#41: White Russians (1924)

"Among our nearest neighbors was a camp of 600 White Russians, exiles like ourselves. There was a Russian restaurant, and for a time we all, students and teachers, took our meals there. The whole Charilaos section had been a French military hospital camp, with barrack-like buildings in rows of uniform size and design. Most of these one-story hospital wards were occupied by families now, but we succeeded in renting one and then another. The first became our first "hostel", with a long dormitory in one end and dining tables in the other. The second barrack building, when we obtained it, was used for our Self-Help Shop. Carpentry, largely for school needs, shoe-making, gardening, with grading, tree-planting, building roads and the like, on our grounds, furnished wholesome work to the students, helped them pay school bills, and helped build a school home. We were fortunate in having good water from the mountains, electric light, and tram service to our gates from the first day.

It was cold that winter in Macedonia, on about the latitude of New York City. I roomed in Hotel Majestic and never in my life suffered more with the cold. There was never a spark of fire in my room or in any place accessible in the hotel, except in one little stove in the dining room on Sunday mornings. For nearly 500 miles the banks and bluffs of the Vardar river seemed to act as a flume from the North, and bring the icy winds from the peaks and snow fields of the Scardus Mountains in the mid-Balkans down to our city at the river mouth on the sea shore. There were the coils and parts of a heating plant standing in the hotel corridors, but there were no workmen available to set them up and start the heating system all that winter. Many refugees dropped down of an evening and did not get up the next morning. But the Government served rations just as far as its slender resources could be extended, and widowed mothers often said they had not bread enough to satisfy hunger, and yet their greatest desire was an education for their sons who would thereby escape from street Arab conditions and soon become bread-winners. I never knew what it was to go "over the top" on a single double-quick charge, but by March we seemed to have climbed to the level of the first plateau or tableland, and to be moving along fairly steadily with about 50 students and a good teaching staff. There was no feeling of defeatism at any point or on any line.

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Our Russian neighbors were in a pitiable condition of poverty, and one day they came to me saying that their teacher of English had left the city. They had no worthy salary to offer another instructor, but they would give all they could; were we able to supply them with a teacher twice a week? Miss Robins consented to undertake the service, asking no additional pay and asking no reduction of her regular duties. A Russian student volunteered to help as translator, and almost the whole Russian camp crowded in to learn a few words of English. As a return favor their choir sometimes came of a Sunday and gave us a sacred concert. The singers were of all possible ages and descriptions and robes, from shirtsleeves and boots to tattered army uniforms, and with the cheapest possible dresses for the girls; but they could sing,--sing the music of their great church heritage: they were Russians!"

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