Exploring the Palestinian side of my family

Images of a Jerusalem Life

If a picture is worth a thousand words, here are 18,000 words (plus change) – one K for each of the candles my mother would have blown out on her last birthday in her native land. Seventy years ago to the day, Anna Kassotou turned 18 . Given how things had shaped up in Jerusalem in the week preceding her birthday, I doubt there were many festivities planned for the day of her entry into adulthood.

I will then let these images be a celebration of her life in her beloved city.

Anna Kassotou was born in Jerusalem on 11 Jan 1930. Her father was Emmanuel (Manolis) Kassotis, a Greek citizen from the island of Samos who went to Jerusalem when his uncle, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Damianos I, took him under his wing. Her mother was Paraskevi (Vitsa) Schtakleff, a second-generation Jerusalemite whose father hailed from the Balkans and her mother was a Greek actress from Asia Minor. Anna was born somewhere in the Greek Colony. When she was about three, the family moved to the house her father had purchased in Katamon, only a block or two away from the Greek Orthodox church of St Simeon.

1/ Baby Anna Kassotou

The only baby picture I have of hers, it was taken by the well-known Palestinian photographer David (Daoud) Abdo, who was also a relative, having married into the Schtakleff family.

2/ Anna & Vasso Kassotou

Most certainly taken on the same day as no. 1 at Daoud Abdo’s studio, in this photograph mum is pictured with her eldest sister, Vasso, six years her senior, and who later in life mum called “my rock“.

3/ Anna Kassotou & Feely Gaitanopoulou
Katamon, Jerusalem – date unknown

Her first cousins (their mothers were sisters) Feely and Jenny Gaitanopoulou were amongst her closest friends. Pictured here in Katamon with Feely, the eldest and closest in age to mum, in front of the house the Gaitanopoulos rented in the lower part of Katamon and where the Kassotis took shelter for the last couple of months of their life in Jerusalem before fleeing the war.

4/ Anna Kassotou & Jenny Gaitanopoulou
Katamon, Jerusalem – date unknown

With Jenny, the younger of the Gaitanopoulou sisters. This photograph posed a great challenge for me when I first tried to identify its location. Eventually I figured it out. The building behind the house with the round balcony was the Louisidis property in Abdeen circle.

5/ Feely & Jenny Gaitanopoulou and Anna & Mary Kassotou
Katamon, Jerusalem – date unknown

The four cousins, this time with the addition of mum’s younger sister, Mary (far right) in the same street, on the wall of what was intended to be the Lebanese Consulate.

6/ Anna at Breij
ca. 1946

Mum had the fondest memories of Breij (Al-Bureij, which in Greek they called Bretz), an estate her father managed having leased it from the Patriarchate, some dozen miles south-west of Jerusalem. That’s where this photograph was taken probably around 1946 as she said she was 16 at the time. And no, she did not smoke nor was this her typical mode of dressing! I remember her telling me it was a joke or perhaps carnival time…

7/ Anna as a Girl Guide
ca. 1946

Being in the Girl Guides was a large and important part of her life in Jerusalem as Guiding and Scouting was for many young people of the Greek community. I’m guessing she was about the same age as in the previous photo.

8/ Anna at the Greek Club
25 March 1946

The Greek Club of Jerusalem was another very big part of the life of the Kassotis and the rest of the community, I could write a book about all the stories I’ve heard over the years about the Club (Λέσχη). In fact, I think I might!

9/ Anna at the Greek Club
25 March 1946

Anna, at the Greek Club again, in her traditional costume of the island of Samos, her father’s birth place. One of the two men behind her was, I believe, one of her teachers at the Greek Gymnasium (Chronopoulos?)

10/ Dancing at the Greek Club
25 March 1946

The Greek Club is where the community would celebrate all occasions and dancing was invariably on the agenda. Here the girls are doing some folkloric dancing as part of the celebrations for Greek Independence Day, 25 March 1946. Mum is second from left.

11/ Feely and Anna outside the Greek Club
25 March 1946

Like the previous photos (nos. 8 – 10) this too is part of the celebrations for Greek Independence Day. Mum and her cousin Feely are leading the procession of the Greek flag outside the Greek Club, (In fact, mum had marked this one as 1945 but both she and everybody else look identical to the previous photos so I’m calling it 1946, too.)

12/ Greek girls of Jerusalem in traditional costumes
Greek Club, Jerusalem – 1946

Mum is on the far right of the bottom row. Her sister Vasso is in the middle of the top row.

13/ The wedding of Nicolas (Colia) Schtakleff and Dianne Kalandranis
Jerusalem, 1944 (or 1946)

Colia was Yiayia Vitsa’s youngest brother. His first marriage to Dianne Kalandranis took place, according to Colia, in 1944 although mum has this photo marked as 1946. No matter. What makes this photo precious is that it includes so many members of the family.
From left to right:

  • Bottom row: Anna Kassotou, Mary Kassotou, Jenny Gaitanopoulou, Feely Gaitanopoulou. (And there’s a swirling kid on the far left who was too fast for the camera to capture!)
  • First row standing: Vitsa Kassotou (Anna’s mother); Effie Schtakleff (née Sfaelou, wife of Nando Schtakleff); Marika Gaitanopoulou (née Schtakleff, sister of the groom); Vasso Kassotou (mum’s eldest sister); the bride; the groom; Vassilis Schtakleff (brother of the groom’s father); Manolis Kassotis (Anna’s father)
  • Back row: Nando Schtakleff (brother of the groom); unknown; unknown priest; one of the Katamon workers (I think her name was Fatima); Athena Schtakleff (née Katsinopoulou, wife of Coca Schtakleff); Coca Schtakleff (brother of the groom); John Schtakleff (father of the groom and Anna’s grandfather); unknown priest.
  • Standing on the wall: unknown man standing on the left, Nimer & Afro Ghanem on the right (Afro was Athena’s sister)

14/ Anna in Jerusalem ca. 1947

15/ Anna in Jerusalem ca. 1947

Probably taken on the same day and by the same photographer as no. 14.

16/ Anna’s Greek passport

Judging by the date and the countries for which it was valid, it was most likely issued for her holiday trip to Cyprus. The Gaitanopoulos would often go to Cyprus on holiday and one year they invited mum to join them. The visa was issued by the Government of Palestine on 1 Aug 1947 and was valid “for a single journey”. She had fond memories of that trip. Little did she know at the time that the following year she’d find herself in Cyprus again but this time as a refugee.

17/ Anna Kassotou, Shukri Harami & Renée Theodory-Salti
at Al-Ummah School

Mum finished the Greek high school and then went to Jerusalem Girls’ College so she could also get an English education. But by the end of 1947, the hostilities in Jerusalem made it physically dangerous to reach the school. The head of Al-Ummah school which was located in Upper Baq’a, where things were calmer, offered places to all students who could not access their schools. So mum went there for the last few months of her Jerusalem life and graduated.

After mum’s death in 2016, as I was sifting through her stuff, I found her graduation certificate along with a letter from JGC confirming that she could not complete her studies there because of the “disturbed conditions in Jerusalem”.

18/ Anna, Renée and… the lads of Al-Ummah!

Yes, mum was quite popular with the boys! And Renée was very dear to her heart till the very end of her life. I recently found out that the photo was taken by Renée’s cousin, Teddy Theodory. I have yet to identify who the boys are.

Happy Birthday, mum! Rest in peace… ❖


  1. Ελλη Λουιζιδου Σαββιδου

    Ωραιες φωτογραφιες και ωραιες αναμνησεις!!!!

    • MP

      Ευχαριστώ πολύ!

  2. Aglaitsa

    Thank you for sharing Marina. I really enjoyed reading it. The photos are so nice – tell so much.
    You did a lot of wonderful work, collecting your family’s information and putting it together so nicely!

    • MP

      Greatly appreciated, Aglaitsa!

  3. Aristotelis Nicolaides

    Congratulations for undertaking this task. I enjoyed reading it as it revived in me a lot of memories. Your mother was only two years older than me but we grew up in the same circles and schools . Aristotle Nicolaides 9/1/31 born in Jerusalem

    • Marina Parisinou

      Many thanks for your kind words, Ari! Is your date of birth 1 Sep or 9 Jan? Just curious because my mother was born 11 Jan 1930