28 October is ‘Ochi’ (No) Day in Greece and Cyprus, which commemorates the defeat of the invading fascist Italians, 1940-41, and then the relentless resistance Greeks put up against the invading and occupying Germans, until liberation in 1944.
‘Ochi’ is what Greece’s prime minister, Ioannis Metaxas, allegedly replied on 28 October, 1940 to Mussolini’s ultimatum to allow Axis forces to enter Greece and occupy key locations in the country. In fact, it’s more likely that Metaxas said to the Italians, ‘Alors, c’est la guerre’ (Then it is war), but the spirit of defiance remains the same.
It’s worth pointing out that Greece, still reeling from the Asia Minor Catastrophe (1922) and from economic, political and social crises, only had heart, spirit and pride with which to resist the Axis powers, but it was enough; and that in the period 1940-44, Greece lost between 5-7 percent of its population – up to 500,000 people – one of the highest casualty rates of any Allied country.
Stavros, who knows a thing or two about fighting spirit, over at My Greek Odyssey has a post about Ochi Day, including videos demonstrating how Greek defiance of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany inspired freedom-loving people around the world during the darkest days of the war, 1940-41.
Here are some quotes from significant Second World War protagonists expressing their awe as Greece drove the Italians back deep into Albania and fought furiously against the Germans.
Churchill: ‘Hence, we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.'
Hitler, speaking in the Reichstag on May 4, 1941: ‘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.’
De Gaulle: ‘I am unable to give the proper breadth of gratitude I feel for the heroic resistance of the people and leaders of Greece.’
Mainichi Shimbun, Japanese newspaper, 7 December 1940: ‘Our country, in which virtue is especially honoured, watches with admiration the struggle of the Greeks in Albania. We are so much touched, that, by letting aside every other feeling, we shout: LONG LIVE HELLAS!’
Long live Hellas, indeed.
I’ll finish with this poem I found on Constantine’s site, by John Dennis Mahoney, written in 1941.
Il Duce with his mighty legions
Knocked at Greece’s ancient gate
He had forty million people
And the Greeks had only eight
With his Fascist banners gleaming
From the high Albanian Peak,
“I am coming,” cried Il Duce.
“Come ahead,” replied the Greek.
“Forward!” shouted the commanders
With a good old Roman curse;
And the legions started rolling,
Rolling swiftly – in reverse,
And throughout the startled nation
The news began to leak
That the Duce had been walloped
By the sturdy little Greek.
Then that poor, moth-eaten Caesar,
What a different song he sang!
“This great big bully licked me!
Hey Adolph, get your gang!”
“You’re a dumkopf,” cried the Fuehrer,
As he pulled his trusty gun;
“You don’t know how to murder kids;
“I’ll show you how it’s done.”
And then the tanks began to roll
With clank and roar and groan:
The great planes blacked the sky and filled
The air with ceaseless drone,
In endless ranks with flame and bomb
And gray guns long and sleek;
The mighty German war machine
Moved down upon the Greek.
And still that fellow wouldn’t run –
He didn’t quite know how.
“We’ve got some help,” he said, “and that
just makes it even now.”
“Bring on your millions, Adolph dear,
We’re neither scared nor meek.
The British, sixty thousand strong,
Are standing with the Greek!”
They fought a fight like Homer’s song
They died, as brave men must
Their ranks, “neath dark odds,
Were beaten to the dust.
And then heroic chivalry
Attained its highest peak
As the victors clasped their bloody hands
Above the fallen Greek.
Someday, beyond this veil of tears,
We’ll all stand on the spot
To tell the Judge of all the world
Just who we were – and what.
I wouldn’t be a Fascist then,
Or Nazi grim and bleak;
But I’d be proud to tell my God
That once I was a Greek!