The following testimony refers to an event which took place during the Nazi occupation of Greece in WWII and was imparted to me by a woman who was there: A young man she knew from the Athens suburb of Pangrati, recruited by the National Liberation Front (EAM) and wanted by the Germans, was placed by the party in its Organization for the Protection of the People’s Struggle (OPLA) squad. They gave him the photograph of a man, an address written on a piece of paper, a gun and orders to assassinate the target.
The young man begged his superiors to give him a good reason why he should kill a man he had never met in his life. That he was a Nazi collaborator and a traitor was not enough for him. “Make me angry at him. Give me a reason to do it,” he pleaded. But he had no choice. He waited outside the man’s house and when the target appeared, he shot.
The woman who told me this story added that a few days after committing the murder, the young man came by her house. “He was upset. He told me he couldn’t sleep and was jumpy. He asked me if he could hold the baby – I had recently given birth. Then he didn’t speak anymore.”
The young man in question spent some time at the Greek Communist rear camp in Bulkes in Yugoslavia and was then sent back to Athens by Communist Party general secretary Nikos Zachariadis along with a group of others, into a “proper trap – his home marked,” according to the narrator. He hid for a while in Faliro on Athens’s southern coast, a wanted man.
“I would take him food at night with my sister, who was in love with him. Then we heard he had been caught and one morning we read about his execution in the papers.”
How can you kill someone you don’t know, you have no anger toward? How can you use violence against a complete stranger? But it is so common. I reflected on these questions after University of Macedonia Professor Nikos Marantzidis was attacked and beaten by three strangers in Thessaloniki. They didn’t know who he was either. They had no idea who they were hitting.
If the above incident had occurred during the war – a time that Marantzidis, a historian, has written so much about – I believe he would not have revealed his identity to his attackers as he did on Tuesday. Sure, he was courageous, but he also showed ignorance of the dangers. And his three attackers, it seems, showed too much zeal for the task at hand.
Murder is not the same as a beating, of course. However, in the Greece of 2014, polarization and the dialectics of hate have spread everywhere, like a malignant cancer. Intellectuals and commentators have supported this kind of behavior or display a suspicious tolerance depending on the identity of the victim. The situation is cause for grave concern. Yet the young man who followed orders in 1943 experienced guilt, a crisis of conscience.