November 1, 2013
It’s been 8 years since I penned my first article on the OHI day (much of which is reported below). This is a special day in Greek history as it regards Greece’s heroic involvement in WWII. My recent read of Winston Churchill’s biography “The Last Lion” was yet another reminder of this day.
My ancestors have a long history of battling and suffering with evil elements and oppression. Flash back over 2500 years ago when King Leonidas and 300 brave Spartans stalled 10,000 Persians at Thermopylae, a pass between the mountains and the sea leading to Athens. The defenders from Sparta (my father’s birthplace) delayed the Persians long enough for the Athenian fleet to ready a trap at Salamis, where it defeated the invaders, who then high-tailed it. History was to repeat itself in 1939, as documented below.
The media-novels, movies, television (particularly the History Channel), documentaries, etc., have done a superb job of educating the younger generation about the background and struggles of World War II. The battle for Britain and the defense of Stalingrad are two examples that come to mind, as well as the continuing repetitive and perhaps overdone coverage of the horrors of the holocaust. But there has been little to nothing about the role Greece played on the events and final outcome of the war.
On to the theme of the article. The 73rd anniversary of the repulsion of fascist forces by the Greek Armed Forces was recently celebrated several days ago on October 28. As in the past, the day came and went without a whimper here in the United States. The Greeks refer to this as the OHI (no!) Day. OHI was Prime Minister Metaxa’s response to Hitler’s order to peacefully surrender. What followed Metaxa’s response to Hitler was 219 days of fierce battles. That in turn was following by intense guerrilla warfare that resulted in a brutal occupation that included executions, sufferings, and severe famine. The rest is not history for some people but history for all Greeks.
For comparison purposes, the days of resistance of the various combatants to the Nazi-Fascist invasion are listed below:
1. Belgium 18
2. Czechoslovakia 0
3. Demark 0
4. France 43 (the supposed superpower of that time)
5. Greece 219 (13,696 Greek soldiers died)
6. Luxembourg 0
7. Norway 7
8. Poland 30
9. The Netherlands 4
10. Yugoslavia 3
The total number of human losses in percentage of total population are also listed below:
1. Belgium 1.5%
2. France 2.0%
3. Greece 10.0% (750,000)
4. Poland 1.8%
5. Soviet Union 2.8%
6. The Netherlands 2.2%
7. Yugoslavia 1.7%
Here is what some of the more important players of that time had to say (citations available on request) about the heroic Greek accomplishments against the armies of not only Germany but also the armies of Italy, Bulgaria and Albania.
Adolf Hitler: “As a matter of historical truth, I must ascertain that only the Hellenes, of all the adversaries that confronted me, fought with daring courage and the highest disregard for death…”
Sir Robert Anthony Eden: “Regardless what historians will say in the future, what we can say now is that Hellas gave a memorable lesson to Mussolini, that she was the reason of the resistance in Yugoslavia, that she kept the Germans on the soil of Ipiros and Crete for 6 weeks, that she changed the chronological order of all of the German Major Generals’ plans and, thus, brought about a general alteration in the entire war’s journey…”
Sir Winston Churchill: “The word heroism, I’m afraid, does not reflect in the least the Hellenes’ acts of self-sacrifice that were the defining factors of the victorious ending of all the nations’ common struggle during the 2nd WW for human freedom and dignity.”
“If it were not for the bravery of the Hellenes and their courageous hearts, the ending of the 2nd WW would not have been clear.”
“Until now we were saying that Hellenes fight like heroes. Now we will say heroes fight like Hellenes.”
“The Hellenes fighting against the common enemy will share with us in the prosperity of peace.”
Charles DeGaulle: “I fail to give the most needed gratitude that I feel for the heroic resistance of the people and the leaders of Hellas.”
Maurice Schumann (French Minister of Foreign Affairs): “Hellas is the symbol of martyric enslaved, bleeding, but live Europe. Never has a defeat been so honorable for those who underwent it.”
Josef Stalin: “I’m sad because I’m getting old and I will not live much longer to express my gratitude to the Hellenic people whose resistance determined the 2nd WW.”
Moscow Radio Station: “You fought without weapons and you won, being small before the great ones. We owe you gratitude, because you brought time and, thus, we could arm ourselves. As Russians and as fellow humans, we thank you.”
Georgy Zhukov (Marshal of the Soviet Army): “If the Russian people managed to raise resistance before the gates of Moscow to contain and reverse the German hurricane, they owe it to the Hellenic people who delayed the German divisions that could have beaten us. The gigantic battle of Crete was the peak of the Hellenic contribution.”
In effect, Heller’s decision to vent his rage against a small country that, unlike the other countries on Europe’s mainland had dared to defy him, was unquestionably the most catastrophic military decision of WWII. As with Napoleon centuries earlier, unless Russia was defeated by November, Hitler’s most feared enemy would extract its toll on the battlefield: WINTER!
OHI day serves as another tribute to all Greeks, including Greek Americans. Following the War of Independence in 1812 when the brutal uncivilized Turks were defeated, the immigration of Greeks to America began in earnest (the Turks has pillaged, looted, persecuted, and enslaved the Greeks for centuries). Nearly one tenth of the total population (including both of my parents) immigrated to our country during the period 1821 – 1934.
Through it all, Greece has remained the fountainhead of culture and democracy throughout the free world. Despite lacking the political and media clout of other ethnic groups, Greek-Americans have evolved into a success story that has become a best-kept secret. They have contributed mightily to our great nation. They rank second only to the American Jews in per capita wealth but first in percent who have earned doctoral degrees.
Yep, I still get that special feeling when someone refers to me as a Greek-American.
Note: Thanks are due to my first cousins Helen Lake Anton and Harry Lake, aka Apostolakos, for providing some of the background material for this article. Helen was stationed in Greece during part of her CIA career. Harry serves on the National Board of Directors and was Finance Chairman of AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association).
Here is what is on tap in the coming months:
December 1: 2013-14 Hofstra Basketball: Is There Hope on the Horizon?
January 1: Revisiting the East Williston School District
February 1: On the New York Times
March 1: On Chaste, Pristine, and Random Thoughts XX
April 1: On the Barack Hussein Obama Update III