Angelo Haros (Ευἀγγελος Χαριλάου), my papou, was born in 1900 in the city of Constantinople (today knows as Istanbul, Turkey) and moved early as a child where he grew up living with his family in the city of Argyrokastro in what Greeks know as “Northern Epirus” (today Gjirokastër, Albania), also the birthplace of Albanian Communist leader Enver Hoxha in 1908.
According to shipping manifests I was able to view at EllisIsland.org, he arrived in America in 1923, at the age of 23, (which is how he always gave dates when speaking of his own life history) and went to live in Waterville, ME. While in Waterville he worked, as most immigrants did, in the textile mills along the river, even living in a mill-owned boarding house with several other men. In 2008 I was blessed to travel to Waterville in search of his first American address. I found no building at that location, but after inquiring at the town Assessor’s Office, I was given a copy of the property tax files WITH A PICTURE from, if you can believe it 1922. Though the boarding house was gone, I was able to somehow connect to my papou’s first home thanks to the Assessor’s meticulous files. (As an aside, while investigating Waterville, ME, I can across the name of a “famous” Greek who went to Colby College in Waterville, the current Metropolitan of Pittsburgh, His Eminence Metropolitan SAVAS.)
After living is Waterville for only a few years, my papou returned to Argyrokastron. According to my father, Waterville was too cold. After being married to my yiayia (that’s Greek for grandmother) and having two children, my two aunts, the family returned again to America, this time settling in Chicago where my father was born in 1939. I laughed when my father said Waterville was too cold, because I couldn’t imagine Chicago was any warmer. I don’t suspect, though, that cold was the only reason he settled in Chicago.
There were two things about my papou my father has shared with me that helped fill in the blanks. When my papou arrived in Maine he was told they didn’t “like Greeks” so he changed his name from Harilou to Haros, also a common habit of Greek immigrants. While back home in Argyrokastron, war was rampaging the region among Greeks, Albanians, Germans, and Italians. When he arrived back in America, I imagine living among the large Greek population of Chicago was comforting to him and the family. My father also shared memories of his father hosting several men in secret in their home in Chicago. These men were discussing how they could assist the freedom efforts of the Greeks in Northern Epirus. For his efforts to assist the Greeks in Albania, he was honored by Patriarch Athenagoras, but was also not “free” to return to his homeland.
He spent the remainder of his life dedicated to his family and his Church making Chicago and America his home. He had a deep love for his homeland, but he never returned as the Communist Party held tight control over the only officially declared atheist nation in the world. He fell asleep in the Lord in 1984, at the age of 84, only 7 years before the fall of communism and the restoration of freedom and the Orthodox Church to his homeland.
When I read stories of the restoration and expansion of the Church in Albania I am comforted and smile when I think of how proud my papou would be to hear of the heroism of today’s freedom fighters such as Archbishop Anastasios of Albania who has led the Orthodox Church’s revival throughout Albania following the collapse of Communism.
Freedom is a gift from God and must be defended at all times. Learning my papou’s story helps me understand this. When I celebrate “OXI Day” this Sunday, the day the Greeks refused to “hand Greece over to the Axis Forces” of Hilter’s Nazi Party, I will fondly think of my papou, the first freedom fighter I ever knew.