Survivors’ tales

The number of Greeks who lived through the Second World War, the German occupation and the resistance is inevitably shrinking. That is, the number of those who fought, who were injured and who hoped for a better future; the number of those who can reach back into their personal memory box – despite the inevitable gaps or selectiveness – and provide us with some information about how they felt at the time and how they feel today.

However, if we rely on the written testimonies, the historical studies and the fictional research from the 1940s carried out by those who were then in their 20s or 30s as well as on oral history, we can draw some safe conclusions about the survivors’ feelings. But we can also predict what they would likely say to those of us who came next; those of us who shape our opinion through books and oral accounts – put differently, to those of us whose opinion is partial and filtered and, most importantly, influenced by ideological structures and interpretative tools.

The first thing that WWII survivors, even those who have been deprived of a dignified life because of the financial crisis, would most likely say to us would be to end talk of a “second occupation” or “new Hitlers.” Such epithets, they would probably say, indicate nothing but a shallow knowledge of history. Furthermore, such references do great injustice to those who truly suffered during occupation – victims and survivors alike.

Despite widespread poverty and the compromised national sovereignty – a fact confessed by our ruling class – the German occupation remains a unique event. It is not comparable to any of our contemporary experiences. The same applies to Hitler and his lethal apparatus that set out to pulverize enemy nations, races and political opponents. As a result, it is reckless and historically insensitive to identify the current German leadership with the Nazi regime – arrogant and myopic as Berlin may be today.

A second thing that those survivors would say to us is that all this discourse about “unity,” which is characteristic of celebrations and anniversary messages, is in some way predictable and sensible. However, unity, which is portrayed now as a condition for every national achievement, was in fact absent in the 1940s, particularly after the German invasion. The occupation was devastating for the overwhelming majority of Greeks, but it was also an opportunity for a cynical minority of black marketeers and self-serving collaborationists.

So the third thing that the survivors would say: Mind the descendants of those bootlickers. Be careful of those modern-day Nazis in a country which suffered from Nazism and fought against it like few others.

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