- Daddy’s War: Greek American Stories by Irene Kacandes
It took Irene Kacandes more than 40 years to be able to tackle her father’s “War Experiences,” which had haunted her childhood. Loose comments, the meanings of which could not be grasped, stories whispered about or overheard in adults’ conversations imposed silence: to Irene and her siblings they were “like unwelcome relatives, preventing our family from living completely in the present” (1). John Kacandes, Irene’s father, was a Greek American boy who had returned to Greece with his mother and siblings in 1937. When the war broke out, he was just 11 years old. The family became trapped inside Greece, deprived of resources for their survival; they returned to the United States only at the end of 1945. As the oldest child, John was burdened with the responsibility to care for his family’s survival, an experience that made him grow up too quickly and left him with deep scars, which he was unable to communicate to his family later in life. What he was able to communicate over the years were snippets of a [End Page 193] fragmented memory and different stories, many of which, however, were incompatible with the historical record.
Irene Kacandes and her siblings are not alone in grappling with their parents’ fragmented memories. They belong to the second generation of World War II survivors, for whom the incomplete and fragmentary transmission of memories from one generation to the next is often a very painful and traumatic experience. Marianne Hirsch, a close colleague of the author’s at Dartmouth College, first coined the term “postmemory” for this experience in relation to the children of Holocaust survivors. According to Hirsch, “postmemory is a powerful and very particular form of memory precisely because its connection to its object or source is mediated not through recollection but through an imaginative investment and creation” (Kacandes, 2009, 244). For Irene Kacandes this imaginative investment in her father’s “War Experiences” during early childhood took the form of almost personified feelings linked to fantasies about her father’s family being “trapped, abandoned, cheated, terrified, betrayed, starved” (1).
Daddy’s War is a multilayered book. At one level, it recounts the story of the author’s paternal family from its resettlement in Central Greece in 1937 until its return to the United States in 1945, with emphasis on the war years. This story tells of her father attending a private school in Athens, his return to his family in Itea when the war broke out, his probably short-lived involvement with a local resistance group, his struggle to keep the family alive (selling fish in mountain villages, working for the Italians on back-breaking road construction, selling cigarettes in Athens), the death of his grandparents, probably from starvation, and his mother’s illness. During the battle of Athens, December 1944, John Kacandes, now 15 years old, was in Athens, and was eventually recruited by the British to fight against ELAS. In February 1945 he moved to Patras to continue fighting the communists. Finally he was recruited by the British as a service boy until the family’s repatriation in October 1945. One crucial episode in John Kacandes’s memory is the story of his arrest by the Germans, having been mistaken for a Jew because of his having been circumcised in an American hospital at the time of his birth, his transfer to a concentration camp, either in Northern Greece or in Yugoslavia, his alleged liberation by a royalist resistance organization, and his adventurous return to Central Greece. However, according to the author’s reconstruction of events, this story is most probably invented, in part or in whole, and was introduced into his memory only during the 1970s, under the impact of the public discourse on the Holocaust in the United States.
At another level, the book is an account of the process that led the author to deal with her own “postmemories” and transform the “ugly beings” of...