Duce of Italy, the fear and terror of Europe, Hitler’s buddy, decides on October 28th 1940 to put forth his hand and grasp small Greece. The citizens of Athens wake up at the screaming sound of sirens at 7am. Still half sleeping, they get informed about the sudden declaration of war of Italy against Greece.
“I was watching the faces of the Greeks down there on the street. Their uncombed hair, their bleary faces looking outside the windows, and they refused to get scared. Panic? What Panic? What I could see instead was a weird smile painting their faces, a laughter full of spite, rage and indignation. Not even the ladies were scared, although that they had already been informed months ago that this war will be crueler than anyone could ever imagine.” (author Dimitris Psathas, describing this morning. Newspaper “Tachydromos Omonoia”, Alexandria Egypt, October 28th 1948)
It’s impressive how the Greeks responded to this awkward calling. The soldiers would leave for the front singing. In the mountains of Pindos, dancing was the way to deal with the horrible circumstances. And those who stayed behind formed a strong body; all of them together; the rich would leave aside their ambitions and the poor would ignore their poverty. No one decided to remain uninvolved during this difficult moment. All Greeks, very few exceptions aside, got involved and offered whatever they could for the sake of freedom.
Businesses and associations
Even during the very first days of the war, newspapers started publishing donations. Famous ship-owner families were among the first donors: Sigalas family offered 3 ships to the army and 3 million Drachmas for the air force. Empeirikos family, 5.000 Sterling pounds, Eugenios Eugenides and Chryse Goulandri 1 million Drachmas each, just to mention a few of them. Ship owner families had donated around 35 million drachmas during the first 20 days alone.
The whole of the business world joined the cause too. Brothers Papastratou, the great industrialists of tobacco, offered within the first ten days 5 million Drachmas for the air force, the Red Cross and Welfare. But also later on you will often find them among the donations announced in daily newspapers of the time. For the cause of the National Fundraiser, the bank “Banque de Credit Commercial Hellenique” (later on renamed to Alpha Bank), deposits 200.000 Drachmas and family Costopoulos (the owners of the bank) initially deposit 100.000 Drachmas and keep making donations frequently. All of the Greek Banks kept supporting the army financially during the whole period of the Greek-Italian war.
Many industries handed over their premises, personnel and raw materials for the production of clothing and other supplies for the army:
“The industry Thanos Kavvadias in N. Philadelphia provided 150 bedclothes and free wool for the production of pullovers for a regiment”. For the cause, cooperation bros Doumas grants the use of its factory located in Emm. Mpenaki Street 4 “for the production by its 24 workers of materials needed by the Health Office of the State”. Every day you would read news like that.
Financial donations would also come from associations, insurance funds, businesses and workers organizations, private clubs and cahoots:
“The Israeli Association sent the whole of its funds, 1 million Drachmas”, within the very first week. Labor union offered a total of 65 million Drachmas within the first two weeks of the war. Seafarers’ organizations 5 million Drachma, Authors union 1 million, Street markets union 53.000; all these just to mention a few.
Citizens, rich and poor
All known bourgeois families would generously offer their share: Families Stefanos Delta, Skouze, Characopou, Pesmatzoglou and many others would deposit thousands of Drachmas for the support of the air force, the Red Cross in the beginning and then for the Panhellenic Errand. But even those who didn’t have much would happily donate all they had. Every day you would read the names of the donors and the amounts of their donations in the newspapers. Even the donations of 50 or 100 Drachmas. Some of the donations are truly touching:
Michael Papagiannis, 3rd grade schoolboy, offers his one golden coin to the government: “This golden coin was put in my bed when I was born and my father has kept it since to give it to me when I come of age. But now that we are at war, I’m sending it to you to make a bombshell and throw it onto Italy”, says little Michael in his letter.
Thousands of Greeks would offer their jewelry: “Stasa Ioannou Magouzou, offers her jewelry made of platinum, diamonds and gemstone.”
Some would even offer the only jewel they had, like Georgies Protopappas of Gortynia who donated his wedding ring. In his letter for the donation, he says that when the war is over he will make a new wedding ring; and this ring will be carved with the date of the beginning of the war and the date of the final victory of Greece.
But there were also others who had neither money nor jewelry to offer, but they’d still find a way to get involved in the national cause.
Achmet Tsampounis addressed the following letter to the prime minister: “Because I have no money to offer for the war needs of our homeland, I offer my 22 acre field in Variko of village Liopesi in Epiros. I kindly ask you to accept the only donation I can make”.
Athanasios Dimitras “not being able to offer any physical or financial help during these sacred moments of the fight for our temples and homes, offers 5000 olives to our heroically fighting army”.
Georgios Theodoropoulos, allows his tenant Charalampos Tsafos, who is serving at the front, to keep his place for free until the war ends and for 2 months after. Furthermore, he provided for the soldier’s sister who was left behind on her own.
The horrible adventure of this war was just starting for small and poor Greece who was asked to achieve the impossible once again. Lives were lost, bodies and souls were broken, fortunes got vanished and whole villages were totally destroyed by the German occupation that followed. But Greeks never wanted this day to be forgotten. The day when against all odds, they joyfully accepted the risky “No” Ioannis Metaxas the prime minister said. It is like the English General Sir Ronald MacKenzie Scobie said in his speech in 1944: “… Greece was the first of all European nations to repel on land an enemy who thought they were invincible” (newspaper Kathimerin Nea, October 28th 1944)
Today we celebrate the bravery of all those Greeks who fought at the front, who survived or fell for the greater cause. We celebrate the generosity of all those who donated all they had to make this achievement possible. From bankers and industrialists who donated millions, to the poorest farmers who donated their wedding ring or 50 Drachmas. These people, our grandfathers and grandmothers, left a glorious legacy for us. And we are called to make the best of this legacy, to enrich it and hand it over to the generations to come.