Note – 7 Jan 2024: Not all of the information here is correct—as I’ve come to find out. For an updated, more accurate account of the Semiramis explosion, please see my later blog post: Semiramis Revisited.
It was a dark and stormy night. No, it truly was! “Torrential rain, accompanied by thunder and lightning fell in Jerusalem all Sunday night”, wrote The Palestine Post on 6 Jan 1948 noting that the belfry of the Dormition Abbey had been struck by lightning and windows had been broken. “Throughout the night there was heavy rain and one thunder-clap at 3.50 a.m. awakened many persons in all parts of the city.”
One of the things I tried and failed to do last year was find the place where Nouna Marika and her family lived. Nouna in Greek means godmother. Marika Schtakleff was my grandmother’s sister and godmother to my mother. We all called her Nouna Marika. She was married to Efthymios Gaitanopoulos, another Jerusalemite, and had two daughters, Feely and Jenny—mum’s first cousins. Feely now lives in Canada, Jenny in Cyprus. (I realise that at some point I’ll have to add a family tree to this blog but I think so far you can follow me.)
Their home, a rented flat in a quadruplex in the lower part of Katamon, was not too far from the Kassotis (Mum’s) house but far enough to provide a somewhat safer haven when the “troubles” reached their back yard. The Kassotis house was two doors up from the small, Christian-owned Semiramis Hotel which, in the dead of night of 5 January 1948, was bombed by the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organisation that grew up to be the Israeli army. The bombing, in addition to killing 24 people (including members of the Lorenzo family—the owners*—and the Spanish consul), had the desired effect: people got scared and started vacating the area.