Memories of David Seymour from Greece (1946-1951)
By Margaret Schermerhorn, Port Townsend WA
(September 26, 2007) firstname.lastname@example.org
My father (and my family) was in Greece in ‘46 through ‘51 and my father worked for UNICEF
directing relief work in northern Greece at the time that Mr. Seymour came to Greece to photograph children affected by war. He accompanied my dad, Charles Schermerhorn, to deliver relief supplies to remote villages by jeep and donkey caravan, and also a trip to evacuate children from remote areas of northern Greece to hostels in the south by ship (LST) during the civil war.
Mr. Seymour came through Greece several times and always stayed with my family, where he said it was the one place he felt "at home" as my mother used to say. He took many pictures of my family in Salonika. On our balcony in 1949 or 50 he took a picture of me holding a cat up proudly, but firmly gripping the calm and stoic cat around the neck with both fists. My parents wanted to take the poor creature from me but he refused to let them! Needless to say it is one of the most memorable photos of my childhood.
My mother accompanied my father and David when my father arranged for him to take pictures one night in a huge empty warehouse in which every floor was filled with refugees sleeping. My mother said she became very angry at David for being so "heartless", and just snapping hundreds of photos with no sense of dismay or shock at the obviously terrible conditions that the people had survived and were still enduring. Hours later, near morning, when they finally went outside and it was all over, she said that he staggered off and threw up.
One time my father said he heard David cursing a blue streak while photographing a small boy who was crying in the deep shadow of a doorway. When he asked David what was wrong, he said "Why won't the little b---- cry in the light!!??
My family adored him... and he adored them. My mother many times over the years
spoke of the amazing attractiveness of his personality. She said that he was completely enchanting.
All my life I had heard about David Seymour from both of my parents. They always spoke with great sadness about missing the opportunity to connect with him when the family flew home on leave in 1950 and again when we passed through northern Italy on our way back to the states in 51.
I have discovered a letter from him amongst his photos in my father’s papers. I am sorry that I
could not make out some of the words……
16 April 50 ROMA
54, Via dello Mercede
Received your letter with great delay.
I was away in Sicily for 3 weeks and very
unhappy because of rainy weather.
I am awfully sorry not to receive you
in Paris - it would be a real joy to introduce
you to my second city I really love and
I am very pleased that you liked it
anyway. I hoped to meet all of you in
Rome, but apparently you just flew through.
My Italian stay is not very successful
--------- --------, but I enjoy life and
I believe I will stay here for awhile.
The summer time is around and maybe
we get to ------- on our "islands" project.
I would like it very much and it would
be for me my first, real vacation.
The Oxia shoes story is a great hit and
is being published all over the world. The
UNICEF people are happy and as always
the Greek pictures are the most successfull. This,
dear Charlie, is due to your help and the fact
that I feel good coming to Macedonia and
enjoying you and your familys company.
I assure you that Salonika is on my
favorites list and I will be around in
Please write to me more about your
U.S. experiences and present life in Salonika-
and ask Wanda to scrible(sic) few words.
Love to all of you
One strong feeling I get when I look at his photos now, is how these amazing faces are so filled with dignity amongst the most trying and terrible situations, as if the travails in which they find themselves cannot possibly overshadow the magnificent qualities of the human spirit.
--- Addendum November 19, 2007 ---
My brother Charles just sent me this picture of my family on the roof of our house in Salonika which David took in 1949... Pictured are (in back) Elanie (who is now married to my eldest brother Charles), Wanda and Charles Schermerhorn (my parents) and in front: David, Margaret and Thano (Donald Robert).
Your uncle David spent a lot of time on that roof, as my family entertained up there a lot. Amazingly that house is the only one in the whole neighborhood from that time that still exists, as it was built on a triangular lot which would not accomodate building a large apartment there! It is now a protected historical building! I was able to visit there in 1979 with Elanie. A
few weeks ago she told me a great story about once when David was there. Charles' sister Beth had come to stay with my family for a summer and she and Elanie were cooking up a scheme to trick your uncle and the family for April Fool's Day. They got up very early and switched the sugar for salt at the table. So when breakfast time came they watched David put sugar in his coffee, make a big face, and then they explained what they had done... he roared with laughter which was totally out of character she said, him being always so quiet....Then they found out that April 1st was the next day which made it even funnier!!
I hope to soon be able to send scanned pictures to you and to Magnum.
All the best to you in this "family" season, Margaret
Salonika, 1949 - by David Seymour