|December 16, 1940|
But it was yesterday that carried a more relevant lesson for those of you who might think the omnipresent daily media frenzy over Greece’s financial situation fairly portrays the national character of the eleven million who live in Greece today. And to those media types so quick to disparage the Greeks—or any culture for that matter—with a catchy phrase I say, ‘NO.”
Which is only appropriate since the name of yesterday’s holiday is “Oxi Day” (pronounced “O-hee”), meaning “no” in Greek.
So what is this earth shattering revelation?
|Thanks to John Pozadzides' blogsite for the photos.|
On the morning of August 15, 1940, the Greek navel vessel Elli was in the harbor of the Cycladic island of Tinos. It was peacetime and the light cruiser was anchored there to participate in a major Greek Orthodox holiday, The Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption of the Virgin Mary). Without warning the Elli was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine, killing nine and wounding twenty-four. Although fragments of the torpedo clearly identified its source, the Greek government officially declared the nationality of the attacking submarine as “unknown.” The Greek government may have been reluctant to declare the attacker as Italy, and therefore immerse itself in war, but the people knew who was behind it.
Two months later, around dawn on the morning of October 28, 1940, after a party at the German embassy in Athens, the Italian ambassador approached Greece’s Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas and demanded that Greece surrender to the Axis powers or face immediate war with Italy. He offered Greece three hours to decide. Italy had seven times the population of Greece, seven times the troops, ten times the firepower, and total air superiority.
The Prime Minister’s response was simple: “Oxi.” And less than two hours later Italian troops stationed in Albania invaded Greece. Occupation of Greece was critical to Hitler’s plan for isolating British troops in North Africa. The Italians expected it to be a three-day war. They learned otherwise.
Oxi became the battle cry of the Greek people. Within weeks the Italians were driven back into Albania, and repelled by the Greeks at every effort to occupy Greece. It became clear to Hitler that Italy was not up to the task and on April 6, 1941 Germany invaded Greece, but it took even the Nazis five weeks to succeed. Greek resistance had thrown off Hitler’s plans to capture Russia before the winter of 1941.
The Greeks were the first people in Europe (outside of Great Britain) to stand up to the demands of Germany and its allies, but their one hundred eighty-five days of resistance took a horrific toll on their country:
One million of Greece’s citizens (13% of the population) are estimated to have died from battle, starvation, resistance, reprisals and concentration camps.
Greece’s infrastructure, economy and agriculture were destroyed.
Greece’s gold, works of art, and treasures were plundered.
Civil war followed and many emigrated.
On a purely economic basis, it is estimated that in standing up to the Axis’ threats Greece was left in financial straits twice as bad as it finds itself in today… and its societal costs were inestimably worse.
Oh, yes, and on that subject of catchy phrases attempting to capture Greece’s national character, let me offer a quote from someone who understood how the actions of the many, not the failings of a few, are what matters in any such sort of measure: “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but Heroes fight like Greeks.” Winston Churchill.