RARE ARCHIVES OF SPINALONGA

Copyrights: Anna Giakoumaki

{Anna Giakoumaki (author/publisher), Maria Lazaridou (translator), Donald Morgan Nielsen (Editor/Proofreading)}

Images 1 & 2.

O.G.G.C.S., Year E’, 1903, pp. 419 & 420, Decree on the internal operation of the leper colony. In 1901, the Cretan State passed Law 375 “Law on the Isolation of Lepers” (O.G.G.C.S., Year B’, p.44, 12 July 1901), declaring that lepers should be isolated somewhere, without proposing a specific location. The leper colony of Spinalonga was established in 1903, following a decree of the newly established Cretan State (1900-1913) signed by Eleftherios Venizelos. Law 463 “Law on the Settlement of the Lepers of Crete” (O.G.G.C.S., Year C’, p. 25, 7 June 1903) identified Spinalonga as the place where the lepers of Crete were to be settled.

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Laws and Decrees passed prior to the “Decree on the internal operation of the leper colony” were as follows:

a) Law 375/1901, which stated that the lepers had to be isolated somewhere.

b) Decree of 1903 & Law 463/1903, which identified Spinalonga as the place where the lepers of Crete were to be settled.

c) Decree on the internal operation of the leper colony, 1903, which defined how the leper colony of Spinalonga was to operate.

On 13 October 1904, the first 251 lepers (148 men and 103 women) settled on the islet of Spinalonga. According to Michail Katapotis, by 22 December 1926, a total of 730 people had been admitted to the leper colony. 465 of them died; 28 were found to be healthy and were released, while 16 escaped, never to return or be captured by the authorities. During this same period of time, as a result of marriages which took place on the islet, 39 children were born, 16 of whom died. The high mortality rate observed from 1904 to 1930 was mainly due to the lack of medical supplies and equipment; the absence of a hospital and specialised units for the sick; the lack of medical, nursing and support staff; malnutrition and unsanitary living conditions. Spinalonga had not been built as an infirmary but as a fortress, and there was no need for a hospital on the islet before the lepers were sent there. The previous inhabitants of the islet, the Turkish squires, were healthy and able to travel to the mainland to see a doctor if the need arose.

Images 3 & 4.

Handwritten receipts of the contractor Konstantinos Tsihlis or Spithas for work executed on Spinalonga. The receipts are dated 1929 & 1930.

Images 5, 6 & 7.

The contractor in charge of the works on Spinalonga tells Eleftherios Venizelos that the delay in their execution is due to the fact that the staff of the Engineering Department of the Prefecture of Lasithi is busy with other projects, so he cannot find an available engineer to estimate the cost of the work and determine the amount of money to be paid to the contractor and labourers, who are under his supervision.

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Therefore, on 3 February 1933, Eleftherios Venizelos sends a letter to Konstantinos Drandakis, Inspector of Public Works of Crete, saying the following: “Athens, 3 February 1933. To the Directorate of Public Works of Crete. Mr. Director, The contractor in charge of the works on Spinalonga has informed me that the delay in their execution is due to the fact that the staff of the Engineering Department of the Prefecture of Lasithi is busy with other projects. He cannot find an engineer for his public works and thus cannot expedite the process of submitting invoices for the work carried out. Because of this delay, he lacks the funds needed to continue the project. Because, as you know, the works were commenced 4 years ago and must be completed as soon as possible in order to improve the fate of the poor lepers of Spinalonga, I would be obliged if you would kindly provide the appropriate instructions to the Engineering Department of the Prefecture of Lasithi, whose jurisdiction includes the district where the work is being executed, and assist us in our charitable work by submitting any invoices to us as soon as possible so we can settle them immediately. I also kindly request that you convey to the said Department that I have asked Mr. Katapotis, doctor and Senator of Lasithi, to submit a reconstruction plan for a leprosy Sanatorium with approximately thirty (30) wards not costing more than one-million drachmas. (Venizelos had trusted the doctor-Senator of Lasithi with preparing the reconstruction plan for Spinalonga’s Sanatorium, with everything that this implied about the relationship between Venizelos, the Senator and the Medical Officer of Spinalonga). Since Mr. Katapotis will need an engineer for the selection of the plot of land and the drafting of relevant plans, I kindly request that you make the engineer of the Prefecture of Lasithi available to him, keeping in mind that the said engineer will be paid by me for his additional work. Eleftherios Venizelos.” On 17 February 1933, the Inspector of Public Works of Crete makes a certified copy of Venizelos’ letter, attaches a letter of his own and on 22 February 1933 sends both of them to the Engineer of the Prefecture of Lasithi, making these documents also known to Mr. Katapotis, doctor-Senator of Lasithi. (The official four-page document, states that the copy was made on 17 October 1933, but this is a typing error. The correct chronological order of the letters is the following: a) On 3 February 1933, Eleftherios Venizelos sent a letter to the Inspector of Public Works of Crete; b) on 17 February 1933, the Inspector made a certified copy of that letter. Since Venizelos had instructed the Inspector to promptly inform the other people involved, the latter couldn’t possibly have done that in October – 8 whole months later; and finally c) on 22 February 1933, the Inspector sent both his own and Venizelos’ letters to the Engineer). The letter of the Inspector of Public Works of Crete says: “Chania, 22 February 1933. To the Engineer of the Prefecture of Lasithi in Agios Nikolaos. We hereby communicate to you the order of the Head of the Government, Mr. Eleftherios Venizelos, dated 3 February 1933, and we request that you immediately call upon the contractor in charge of the construction of the buildings in the leper colony of Spinalonga to complete the approved work of the aforementioned project within a timeframe set by yourselves, adopting the measures provided for in article 27 of Decree dated 12 July 1932 in pursuance of Law 5367 “Law on execution of Public Works”. To date, the failure observed in the execution of the work can be partly justified by the shortage of staff in your office, but this is no longer the case since public works have stalled due to lack of financial resources. (Here, Drandakis is saying that there is a problem with payments, leading to the suspension of public works). We therefore request that, in consultation with Mr. Katapotis, doctor-Senator of Lasithi, you proceed with preparing the said reconstruction plan for a leprosy Sanatorium and submit it to us for approval as soon as possible. Please confirm the receipt and execution of the present [Letter – Order]. The Inspector of Public Works of Crete, Konstantinos Drandakis. Copy sent to Mr. Katapotis in Athens.”

Image 8.

Crete’s first Members of Parliament with Eleftherios Venizelos, 1915. Vikelaia Municipal Library. The handwritten caption reads:

“ELECTIONS OF 31 MAY 1915 – CRETE’S FIRST MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT IN THE HELLENIC PARLIAMENT

Bottom row (seated) from left: Michail Manasakis, Michail Saklambanis, Dimitrios Anagnostakis, Eleftherios Venizelos, Michail Makrakis.

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Second row, from left: Michail Papamichelakis, Emmanouel Tsouderos, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Vasileios Skoulas, Georgios Kokkinakis, Har. Ploumidakis, Michail Katapotis.

Third row (back): Georgios Maris, Nikolaos Papadakis, G. Markandonakis, G. Mylogiannakis, Manousos Voloudakis, Ioannis Lekanidis.” The caption also states that “Mich. Kothris is absent”, when in fact three other MPs were also absent that day: Athanasios Zitakis, who was elected in Heraklion, Michail Sfakianakis from the prefecture of Lasithi and Andreadakis from Rethymnon. Kothris’ name appears in the 1946 election results, so he must have stood against the Medical Officer’s friend – the Doctor, MP and Senator of Lasithi – who is among the people in the photograph. The Doctor-Senator of Lasithi seemed to have an excellent relationship with Venizelos, at least up to 1915, when he became one the Members of Parliament elected from the latter’s party. The Medical Officer also seemed to enjoy a very good relationship with Venizelos. At the end of 1924, he received training and went on to temporarily fill the post of Medical Officer of Spinalonga, (with salary and expenses paid by Venizelos himself), and was appointed to the permanent post approximately two years later. The Medical Officer and the MP were both very powerful men, like-minded doctors and, a few years later, they also became son- and father-in-law. “Excerpts from various documents”, we see that they also had shared business interests involving public works on Spinalonga.

Image 9.

Handwritten letter of contractor Kostis Tsihlis or Spithas, which he apparently intended to send to the doctor-Senator of Lasithi and to another individual called Vasileios Skoulas, (V. Skoulas was also among Venizelos’ elected MPs pictured in the photograph of 1915 – Image 8) who seem to be connected to payments for work done on Spinalonga. The letter is dated 8 November 1933, so we can reasonably assume that after Venizelos’ letter in February 1933, certain payments were made and some progress was made on Spinalonga.

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The problem of finding an engineer seems to have been solved, since the contractor doesn’t mention the subject in his letter, but he does bring up the issue of payments again. The handwritten letter reads: “Two recipients: Katapotis – Senator, Hotel Megas Alexandros, Athens & Vasileios Skoulas, Venizelos’ residence, Athens. I kindly request that you communicate to me the results of your actions with Venizelos regarding the payment of the leper colony account, attaching the relevant document of the Inspectorate of Public Works of Crete, and give both to Vasileios Skoulas to deliver to me when he comes here [to Crete]. If not, I shall halt all work on the project in protest against the [economic] damage and losses we have sustained. Contractor Spithas, 8 November 1933.”

Image 10.

A photograph taken by Anna Giakoumaki, in 2007 shows the phrase “This is the 20th century’s Golgotha” painted in white on the sanatorium wall.