The Popstefanov Family
of Bansko, Bulgaria

Katerina Dimitrova Stephanova


Katerina Stephanova Tsilka

Early Life - Pt 1
Early Life - Pt 2 Education - Pt 1
Education - Pt 2
1st Trip to USA-1
1st Trip to USA- 2
Return to Europe
Abduction 1901-2
Touring the USA
Return to Albania
Katerina Alone


Katerina Alone

Katarina and Gregory found themselves stranded in Sofia, on a visit to Bulgaria, when World War I broke out.  The privations of war were sufficient to have caused the Tsilkas hardship, but the end of the war brought the dreaded Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919, and among its millions of victims, was Gregory M. Tsilka.

Responding to an inquiry in 1924 from the Alumni Association of the Union Theological Seminary, Katerina provided details about her life after Gregory.

In 1927, seeking assistance for her children, Katerina wrote a letter to Thomas Jesse Jones, a former Union Theological Seminary classmate of Gregory's, and one of the two witnesses at their marriage, more than a quarter century before.  By that time, Jones had become President of the Stokes-Phelps Fund, a charitable organization founded in New York in 1911.

Tirana, Albania
May 7, 1927

Dr. Jesse Jones, Phelps-Stokes Fund
101 Park Avenue, New York, N. Y.

Dear Dr. Jones:

Your good letter of Feb. 5th I have received and thank you for your sympathy and kindness.

I am not any longer at the hospital -- there were such changes that it was not possible for me to stay. Our best doctor has left! Then the orphanage here, housing some 120 refugee children had no managers and so many persons turned their eyes in my direction. I first went to see the children. Seeing them in filth -- vermin and sores -- I plunged in. For two months I worked and forgot everything and everybody even my own children. This institution is supported by the Albanian Red Cross, but Oh! so poorly! It is the third month I am here and not a cent yet toward my salary -- no money.

Skender, my older boy is delicate and needs some rest -my daughter too, next year being her last year, needs to rest this summer. Our countries are not like America, one cannot get a job for only two months -- especially for a girl it is very difficult. They must come to me and I have not the means: This is awful to write to you but the fact that my daughter Ellencke became a victim to our-sensitiveness and spirit of independence, emboldens me - to solicit help just for this summer.

Ellencke--over tired from hard studies during the school year-went to work summers in awful offices then when school would begin she was a rag. The result was that she contracted tuberculosis and two years after her graduation she was in the grave. I am so afraid for Aferdita now. She needs rest for she has had awful summer vacations, always away from me. Then clothing, she has worn her school mates'; but the teachers have forbidden such practice. It is a pity for a girl at the end of her College education to sicken from worry and want. So now, Dr. Jones, I turn to you to beg you and through you, Gregory's friends, to give me a helping hand for just this year, and, especially now that I am engaged in the most benevolent work. You understand the situation don't you? Or I better put it this way. Can you get some one interested in the refugee orphans to pay me a salary so that I can help in the education of my children?

You have heard of my work through Dr. Erickson. Yes, know it is difficult oven in America to raise funds nowadays!

Very glad to read Mr. Groetzinger's letter. So he is a success too.

With best wishes,

(Signed) Katherine G. Tzilka

[Letter, Katerina Tsilka to Thomas Jesse Jones, Phelps-Stokes Fund, 7 May 1927; received from Mona Clark, Phelps Stokes Fund, New York to Richard Cochran, 19 Aug 1976; in poss of Dr. Richard M. Cochran, Big Rapids, Michigan]

During a visit to Bansko, Bulgaria in August-September 1975, the author of this website was a guest of Miss Milenka Bizeva, whose mother, Rina Stephanova, was a first cousin of Katerina Tsilka.  Milenka recalled that Katerina visited Bansko from time to time, and told the story of her kidnapping on cold winter nights, with her extended family of cousins, arranged around the fireplace, attentive to each detail of the almost fairytale-like story.

An unexpected story about Katerina appeared in American newspapers affiliated with the International News Service (INS) for which Katerina's brother, Constantine Stephanove wrote for a number of years.  This article was found in the Port Arthur (Texas) News, 9 Feb 1937, p. 5:


SOFIA -- Feb. 9 (INS) -- Mrs. Katharine Tsilka, known to the American public as companion of Miss Ellen Stone of Chelsea, Mass., during the latter's capture by Macedonian revolutionists in 1900, has miraculously regained her sight after six years of total blindness.

"I woke up one morning and, wonderful to relate, found myself able to see clearly as I did six years ago before I lost my sight. I am a new-born woman, thank God!" These are her own words taken from her letter in her own hand to her brother in Sofia [note: Constantine Stephanove].

Mrs. Tsilka, who was Miss Stephanove of Bansko in Bulgarian Macedonia before she married Gregory Tsilka, thus becoming an Albanian citizen, is one of the most popular women in the Balkans. One year after the severe trial of six months capture as a chaperone to Miss Stone and during which she gave life to her first child [note: that survived infancy], Mrs. Tsilka traversed the United States relating her singular experience with the Macedonian revolutionists who had, nevertheless, treated both women with unheard of gentlemanliness. Being a Macedonian herself, Mrs. Tsilka could not help being touched by the anxious attention shown her by her captors, especially at the time when her baby was to be born. Her resentment during those six months turned into admiration and on being set free when the ransom for Miss Stone was paid to the revolutionists, she became one of the most ardent pleaders for the Macedonian cause.

Two years later, World War II began and Katarina would live to see it through as well as Albania's transition to a communist state.  She died June 22, 1952 in Tirana, Albania, and is buried in the Shish Tufine Cemetery there.

On September 25, 1997, at the age of 87, Katerina's youngest son, Stefan Cilka recalled his mother in a letter to the creator of this website.  He wrote:

I think that my mother was a remarkable woman. She was very honest and fair in her dealings with others. She had to struggle all her life for her own self, for her brothers, and for us, her children, as well as for everything else. My father died in 1919, leaving her almost without means and with four children, aged between 9 and 19, whom she managed to bring up and provide with satisfactory education with her own means, and by obtaining scholarships.

She had a very strong character and will power. In most disputed situations, she managed to have her own way, which rarely failed to be the right way. For many years she was "directress" of Tirana hospital, in fact head nurse, but officially directress and took care of all the internal problems of the hospital. She was widely praised for her work. Later she became directress of the orphanage of the Red Cross.

She died aged 85 after her eyes and ears, as well as her mental functions failed her.

next section (the Tsilka children) Richard M. Cochran, Ph.D. |
Copyright 2009 | All Rights Reserved