Family survived World War II by trading wine

By Don McAlavy, CNJ columnist

We’ve had at least three prominent Greek families in Clovis for the last 60-70 years — the Rallis, Augustino and Asimos families. They were all in the restaurant business. Many of us may not have understood their language, but we understood their good food.

This is the how the Asimos family lived through World War II in Nazi-occupied Greece, and how they managed to get to Clovis, according to family accounts.

Tom Asimos’ father died in 1904, leaving the family penniless. An uncle in America heard of the death so he offered Tom (originally Asimoscopolous), age 10, employment in America. Tom immigrated alone to Brooklyn, N.Y., to become a bus boy in a restaurant. He sent money home each month to his mother.

Between 1920 and 1927, Tom owned a restaurant in South Carolina. In 1927 he was in Denison, Texas, where he became an American citizen and his name was shortened to Asimos.

In 1929, Tom was co-owner of a restaurant and decided he’d return to Greece to find a wife. On April 29, 1929, Katina “Kate” Triggas became Tom’s bride. Kate gave birth to two sons, Vasillios “Bill” and Demetrios “Jim” and one daughter, Vivian.

In 1936, Tom left for America again, unaware he would never see Greece again. He left his family behind because he wanted his children to be raised as Greeks.

World War II began in Greece when the Italians invaded Athens and took everyone’s valuables. Four Italian soldiers who were not invited shared Kate’s home. Hundreds of people died in the streets from hunger, even in Amfissa, Greece, where Kate moved her family to be close to her mother and brother. Dump trucks would come to pick up the dead.

The Nazis came into Greece and Kate’s oldest son Bill was kidnapped when it was learned his father was an American. Fortunately, some of the German soldiers who lived in the home with the Asimos family aided in the release of Bill.
They lived in a constant state of fear for five years. They managed to stay alive with Kate’s mother and brother by trading wine and olive oil – kept in stored barrels hidden in the basement — for food.

In mid-July of 1945, Kate received a Red Cross telegram. It came from Clovis. It said Tom Asimos was alive and had prepared papers for his family to come to America. The war was over.

The family boarded a ship, which traveled to Italy, France, Egypt and, finally, to New Jersey.

“Having lived five years with lights out, the drive from New Jersey to New York City was the most exciting ride we had ever taken, not to mention that we were on our way to meet our father for the first time in seven years,” said Vivian Asimos. “Mother pointed out a little middle-aged man as our father. We didn’t even now what he looked like!”
I’ll continue the story next week.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:
dmcalavy@telescopelab.com