Wednesday, October 27, 2010

28th October 1940 - The Day Greece said a Loud OXI - NO - to Mussolini and the 2nd World War Took a Different Turn!

"Until now we used to say that the Greeks fight like heroes.
Now we shall say: The heroes fight like Greeks."
Sir Winston  Churchill - Prime Minister United Kingdom
(From a speech he delivered from the BBC in the first days of the  Greco-Italian war)

Today is the 28th October in Greece, and for all those who don't know, it is the anniversary of one of Greece's most glorious moments - OXI Day.

Today we are rejoicing! Along with the whole of Greece, Cyprus and the  Greek  communities around the world, we are celebrating the day that our  small country decided to be David and take on Goliath. 

Today we are  honouring our heroes and  giving thanks for the valiant and courageous  stance our forefathers took on that historic day in October of 1940.

This is our tribute to those noble men and women who fought and died so that today we can be free.

We, not just as Greeks, but as citizens of a free and democratic world,   owe an enormous debt of honour to them.

OXI Day  commemorates the day that Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas rejected the ultimatum given by Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, on October 28, 1940. 

This ultimatum, a demand that Greece allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory or otherwise face war, was presented to Metaxas by the Italian Ambassador in Greece, Emanuele Grazzi, on October 28, 1940, at dawn (04:00 AM), ironically enough after a party in the German Embassy in Athens.  

Metaxas, is supposed to have immediately answered with a single word:  


Whether he actually did or not, is almost irrelevant... That simple but determined OXI, however it was said, was symbolic and significant. It represented the sentiments and principles of the entire Greek people. This word marked the beginning of Greece's involvement in the Second World War, an involvement which was to cost Greece dearly, from every point of view.

An hour and a half after Metaxas' response, at 05:30 AM,  Italian troops stationed in Albania, then an Italian protectorate, attacked the Greek border.

The Greek nation was now officially at War!

On the morning of October 28, the people, regardless of political affiliation, took to the streets, shouting 'OXI', and this reverberated throughout the country as people everywhere started to fight and resist the invading Italian Army. Greece's participation in the war, daring to take a forceful and determined stand against the spreading fascism in Europe, was so much more impressive than many of the surrounding countries  who gave in relatively quickly and with a much smaller 'cost', that it inspired a lot of admiration around the world.

One of the more well known salutes to the heroism of the Greek people was given by the US President Franklin D Roosevelt, who summed it all up beautifully...

"On the 28th of October 1940 Greece was given a deadline of three hours to decide on war or peace but even if a three day or three week or three year were given, the response would have been the same. The Greeks taught dignity throughout the centuries. When the entire world had lost all hope, the Greek people dared to question the invincibility of the German monster raising against it the proud spirit of freedom."

Franklin D Roosevelt, US President 1933 - 1945

The resistance against Mussolini's troops and the subsequent German invasion was legendary. The Battle of Crete, in May 1941 was pivotal. A small nation, with very few means but with valiant and courageous people who showed determination and nobility of spirit, refusing to bow to the oppressor, worked with the Allied Forces and succeeded in delaying the German advance enough to affect the outcome of World War II.

The cost was enormous for Greece,  economically, structurally and more importantly in terms of 'casualties'. The entire male population of some villages was sent to the firing squad, executed because they refused to name a saboteur or the perpetrator of an anti-Nazi act. This did not cower the Greeks, they resisted with heart and soul until the very end.

The period that was to follow the war, and the Greek Civil War, would prove to be much more divisive and catastrophic for Greece and it's people, but we won't dwell on this today. Today we will dwell on Greece's legendary heroism which was acknowledged and praised by all, friends and enemies alike
. This much lauded cover on LIFE Magazine says it all...

"For the sake of historical truth I must verify that only the  Greeks, of all the adversaries who confronted us, fought with bold  courage and highest disregard of death.."
Adolf Hitler (speech he gave at Reichstag, 4 May 1941)

"The word heroism I am afraid does not render the least of those  acts of self-sacrifice of the Greeks, which were the defining factor in  the victorious outcome of the common struggle of the nations, during  WWII, for the human freedom and dignity. If it were not for the bravery  of the Greeks and their courage, the outcome of WW II would be  undetermined." 

Winston Churchill (speech to British Parliament, 24 April 1941)

"Regardless of what the future historians shall say, what we can  say now, is that Greece gave Mussolini an unforgettable lesson, that she  was the motive for the revolution in Yugoslavia, that she held the  Germans in the mainland and in Crete for six weeks, that she upset the  chronological order of all German High Command's plans and thus brought a  general reversal of the entire course of the war and we won."

Sir Robert Antony Eden (Minister of War and the Exterior of Britain  1940-1945, 
Prime Minister of Britain 1955-1957

In the name of the captured yet still alive French people, France  wants to send her greetings to the Greek people who are fighting for  their freedom. The 25th of March, 1941 finds Greece  in the peak of their heroic struggle and in the top of their glory.  Since the battle of Salamis Greece  had not achieved the greatness and the glory which today holds.

Charles de Gaulle, President of the French  Republic
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Greece upset the plans of Germany in their entirety forcing her to postpone the attack on Russia for six weeks. We wonder what would have been Soviet Union's position without Greece. 

Sir Harold Leofric George Alexander (British Field Marshal during WWII)
Paraphrased from a speech of his to the British parliament on 28 October 1941)

If the Russian people managed to raise resistance at the doors of Moscow to halt and reverse the German torrent, they owe it to the Greek People, who delayed the German divisions during the time they could bring us to our knees. 

Georgy Constantinovich Zhoukov 
(Field Marshal of the Soviet Army: Quote from his memoirs on WWII)

You fought unarmed and won, small against big. We owe you gratitude, because you gave us time to defend ourselves. As Russians and as people we thank you.
Moscow Radio Station following Hitler's attack on the U.S.S.R

The war with Greece proved that nothing is firm in the military and that surprises always await us.
Benito Mussolini (From a speech he delivered on 10/5/1941)

These quotes, along  with many others are on the  slides of the presentation that follows. There you can also see some of  the statistics of the War, including the tremendous number of casualties suffered by Greece in comparison to other countries.  


Technology today gives us the ability to share with  everyone something that a few years ago was in limited circulation. We  have included some of the very interesting videos available on You Tube,  showing some of the photos and newspaper headlines available at the  time, for those who are interested in hearing some of the songs and  looking at some of the people who helped motivate and sustain the  resistance.

Greece's wonderful Sophia Vembo, like other artists of the time such as Anna Kalouta and Mimi Traiforos, added her magnificent voice to the fight against the occupying forces, and became synonymous with resistance and uprising, thus earning her the title of Singer of Victory  (Τραγουδίστρια της Νίκης).

One song which is a feature of nearly all the videos is magnificent Paidia, tis Ellados Paidia, (Sons of Greece) - a particularly moving patriotic song which inspired everyone, regardless of his or her political affiliation, because it spoke directly to the heart of every Greek in Greece, so 'real' it became the national song of a whole generation.

It talks to the soldiers and their Mothers, women desperately trying to find, or get a glimpse of, their sons. Their sons, the sons of Greece, have been conscripted and are fighting  the enemy in the mountains and villages of Greece, and the song urges the mothers not to weep because such faint-heartedness does not suit the temperament of Greek women and mothers; it tells them that they should be as heroic as
Souliotisses**, the women of Souli, who joined hands as if in dance and jumped to their death from the heights of Zaloggo, in Epirus, rather than be taken captive by the Turkish troops during the 1821 revolution. (see note and pictures below).

The final chorus tells the soldiers that everyone is praying and waiting for them to return on the wings of victory!

A truly beautiful song.

Μες τους δρόμους τριγυρνάνε,
οι μανάδες και ζητάνε
ν' αντικρίσουνε

τα παιδιά τους π' ορκιστήκαν,
στο σταθμό σαν χωριστήκαν
να γυρίσουνε.
Μα για κείνους πού 'χουν φύγει

και η δόξα τους τυλίγει,
ας χαιρόμαστε

και καμιά ποτέ ας μην κλάψει

κάθε πόνο της ας κλάψει
κι ας ευχόμαστε.

Παιδιά, της Ελλάδος παιδιά,

που σκληρά πολεμάτε
πάνω στα βουνά.

Παιδιά, στη γλυκιά Παναγιά,

προσευχόμαστε όλες,
νά 'ρθετε ξανά.

Λέω σ' όσες ξαγρυπνάνε

και για κάποιον ξενυχτάνε
και στενάζουνε,

πως η πίκρα κι η τρεμούλα

σε μια γνήσια Ελληνοπούλα
δεν ταιριάζουνε.

Ελληνίδες του Ζαλόγγου
και της πόλης και του λόγγου
και Πλακιώτισσες,

όσο κι αν πικρά πονούμε,
υπερήφανα ας πούμε
σα Σουλιώτισσες.

Παιδιά, της Ελλάδος παιδιά,
που σκληρά πολεμάτε
πάνω στα βουνά.

Παιδιά, στη γλυκιά Παναγιά,

προσευχόμαστε όλες,
νά 'ρθετε ξανά.

Mε της Νίκης τα φτερά,

σας προσμένουμε παιδιά.

Vembo's rendition and ridicule of Mussolini in the satirical song, Vazei o Duce ti Stoli Tou, and the other anti-Italian-occupier songs which you can hear for yourselves below, raised the roof wherever they  were performed during those dark days of the Occupation, and helped uplift a people who despite the fact that they were struggling to survive, with limited food and water supplies, strongly and courageously resisted the occupying forces with every means at their disposal.



A child with his ration card and measly portion during the Occupation... 

If you are interested we urge you to have a look, listen to the songs - rousing, haunting or melancholy they are a testament to, and represent the extreme hardship and poverty the people of Greece experienced, without losing their will to fight or survive -  a particularly moving tribute to the men and women who sacrificed themselves for the rest of humanity...  

Eager to get to the mountains of Albania...

This post is dedicated to our parents... 

To you, Mama kai Baba, and to all those young men and women, who, like many of the young people of the day, stood firm in your beliefs, inspired by your ideals of democracy to fight for freedom in the face of adversity, to persist and to resist and in so doing passed down to us some very valuable lessons and values : a passion for life, for working for the common good and a steadfast knowledge of what's right and wrong, firm principles or 'arhes' and a natural optimism which we have kept to this day. 

To you, Baba, who, with your friend Vangeli, had the strength and courage,  to take down a German Flag in your hometown and raise the Greek one, singing the Greek National Anthem, fully knowing what the consequences would be if they caught you! 

To our parents, who didn't hesitate for a moment despite their misgivings, when it came to ensuring a better future for their children, to abandon their homeland, the homeland which they had fought so hard to free and take the hard and often hostile road of emigration, abandoning family and friends, all things dear and familiar, to go to a faraway land which bore no resemblance to their own, where the language was vastly different, where the attitudes and values were also different, but which was able to offer the security and opportunity that Greece of the 60's was unfortunately not in a position to do!

  For all this we are eternally grateful - Efharistoume ... 


 During the  German Occupation of Athens, the House of Troy, Schliemann's House, was commandeered. The detail on the gates of what is now the Numismatic Museum on Panepistimiou Street in Athens, remains as a 'souvenir' or evidence of that occupation.

** Souliotisses

Zaloggo in the mountains of Epirus - O Horos tou Zaloggou
These truly awe-inspiring giant marble statues depict the  women of Souli joining hands and dancing - singing "Adieu Sweet life. Soulitiosses cannot live without their freedom" before jumping  to their death to avoid capture and slavery...

The marble plaque dedicating the giant marble statues to the heroic women of Souli, The Souliotisses.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome feedback from our readers, but please keep your comments polite and respectful. Anonymous comments will be evaluated and published only if considered appropriate.


Related Posts with Thumbnails


Archangel Michael's Shrine, Tarpon Springs, Florida, USA

25th March Parade To Cenotaph Wellington, New Zealand

25th March Anniversary Parade, Wellington, New Zealand