Early 1941, a time of grim realization

By early 1941, it had become apparent that Greece’s defeat of Italian troops on the Albanian front would not put an end to Greece’s participation in World War II. German troops began to concentrate in Bulgaria, massing on the border with Greece, and it was clear that an invasion of Greece was imminent. This was a time of grim realization in Greece, realization that the sacrifices in the war against Italy would soon be overwhelmed by the demands of a war against an overwhelming and far deadlier enemy on a second front. Georgios Angelou Vlachos, the publisher who founded Kathimerini in 1919, summed up many of the feelings and arguments of his countrymen when he addressed an open letter to Adolf Hitler on the front page of Kathimerini on March 8, 1941. Vlachos pointed out at length how hard Greece had tried to stay out of the war, trying to heal its wounds from continual conflict abroad and domestic divisions. He stressed that even when – unprovoked – an Italian submarine sank a Greek cruiser, the Elli, in the port of Tinos on August 15, 1940, Greece turned the other cheek, so as to avoid war. But the Italian ultimatum on October 28, 1940, forced Greece to take a stand, and it turned to its only ally, Britain, for assistance. Even then, the Greeks limited Britain’s assistance, Vlachos argued, so as not to provoke Germany into a response. And yet, he noted, the Germans prepared to invade a Greece that was exhausted but still ready to stand and fight. After arguing as to why it would not make sense for Germany to attack Greece, Vlachos ended his letter with the solemn assertion that Greece would fight in Thrace as it had fought in Epirus and, «This land that taught the world how to live will now teach it how to die.» The words were prophetic. The German invasion and occupation, which ended in the fall of 1944, sowed death through hostilities and starvation across the country. It left a nation divided between left- and right-wing forces and led to the devastating civil war in 1946-49. It took Greece many years to heal the wounds from this conflagration. Below is Vlachos’s letter, which offers precious insight into the thoughts and fears, and desperate heroism, that beset Athens as the storm clouds gathered.