Saturday, October 20, 2018

It's that "NO" Greek Holiday Again


A week from tomorrow is October 28th,  a Greek national holiday.  No, not because that's the day I depart Greece for the US--at least I hope that's not the reason. Rather it's one of two publicly revered ones.  The other, March 25, commemorates the day in 1821 that Greece declared its Independence from the Ottoman Empire and fought until 1832 to obtain it.  

I've run this post before, but in light of all that Greece is enduring at the moment (imagine what the US is going though politically, but with a lost economy), I felt compelled to repost it, if only as a cheerleader for people I care deeply about. 

Next Sunday's holiday, “Oxi Day” (pronounced “O-hee” and meaning “no” in Greek), represents the moment in 1940 when Greece set in motion events ultimately saving democracy for the world.  As Adolph Hitler’s Chief of Staff later said, “The Greeks delayed by two or more vital months the German attack against Russia; if we did not have this long delay, the outcome of the war would have been different.”

“Oxi,” together with two other words uttered nearly two and a half centuries earlier by Spartan King Leonidas in response to Persian king Xerxes’ demand that the Spartans surrender their weapons—“Molon Labe” (pronounced mo-lone laveh), meaning “come and take them”—is all you need to know to understand how Greeks react to adversity.

Those three words represent the essence of the Greek will, and permeate their attitudes toward virtually all things.  Some say that leaves them open to manipulation by nationalistic political jingoists seeking to distract their attention from otherwise serious, underlying national problems and shortcomings…but what nation these days is free from that. 

Despite all the trials and tribulations endured by this nation of eleven million over the past near decade, and the certainty of more difficult times to come, to those of you who wonder if the Greek spirit will somehow throw in the towel—I simply say as I’ve said before, ‘NO.” 

King Leonidas I

And here’s how Oxi Day came to pass.

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 to participate in a major Greek Orthodox holiday, The Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption of the Virgin Mary).  Without warning the Elle 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. 

Ioannis Metaxa

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.

So today, as Greece struggles under different serious challenges, for those who seek to capture the extent of Greece’s national determination in a phrase, let me offer a quote from someone who understood as well as anyone on earth what the world once more owed to Greece: “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but Heroes fight like Greeks.”  Winston Churchill.

Xronia Polla, y’all.


PS. For those of you wondering why I'm posting this a week before the holiday, it's because I promised my slot for next Saturday to a rather engaging chap to whom I just can't say, "Oxi."

Jeff's Coming Events:

10:00 a.m., Saturday, November 17th--ICELAND NOIR, Reykjavik

 The Hot-pot
The best way to enjoy the outdoors in Iceland is sitting in a hot-pot by one of Reykjavík´s many swimming pools, enjoying the conversation immersed up to your neck in thermal water.
Karen Robinson (Moderator)Felicia Yap, Jeffrey Siger, Louise Voss,  Stuart Neville.


  1. What I want to know is how the hell you fit all of the audience in that Hot-pot along with the panel??? Talk about being on the hot-seat. And letting it all hang out.

    1. I can just imagine how you'd fit into the mix, EvKa. On second thought, I'd rather not. :)

  2. Forgive me, Bro, but I am having so much fun here in Tokyo with Susan that I can’t be serious. I feel for the Greek people and resent what they are being put through. But there are Halloween decorations ALL over the place here. And I looked at the picture of him and all I could think is that I really like King Leonidas’s Halloween costume.

    1. That's fair, Sis, as my youngest granddaughter wants to go as a Ninja! Please pass along hugs and kisses to Susan...after deducting your appropriate agency percentage.

  3. I am working my way through Mark Mazower's "Inside Hitler's Greece the Experience of Occupation, 1941-44" right now. Taking it in small doses. . .the horrors are beyond imagination.

    1. Some perfect light reading for these days of renewed international horrors.

  4. I learned a few years ago about Oxi Day from this very website. And I say "Happy Oxi Day," to workers at a local pharmacy. The entire staff is from Corfu or islands nearby. Their faces light up when I say it, and I say how much the world owes to the Greek people.
    I can't tell you how much that is appreciated. Few people here know of this history who are not Greek or students of Greece. Few people know of their bravery and sacrifices for the world.
    So, thanks for educating the blog's readers, and I will remember to go to the pharmacy on Sunday and recognize this day.