With a modest ceremony as every year, Greece celebrated the end of Nazi occupation on 12. October 1944. There was a brief ceremony on the Acropolis and a wreath lay at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Parliament in Syntagma, downtown Athens. The Liberation of Athens and the end of the World War II almost unnoticed….
The day marking the end of a four-year-old plight for thousands of people goes generally unnoticed. Except for those who survived the WWII and were old enough to still remember.
“The church bells tolled and we all took out in the streets,” my 90-year-old father recalls. “We are Free! We are Free! They [the German] go, they go!” the people cheered and hugged even people they did not know.
The German troops had left Athens on this morning of October 12th. Two days before evacuating Athens, the Germans executed 47 resistance fighters and set 400 homes in Koropi, East Attica, on fire.
“We walked all the way to Syntagma, your aunt, your grandpa, your grandma, even your great-grandma walked with, the whole neighborhood, relatives from other suburbs.”
They joined the crowds rushing like water to downtown Athens from all the neighborhoods and the suburbs.
“We were smiling up to our ears,” my father remembers. People were holding flags, Greek flags, placard reading “freedom” and “democracy”
“First they took all the swastika-flags down, they stepped at the wreath the Nazis laid at the Monument [of the Unknown Soldier] before they left.”
And then the celebration began with a spontaneous parade of resistance fighters, and Evzones and… he cannot remember who else..
“We stayed there until late at night, we were singing and hugging and there were thousands, thousands of people.”
“On that day I promised I will never eat or touche aubergines again,” he says. As thousands of Athenians also my family suffered from the great famine caused by the German occupation.
It was war: no jobs, no money, no freedom, horror and fear.
My grandpa was occasionally working at a farm and he was paid in vegetables. Apparently that year was good for the aubergine crops and the family ended “eating aubergines every day, for weeks, for months. Cooked in water or fried if we had oil, ” my father explains his deep aversion to this vegetable. Food was on ration: two slices of bread per person per day, some beans, some oil, hardly proteins…
The broader family lost six people on the famine alone.
The official number of famine victims was45,000.
Liberation takes Greece to Civil War
By the end of the month October, the German troops had withdrawn from mainland Greece.
The first British troops under General Scobie arrived in Athens on 14 October 1944. Four days later, the Greek government-in-exile returned to the Greek capital.
And another painful chapter in modern Greek history opened slowly: the Civil War.
A few days after the Liberation of Athens, Georgios Papandreou was Prime Minister, when the conflict between the monarchist Right and the republican and communist Left of EAM/ELAS that fought the Nazis soon erupted.
- On 1 December, the government decreed that all guerrilla groups were to be disarmed.
- On 2 December, the six EAM ministers in the Government of National Unity resigned in protest.
- On 4 December Papandreou himself resigned too.
A new government was formed by Themistoklis Sofoulis. The immediate cause of the fighting was an EAM demonstration in Athens’ Syntagma Square on Sunday, 3 December 1944, which turned violent when Greek police and British soldiers fired on the unarmed demonstrators.
28 demonstrators were killed, 148 injured. The day that marked the begin of Dekemvriana ended for many in arrest and into exile in British camps in Egypt.
Meanwhile, General Scobie promptly ordered all ELAS units to leave Athens within seventy-two hours, and on the following day he declared martial law. The clashes ended on the night of 5 January, and ELAS began a general withdrawal from the Greek capital.
From 3 December 1944 and 11 January 1945 a series of clashes took place between the communist EAM, parts of its military wing, the ELAS, the KKE and some other organizations on one side and the Greek Government, some parts of the Hellenic Royal Army, the Gendarmerie, the Police and some far-right organizations as well as the British Army on the other side.
The chapter of history known as Dekemvriana ended with the defeat of EAM/ELAS, leading to its disarmament. with the Varkiza Agreement in 1945. This first defeat broke the power of EAM and was followed by a period of “White Terror” against the left, which contributed to the outbreak of the Greek Civil War in 1946 that ended in 1949.
Liberation: Too painful to remember
Many wonder why Greeks do not celebrate the end of the WWII and the Nazi occupation and the end of atrocities, hardship and plight as a National Holiday. They instead celebrate the begin of the war on 28. October 1940, when Italy as part of the Axis declared war to Greece.
“We are the only country that celebrate the begin of the war and not the end,” historian Tasoula Vervenioti said in an older interview.
She has an explanation for this. “For ten years the country was in war and civil war. Which society can bear that? Update, the Civil War is a trauma, a taboo, the Greeks do not even touch, who much more to deal with…”
Greek prefer to celebrate the begin of the war than to be reminded of the Civil War should they celebrate its end.
This explanation is possible….