A QUESTION! Here’s a question for those in my reading audience who consider themselves history buffs. What was the turning point during World War II that led to the defeat of Nazi Germany? For some, it was Churchill’s resolute stand against Hitler’s blitz of England during the early stages of the war. For others, it was the unforgettable door-to-door battle during the successful defense of Stalingrad. And who can forget Montgomery’s date with destiny against Rommel in North Africa at El Alamein. But for me, there is the one event that stood above them all. And, that’s what this short revisit to the Fall of 1940 is all about.
I would be remiss not to mention that, on October 28th, Greece and all Greek-Americans will celebrate the OHI Day. “OHI” is the Greek word for an emphatic NO! This October 28th marks the 76th anniversary of Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas’ courageous refusal to submit to Fascist Nazi Germany occupation demands of Greece during World War II. Against far superior military power and insurmountable odds, the proud Greek nation resisted the Axis power, delayed their advance, and ultimately changed the tide of the war. This special day pays tribute to a very special nation with a very special group of individuals during a period of time many have either knowingly or unknowingly chosen to forget.
My first article on the OHI Day was written 11 years ago, and what I had to say then still applies today. Here is that unedited article.
“I was baptized Elias Theodorakos since it is the Greek custom to name the first son after the paternal Papou (grandfather). Within a few years, the name Elias (our first grandson is named Elias) was displaced by Louis, its American counterpart. In second grade, my immigrant parents were told by several public school teachers that it would be in the best interest of the family to Americanize the last name. The name was soon legally changed to Theodore. Although I am an American first I remain proud of my Hellenic roots. And, it is for this reason that this short piece was written.
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 this article. The 65th anniversary of the repulsion of fascist forces by the Greek Armed Forces was recently celebrated several weeks ago on October 28. (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 Metaxas’s response to Hitler’s order to peacefully surrender. What followed Metaxas’s response to Hitler was 219 days of fierce battles. That in turn was followed by intense guerrilla warfare that resulted in a brutal occupation that included executions, sufferings, famine, and severe inflation. The rest is now history for some people and all Greeks.
For comparison purposes, the days of resistance of the various combatants to the Nazi-Fascist invasion are listed below:
- Belgium 18
- Czechoslovakia 0
- Denmark 0
- France 43 (the supposed superpower of that time)
- Greece 219 (13,696 Greek soldiers died)
- Luxembourg 0
- Norway 7
- Poland 30
- The Netherlands 4
- Yugoslavia 3
The total number of human losses in percentage of total population are also listed below.
- Belgium 5%
- France 0%
- Greece 0% (750,000)
- Poland 8%
- Soviet Union 8%
- The Netherlands 2%
- Yugoslavia 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.
Adolph 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 to 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 and we won.”
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 factor 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” in 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 bought time and, thus, we could arm ourselves. As Russians and as fellow humans, we thank you.”
Georgy Joucov (Marshall 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.”
Benito Mousolini (Prime Minister of Italy): “… the war in Greece proved that anything can be shattered, with respect to the military, and that surprises always await us.”
King George VI (Great Britain): “The great struggle of Hellas was the first big detour for the 2nd WW.”
Sir Harold Alexander (British Marshall): “It would not be an exaggeration to say that Hellas overturned all the German plans forcing Germany to delay for 6 weeks its attack on Russia. We ask ourselves what would have been the position of the Soviet Union without Hellas.”
Franklin Roosevelt: “For Hellas there was granted a delay of 3 hours on the 28th of October 1940 so that she can decide on war or peace, but, even if a delay of 3 days or 3 weeks or 3 years was granted, the answer would have been the same.”
“The Hellenes have taught dignity throughout the centuries (history). When the entire world had lost all hope, the Hellenic people dared to doubt the German monster’s invincibility fighting back with the proud spirit of freedom.”
“The heroic struggle of the Hellenic people against the German attack, having so thunderously won the Italian attempt to invade the Hellenic soil, filled the American hearts with enthusiasm and won their sympathy. A century and a half earlier during the war of independence, our nation expressed its fiery sympathy for the Hellenes and was hoping for the Hellenic victory.”
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 had pillaged, looted, persecuted, and enslaved the Greeks for four centuries) Nearly one tenth of the total population – including 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 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 C1A career Harry serves on the National Board of Directors and is Finance Chairman of AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association).”
POSTSCRIPT: The heroism of Greek fighters during WWII is legendary and is often cited in OHI Day celebrations. What receives less attention outside of Greece, however, is the fact that Greek women themselves often joined the fight in ways that give testament to the strength of Greek women through history. The Washington OXI Day Foundation aims to remind the world of that bravery. Each year, their Battle of Crete award “honor(s) a woman for courageous action for freedom and democracy, in memory of the role women played against the Axis Forces in the Battle of Crete in World War II.” In reprisal for their bravery: in battle; in hiding and caring for wounded fighters; in smuggling arms and messages when they knew that discovery meant certain death; nearly 1,000 Cretan women were killed by the Nazis, and the London Times reported that an additional 500 women were deported to Germany for taking part in the defense of their island. Even with their lives and freedom at risk, the women of Crete demonstrated bravery and commitment to the cause of freedom and democracy. Their actions will hopefully inspire generations of women to come. It was also reported that when every man was needed for fighting, Greek women brought supplies and ammunition up the mountainsides – 80 pound packs on their backs up 3,000 foot peaks. Let there be no mistake – beyond their skills and assistance on the field – the mere survival of these women during the war was a feat in and of itself.
The Washington OXI Day Foundation video provides a powerful and inspirational tribute both commemorating the day and inspiring all to be a courageous society and virtuous during times of crisis.
Enjoy this great moment in history.
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NEXT POSTINGS: (tentative):
NOVEMBER 1: On “THE” Election
DECEMBER 1: On the 2016-17 Hofstra Basketball Season
JANUARY 1: One Purely Chaste, Pristine, and Random Thoughts XXIV