National Geographic : 1956 Jan
76 New Jersey Honors Greek Victims of a Massacre To perpetuate the name of a village whose citizens were slain by the Ger mans in World War II, a veterans' housing unit in Atlantic City called itself Distomo. The plaque, based on early reports, exaggerates the number of dead. The authors found the original community restored, largely through U. S. aid. Jean Shor here completes a Distomo-to-Distomo pilgrimage. Professor Underwood told us the strange story of the misfortunes which befell the man responsible for so much beauty. "Metochita was a humanist, a scholar, a poet and a businessman, as well as a public official. He was also very pious. He rebuilt this church shortly after 1300 and hired the greatest artists of the time to decorate it. "In the civil war between Andronicus II and Andronicus III, he remained loyal to Andronicus II. Andronicus III won and exiled Metochita. "Soon afterward, broken in health and pen niless, he was allowed to return to Constan tinople. He came straight here and entered the monastery as a simple monk. And here, amid the beauty for which he was responsible, he died." Workmen are still cleaning the mosaics and frescoes, but within a year or two, Professor Underwood hopes, the work will be com pleted and the entire building opened to the public. George could have stayed in Istanbul for ever, among the relics of his beloved Byzan tium, but Jean and I had more traveling to do in Europe. It was months before we re turned to the United States. There we kept a promise we had made to ourselves: we visited the American Distomo. It is not really a town, but a veterans' housing project within the city limits of At lantic City, New Jer sey. The gardens are full of flowers and the yards are full of chil dren. A simple bronze plate on a slab of rough-hewn granite tells the story of the original Distomo-ex aggerates it more than a little, it is true. While we were read ing the inscription, we were approached by a tall young man who told us he had lived in the project since it was given its name in 1946. "It was really a mistake, naming this place Distomo," he said. "The first newspaper stories said the Greek village had been de stroyed. We didn't want the name to die, so we adopted it. But the other village still exists. So now there are two Distomos." We told him of our experience. We de scribed the friendly, generous, and grateful people of Distomo, Greece. The resident of Distomo, New Jersey, smiled when we fin ished. "I guess it wasn't a mistake after all," he said. "If something of the spirit of those people has taken root here, we're better off for it. The world can't have too many places like that one." We agreed.