Sunday, 28 October 2012

Lest we forget

The 28th of October, known as the heroic "NO" day, when Greece prevented fascist Italy from entering the country during WW2, is a major public holiday in Greece, which this year happens to fall on a Sunday; therefore Greek workers lose out on the holiday aspect, because it is simply part of the weekend. (Greek public holidays are never transferred for observance to a weekday - they are celebrated on the day they fall.)

Most television discussions and programmes today will centre around an event which took place 72 years ago:
Κορυτσά 1940: Μία γελοιογραφία της “Daily Mail” και ένα γράμμα - Φωτογραφία 2
Cartoon of the time
On the 28th of October Italian troops stormed across the Greek border as Mussolini attempted to add Greece to the new Roman Empire, and show fellow fascist Adolph Hitler that Italy too, could launch its own Blitzkrieg offensive. Mussolini's poorly lead troops however had underestimated the Greeks' tenacity to resist the Italian invaders. By the end of October, the Italians had captured the Greek town of Koritsa*, near the Pindus mountain range, only 6 miles into Greek territory... the Greeks launched a series of counter-attacks aimed at cutting off the main road out of Koritsa and threatened to isolate the Italian army [... threatening] not only the Italian forces along the coastline, but the only roads out of Koritsa to the west. The Italians had reinforced Koritsa with remnants of the 3rd Alpini Division a mere day before the final Greek assault began, spearheaded by armour imported from Italy before the war. The 9th Italian Army resisted desperately, but the town fell along with some of Mussolini's best troops to the II Greek Army on November 22nd, after both roads west of Koritsa had been cut. The next day Italian troops were driven from Greek soil.
We were having an early breakfast this morning, confused by the time change (daylight saving ended yesterday) which got us out of bed rather early. The sun was already shining at 7am; for the past month, it was quite dark at this time, when we usually get up to prepare for work and school. The TV programs for the day will all be historically based. While we were listening to someone telling us about his experiences as a soldier in Koritsa, my husband was reminded of another story from his youth. He did not have the chance to meet his maternal grandfather, who was killed by firing squad in his home village in WW2 by the Nazis, or his paternal grandfather, who was spared because he was fighting the war at the border, but he remembers his paternal grandmother's stories, which his father told him.

"Where did you sleep in Koritsa, Saranto?" she asked him when he returned from the front.
"We slept όρθιοι," he replied, meaning that they didn't sleep much. There was no such thing as a bed for Greek soldiers in any of the contemporary wars that they fought. They were most often ill-equipped and lacking arms. Patriotism was mainly what kept them struggling.

"So you never lay down?"

"Of course we lay down, because if we didn't, we'd be falling down as soon as we closed our eyes."

"So where did you sleep?"

"It was very very cold up there, and the earth was frozen solid, so we couldn't sleep on the bare ground. We'd place four dead soldiers on the ground side-by-side, and then we'd lie down on top of them. there was enough space for two of us. But it was still very cold, and even if we wanted to sleep, we really couldn't."

People talking about hunger during WW2 in Greece

Cold, tired and hungry, my husband's paternal grandfather eventually returned to Crete. He died a few years after his return due to the accumulated health problems that he had suffered from his war effort. 

It's difficult to forget stories of this kind, even if we wanted to. Now Greece's long oral tradition is also being complemented by a lot more writing, these stories will remain an integral part of history. 

*Koritsa is no longer a part of Greece - it is now Korçë, in Albania.

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