You prove your worth with your actions, not with your mouth. Jean Paul
Close to 70 years have passed since the end of World War II, yet its influence prevails. Or at least, that’s the theory I wanted to explore in my novel, Nicolai’s Daughters. To be honest, when I first began the project, I wasn’t sure where I was going with the story or what I wanted to say about this war. But I dove in anyway, uncovering details of a long forgotten tragedy. Along the way, I learned a bit of what makes me tick.
WWII was a backdrop to my novel, an interesting distant past for the characters I had created. The war provided some insight into the actions of my protagonists even though some hadn’t been born. I dug deeper and discovered how this conflict shaped not only my fictional characters, but also a nation’s psyche.
The occupation of Greece by Axis forces began in 1941. To be fair to the Germans, they weren’t the first to occupy Greece. They found what other occupiers before them discovered. Resilience. Courage. Resistance.
One of the earliest examples of Greek resistance to the Nazis came when the Germans reached the Acropolis in April 1941. They ordered the Greek flag to be removed. Evzone Konstandinos Koukides took it down as ordered. He then wrapped himself in the flag and jumped from the plateau. A few days later, two young Athenians tore down the erected Nazi flag. It was a sign of things to come for the Germans and aroused defiance in other parts of Europe.
Greeks consider it an obligation to resist. It’s one of the many things I learned and grew to respect about the national psyche as I researched my book. Of the Greek resistance movement, Churchill once said, "Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks". Roosevelt wrote, "Greece has set the example which every one of us must follow until the despoilers of freedom everywhere have been brought to their just doom." You can see where my need to protest comes from. No, it’s not my big mouth, but rather my Greek roots and the sense of fairness and justice.
My novel touches on the execution of civilians by Nazi forces in Kalavryta, but there were many other communities throughout Greece that faced similar atrocities: Kommeno, Viannos, Distomo and Kedros are a few examples. Executions of civilians, removal of Greek Jews to Auschwitz, appropriation of land, livestock, and antiquities are some of the ways the Nazis attempted to make the Greeks knuckle to their will. Oh, yes, they also forced the Greek government to provide a substantial loan to support Nazi war efforts. That debt has never been repaid. This injustice, the idea of unfairness, riles the Greek soul to its core, particularly in a time where there is economic strife in the country. And I can tell you, it doesn’t make me too happy either. Why I wonder, can’t people take responsibility for their actions?
Yes, there has been some compensation in the form of machinery provided to Greece. And there has been some reparation to a few Greek Jews for property stolen. In Kalavryta, school children were given books to offset the loss of their school and close to 700 lives. It’s hard to write this down without getting angry.
In the past week or so, the German president Joachim Gauck visited Greece to issue an apology for his country’s actions against Greek Jews in Ligiades during WWII. He said something about not wanting to go to his grave with this on his conscience, but was silent about the issue of compensation to Greece even when directly asked.
Apologies are a good start, but as the German author, Jean Paul noted, you prove your worth with your actions, not your mouth. The Greeks did this with their courage and resistance during WWII. Isn’t it time the Germans did the right thing?
The Place of Sacrifice where close to 700 people were massacred by the Nazis in Kalavryta (Dec. 1943)
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