Born Anastasia Koutropoulos in 1919 near Ordu, a city on the Black Sea then under Ottoman rule, Tasula Macrides was part of the diaspora of Pontic Greeks, an ethnic group that traditionally lived in that area. During and after World War I, the Ottomans carried out genocidal policies against both Armenians and Pontic Greeks. At age three, Tasula was part of the “population exchange” whereby Turks in mainland Greece were exchanged for the one and a half million Pontic Greeks living in northeastern Turkey. In Greece she lived through the Nazi occupation and the Greek Civil War. In 1947, she immigrated to Boston where she raised a family in Roslindale and worked as a seamstress in women’s apparel. This except is from her life story, as she told it to a family member in the 1990s:
Forced marches and exile were commonly imposed on Pontic Greeks by the Turkish authorities. The men were separated from the women and children and marched ‘en masse’ into the mountainous regions where survival was difficult. Often the women and children had a similar fate or, if they were more fortunate, they were marched to other distant villages. Such was the case with Yannis Koutropoulos and his wife Julianna Kouthouris, Tasula’s parents, sometime around 1917.
While Yannis was exiled, Julianna and her four children were marched to a village called Niksar. Finding a place to stay was not easy for Julianna. One day she met a Greek woman. She was reluctant to take in a woman with four young children, but Julianna persisted, telling the woman, ‘You must take us because you have the same name as my mother’. Sometime in late November 1918 Yiannis visited for a short time his wife and children and it was during this visit that Tasula was conceived. In the summer of 1919 Julianna was allowed to return to Ordu on foot with her children. They crossed the mountains north, to the coast at Unye, and then headed east along the coastal road towards Ordu, but at Fatsa Julianna went into labor and Anastasia, the last of her children, was born on 1 September 1919. Yannis and the men who had survived their ordeals were also allowed to return home. However, he had been severely weakened and died a year and some months after Tasula’s birth.
In 1922, Tasula, barely three years old, left with her mother and siblings for Greece as part of the exchange of populations. They sailed to the island of Lefkas, near Corfu. Tasula did not remember much from that time in her life. She fell ill with chicken pox and was sent into quarantine. She does remember that the balconies of the houses were so close that she could jump from one to the other. Shortly after, Tasula moved with her mother to Piraeus, where relatives lived. There she fell ill again and for a time was unable to walk and was carried everywhere on other people’s shoulders.
When she was about nine years old, she and one brother were sent alone to Xanthi in Thrace, on the mainland, just north of the island of Thassos, where they began to attend school in an orphanage.
With the outbreak of World War II, her mother took Tasula back to Piraeus. Within a couple of days of their arrival there was, one night, an incredible explosion in the harbor. A ship, evidently loaded with munition, was bombed by a German plane. The explosion destroyed many of the homes around the harbor and set off terrible fires that burned for days in the neighborhood. Tasula was sleeping with relatives on mattresses on the floor. When they heard the first explosion, everyone ran to the kitchen to hide under the table. With the subsequent blasts, the doors and windows of the house were blown inwards, with parts of a window and shards of glass landing on the mattresses where they had been sleeping moments before. Tasula remembered seeing the night sky light up as if it were day, with fires raging everywhere and countless bits of paper floating in the air as in a ticker tape parade. The streets were crowded with people screaming and fleeing towards Athens. Tasula’s family headed towards their aunt Jenovepha’s house [in Athens] walking all night and reaching the house the following morning. There they stayed for a couple of days until they found a single room to rent that became Tasula’s family home for much of the war.
During the early days of the invasion of Greece by the Germans, Tasula witnessed the army parading down Syngrou Avenue, marching proudly with heads held high. She remarked that years later she witnessed their departure, then with heads lowered. The early days of the occupation were filled with fear and uncertainty. She recalled walking through the deserted streets. There were bodies lying in different positions along the avenue. The German soldiers frequently knocked on doors at night and evacuated whole neighborhoods; the neighborhood where Tasula and her family lived was no exception. One night they were ordered out and marched to the square of Nea Smyrni. There a local Greek, forced to turn informant, was led by Gestapo officers along the rows of assembled families, his identity hidden by a mask. One by one he picked out supposed ‘rebels’ who were promptly marched off to another area. Those remaining heard the machine gun fire and shortly afterward saw a truck drive by with the legs of the executed hanging out from the back.
By 1941 conditions for the local population had grown desperate, with severe food shortages, and people began to starve. It was at this time that Tasula’s mother decided to move north to Katerini to stay with Tasula’s older sister. So, in the early winter of 1941, Tasula and her mother and brother set out. Because travel was becoming so restricted with the occupation they could only find a standing space for Tasula on a truck going that way. The roads were in poor condition with the winter weather, and the truck arrived no further than the foothills northwest of Mount Olympus. From there the only way to Katerini, 22 miles away, was to walk.
Tasula and a small group started out in the snow and rain. Somehow Tasula became separated from the others and had to continue alone trudging through the mud, her canvas-covered wooden clogs sticking with every step; the canvas coverings completely ripped, the sleet and rain hit her face like ‘frozen slivers of glass’. The shoes then useless, she continued on to Katerini in her stockings, carrying the shoes in her bare hands, through the mud and freezing rain, with sinking spirits and frostbitten hands and feet. She survived her ordeal, and three days later, her mother and brother were able to join her. The family remained in Katerini until the end of the Nazi occupation. In 1946 the Civil War broke out, and a year later Tasula left for the United States at the invitation of an uncle. A year later her marriage to George Macrides was arranged. Her family and his had known each other in Asia Minor and were from the same town, Ordu.