Only a few monts passed since they had taken me to the Aegean region in the reserve troops - a detachment medical assistant, with a rank of a non-commissioned officer. Our Second Labour detachment was located in the village of Maistro, surrounded by olive groves, near Dedeagach.
It was the summer of 1944. St Peter’s day was approaching. I was homesick and the feeling was leading me to the village where I had left a woman and several children. There it was haymaking time now. High in the mountains the mornings are cool. The sky in the east fades and preaches a hot day. From morning till night I turn my scythe. Before my eyes are sheaf after a sheaf of grass. The grass wet from the dew shines in the sun and the aroma of the forest herbs smells in the air. The mowing wants a man’s hand. I hope they can mow up the hay.
Such thoughts were going in my head because the picture in the Aegean is quite different. Summer was hot and stuffy. Swarms of mosquitoes were drifting through the air. At night time we set fires of manure around the sleeping quarters to protect us from them. There were many malaria patients.
The area around Dedeagach was full of German troops who were waiting for landing. So the task of our labor detachment was to build bunkers, underground shelters and artillery nests.
One day, at the office of the company commander, a Greek woman came - about 35 years old, tall, thin, with a black headscarf. She was crying and saying something to the captain as she kept looking at me. Captain Gerasimov, a reserve officer with already grey hair, was from Stanimaka and knew Greek well.
He turned to me and said,
“Popov, this woman’s husband was killed by the Germans. She has four children sick of malaria.Can you help her?
“Captain,” I said, “we are forbidden to help the Greek population. You know how I count the ampoules.”
“I’ll let you decide what to do,” said Captain Gerasimov. “Take your time to think. The risk is great.”
The gruesome eyes of this prematurely aged woman moved me because I had left my wife alone with six little children in my village.
I decided the very same day to meet the German medical assistant responsible for the sanitary warehouse. I knew his weakness - to drink mastic brendy at the village pub.
I went there and found the German with a glass of mastic brendy. I greeted him and he said hello. I ordered half a litre of mastika brendy and sat down with him. The medical assistant knew a little Bulgarian. I complained to him that I had many sick soldiers, and I do not have enough injections against malaria.
Under the influence of the mastic brendy or out of humanity? I did not understand.
He got out of the table and took me to the sanitary warehouse. He filled my pockets with ampoules.
In the evening, the Greek woman came again to the office. The captain looked at me, expecting an answer.
“I decided to help,” I said, “We are humans!”
Captain Gerasimov gripped my hand and said,
“Beware of the German sentinels! Follow the woman from a distance.”
I walked fifty paces behind her. The late afternoon sun had spread its long shadows on the curving streets of this quiet, as if a deserted stone village. From the White Sea, the evening breeze carried a salty odor of iodine and algae.
The woman turned to a narrow cobblestone street. I ran after her. I noticed at the bottom of the street two German sentinels. At that time, the Greek woman opened a wooden door and seemed to sink into the courtyard covered with box-trees and oleanders in a small, shabby house.
I kept calm. I approached the soldiers who were talking with each other. I greeted them and passed by. After a while I turned around - I saw the soldiers were gone. I went back, looked around and stepped into the house.
The Greek woman led me into a smoky low room - damp and dark. From the only window a pale light was coming into the room. On the wooden bed, wrapped with rag-carpet four children were lying, pale and exhausted from the disease. I touched their forehead - they were burning with fever. It was a convenient moment to treat the malaria. I took a syringe and ampoules with quinine and quinoplasmin. I gave them injections.
The mother looked at me with gratitude and spoke to me, but I did not understand her words. She took a few drachmas and put them in my hands. I refused.
I was already on the street and just passed the house when there was another couple of German guards. As soon as they noticed that I was with medical signs on the jacket, one of the soldier immediately took off his sub-machine gun and directed it into my chest. I stiffened all over. The other man hurriedly called, “Password, password!”
I was frightened and forgot everything. The Germans gave us a different password every morning. The muzzle of the German sub-machine gun had leaned against my chest, and the more and more nervous: “Password, password!” was getting to my ears.
“Thank God I remembered the password “Ungevent”. Pale, I uttered it. The German dropped the sub-machine gun and I sighed with relief. As long as I’m alive I will not forget the word “Ungevent” because it saved my life.
People started looking for me to cure other sick children. I helped as much as I could.
I was sorry for the hungry children. They often hung around our dining room, holding empty tin cans in their hands and waited for food.
4 September 1944 came. An order was issued immediately to leave Greece. We had to go on foot to Bulgaria through the Makaza Pass.
Before I left the village of Maistro, I was surrounded by the children I had cured from malaria. Some of them caught my hands, the younger ones were pulling me on my pants and waving their hands with good-bye. That was enough to make my way home easier.