S. Peroulakis: A unique story similar to thousands of others

 

In October 1909, at the age of 19, Stelios Peroulakis was taking the path of migration, leaving behind his small village in Chania, Vatolakkos, with destination to the US. His name is included in the lists of Ellis Island, the busiest point of immigrants' entry to the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – cramped and misspelled among millions of others.

For 16 years he worked in New York's mines with no insurance on the agreement that his stamps would be added to his salary. When he first returned to his village, in 1925, he had managed to build a considerable nest egg, a small sack of dollars that he guarded at the cost of his sleep during his long trip by boat.

In the short time he spent at the village, he paved the way for his repatriation, one year later. He got engaged to Thodoritsa Tsakonaki, bought land, as well as two stone buildings in the neighbourhood of Giatroudania or Xerokampi, close to the village square, built by a well-off Turkish while Crete was under Ottoman occupation: A two-storey house, relatively spacious for its time, and the fabrica, right next to it – as the olive oil factories were once called in Crete.

In less than a year since his return, his first daughter was born, Katerina, soon followed by Pigi and Sophia. Like his Turkish predecessor, he lived with his wife and daughters at the two-storey house and produced their oil at the fabrica. At the oven in the yard they baked their bread, while in the small grape-stomp tanker next to it they made their wine. But the time of undisturbed happiness wasn't meant to last. As a result of gangrene caused by a wound in his foot, he had a leg amputated.

However, most life-changing was the misfortune he experienced together with his entire generation. First world war, hardships and migration were followed by the Nazi occupation that across Greece and particularly in Crete would come up against vigorous resistance. As a response, Nazis' patrols around the villages multiplied, partisans' hunting intensified, mass executions increased.

At the dawn of the 1st of August 1941, coming across a German patrol on his way to water his farms, Stelios Peroulakis was arrested and executed a few hours later together with 108 fellow villagers. He usually took his oldest daughter along to the farms for some help, but on that day he would start working earlier and he had decided not to wake her up.

After Ellis Island's lists, the marble monument erected at the neighbouring village of Alikianos in memory of the victims of Nazi atrocities meant to be the last "list" with Stelios Peroulakis' name – once again among many others.

Reviving the daily life of the past generations in Cretan villages, the Olive and Oil Museum is the special tribute that the family of Stelios Peroulakis wanted to pay to him and to all those whose life was violently interrupted by History.

 

Olive & Oil Museum: How we got to now

 

The Olive and Oil Museum is housed in the fabrica, the 18th-century olive oil factory that Stelios Peroulakis bought on his return to Vatolakkos. He bequeathed this wonderful building to his eldest daughter, Katerina, who together with her husband, Kostis Dermitzakis, used it for many years to produce their oil. When the technology of fabrica became obsolete and the modern oil factories prevailed, the fabrica was abandoned. Gradually the roof started to crumble and the building was left unprotected against the rain.

Nevertheless, the fabrica managed to cover the remaining distance to the next generation of owners, Eleftheria Dermitzaki-Kazakou, and her brother, Dimitris Dermitzakis. When in 1997 the two siblings sought to ensure the structural integrity of the building once and for all, they were faced with a procedure which was much more complex than they thought. But enjoying their fellow villagers' full support, they decided to take all the necessary steps.

Being the only surviving building from the pre-industrial times in the Prefecture of Chania, the fabrica was officially listed as a monument by the Department of Byzantine Antiquities of the Greek Ministry of Culture. Its refurbishment was included in the EU Rural Development Program (LEADER), which covered part of its costs. The owners' intention was to bring the fabrica back to its original form and turn it into a museum. It took them years to reassemble its machinery, while they had already gathered a small collection of old objects of daily life in Cretan villages.

During the refurbishment of the building and since its reopening on 14 July 2008, the folklore collection keeps expanding thanks to its owners' dedication but also the generous offers of their friends and fellow villagers who regard the Olive and Oil Museum as an ideal place for sharing valuable local traditions and cherished family memories.

 

 

 

Visit info
 

The Olive and Oil Museum is located approximately 15 km southwest of Chania, in the village of Vatolakkos.

 

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DERMITZAKI FOLKLORE COLLECTION  |  2015

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