believed they were expressing their characteristic hospitality. Rather than viewing the mass internment as an embarrassment, they believed the experience exhibited their high moral worth. However, as those who remember the Civil War years pass away, there is "an increased need for a stable keeper and guarantor of a stable memory" (69); hence, memorializing practices are becoming more institutionalized. Nota Pantzou writes more broadly about the political prisoners in chapter 13, and the vast number of Aegean islands that hosted internment camps. Pantzou makes the point that islands, while commonly associated with vacationing, used to be lands of cruelty. Aside...