Wartime Athens I
Athens During the Balkan and First World Wars (1912-1918)
Greek prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos was able to unite the Christian states of the Balkans against the Turkish oppressor when, in 1912, he founded an alliance between Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria. In the First Balkan War the Turks found themselves driven back to the walls of Constantinople. The immediate result for Greece was the liberation of Epirus and Macedonia and the large islands of the northern and eastern Aegean. When the Bulgarians, dissatisfied with their spoils, attacked their former allies in the Second Balkan War, further territorial gains were made in Western Thrace. The only event to sober the cheering crowds in Athens was the assassination of King George in Thessaloniki on 18th March 1913. Yet his successor, Constantine, seemed by his very name to some to forecast at last the realisation of the Great Idea.
When the First World War broke out, Greece outwardly seemed united as never before under a popular and successful king and a universally respected Prime minister. Within three years the nation’s territory had doubled, its finances (unusually) were on a sound footing, industry was growing and the worst abuses of the past had been checked.
However, the war presented Greece with an unwelcome dilemma. If Greece joined the Allies, it would take on at once not only Germany and Austria-Hungary, but also adjacent Turkey and Bulgaria, each with hearty appetites for Greek territory. The Germans were quick to hint that if Greece stayed neutral and the Central Powers were triumphant, the Greeks might expect to receive parts of Serbia and Albania. King Constantine, trained at the Berlin Kriegsakademie, brother-in-law, friend of the Kaiser and ardent Germanophile, certainly expected the armies of the Central Powers to prevail. Due To Greece’s vulnerability To British and French naval action, he preferred a formal neutrality. Moreover, he was prepared to intervene in support of his views. He told a Liberal deputy: ‘… none of you [politicians] know anything about the military. And for this reason Ι put myself in charge of all the military matters, and don’t give a word to anyone, not even to your Venizelos, and you go and tell him that I said this.’
Venizelos indicated his wish to assist the Allies. He had in Αpril 1914 learned from the Kaiser and Bethmann-Hollweg at their summer house, the Achilleion, on Corfu, that in any war with Turkey, Greece could not count upon any German support. Thus Greece would need to ensure the support of the old guaranteeing powers: Russia, France and Britain. Moreover, he understood that the new brand of Turkish nationalists could not co-exist with large non-Turkish minorities within the country, and that the support of the Allies would be necessary to protect the Christian minorities. In January 1914, the British offered territory To Greece on the coast of Asia Minor in return for Drama and Kavalla if she would join in the Dardenelles campaign. Venizelos supported this if the Greeks could have Smyrna and its hinterland, with a Greek population of 800,000. Metaxas protested and resigned. He felt that holding territory in Asia Minor would prove impracticable, and the danger of attack from Bulgaria was real. The king supported him rather than his prime minister, and dismissed Venizelos
Venizelos won a majority in elections in June, but his opponents kept him out of power until August on the grounds of the king’s serious illness. Both sides agreed to mobilisation in September, following the mobilisation of the Bulgarian army; the king saw this as a defensive measure, Venizelos as enabling Greece to fulfil its treaty obligations to assist Serbia if it were attacked by Bulgaria. The terms of this agreement stipulated that Serbia would provide 150,000 troops; which it could not, because of the war. Venizelos suggested that the Western Allies could provide them instead. Instantly, the British and French argued that, as Greece’s guarantors, Britain, France and Russia could send troops To Greece if they were all in agreement.
On October 4th, Bulgaria entered the war. Venizelos stated the intention of the government to honour its treaty obligations to go to the aid of Serbia. The king refused to accept this policy, saying: ‘Ι do not wish us to help Serbia, because Germany is going to win and Ι do not wish to be beaten!’ Venizelos resigned. On the same day, allied troops landed in Thessalonika.
The new royalist government refused To allow re-equipped Serbian units to move from Corfu to Thessaloniki. Then on 23rd May 1916, Bulgarian forces appeared outside Fort Rupel, claiming that the Greek government had given its agreement to their occupying advance positions on the border, acquired at the insistence of Venizelos because of its strategic value as the key to eastern Macedonia To any Bulgarian advance, and recently renovated at great expense. The garrison inflicted damage on the attackers. But it was then ordered to evacuate the fort. This justifiably created the impression that the Greek king and government were cooperating actively with the Central Powers.
On 21st June, the Allies demanded the dissolution of the government, the demobilisation of the army, the surrender of half the Greek fleet and much of its artillery. They also imposed a strict blockade on Greece, which made prices skyrocket and increased both opposition To the Allies and the popularity of the king. The king undermined the forced demobilisation by organising a paramilitary ‘League of Reservists’ of former army men, whose main function seems to have been to intimidate the Venizelists.
In Macedonia, the Bulgarians took immediate advantage of the key strategic positions handed over to them to invade the east of the province. Only after they had committed atrocities against the population did the government in Athens protest. When the whole of eastern Macedonia had been abandoned to the invaders, who deported able-bodied men as slave labour to work in the Bulgarian mines and systematically starved the rest of the population, imposing a reign of terror, the wrath of many in Athens was aroused against the royal policy. A mass meeting of Liberals marched to Venizelos’ house, where he addressed them from the balcony. Α deputation then went to the palace, but the king refused to see them. The king did authorise Mr. Zaimis to say that he would open negotiations with the Allies, but when he judged that indignation had died down, he did nothing about it. Even Zaimis resigned after German propaganda flooded the capital. He was succeeded by a prominent Germanophil, Mr. Kalegeropoulos. In the meantime, a revolutionary movement was set up in Thessaloniki. On 22nd September, the Prime minister announced that all those who joined this movement would be court-martialled.
Finally, on 25th September, Venizelos, together with admiral Koundouriotis, Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, and a large body of followers, left Phaleron for Crete. From there they sailed To Thessaloniki, where, on 9th October, Venizelos set up a provisional government. Greece was thus divided into two states: one formally neutral, but intriguing with the Central Powers, with its government in Athens; the other openly supporting the Allies, with its government in Thessaloniki.
This ‘National Schism’ was much more than a rift between those who supported the Central Powers or neutrality and those who supported the Allies. It was a rift between old and new Greece. The king and the established politicians and landowners of the old Greece of the Peloponnese and Sterea Ellada were threatened by the new- comers from Crete, Macedonia, Epirus and the eastern Aegean islands. It was a1so a gulf between conservatives and liberals, the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.
In Athens Mr. Kalogeropoulos resigned, and was replaced by Mr. Lambros, a learned palaeographer who really just wanted to become a monk on Mount Athos. Foreign agents from all the Great Powers flooded into Greece, conspiring against each other in an effort To secure the country for their own side in the war. The Allies made a series of demands: that the royalist government surrender the Larissa Railway and certain warships, and disarm land batteries at Piraeus and Salamis. Later it was agreed that some artillery guns and other war materials would be handed over as a guarantee of neutrality, and in return for material surrendered to the enemy at Fort Rupel. Meanwhile, royalist propaganda in Athens concocted and publicised a totally fictitious massacre of royalists in southern Macedonia by Venizelists in order to inflame public opinion against Venizelos.
At daybreak on December 1st three battalions of French troops landed at Piraeus and marched on Athens to take possession of the arms, to be handed over as agreed. But preparations had been made by the government to resist. Greek patrols withdrew in front of the advance. The advancing French were ordered to occupy the Mouseion and Nympheion Hills. When firing broke out, the French were forced to retreat To Phaleron. Firing died down at midday, but began again at 4:30. Admiral Dartige sent a message to the vessels in Phaleron Bay to bombard Stadion Ηίll. During a two hour bombardment, the queen and other members of the royal family and place staff hid in the cel1ars. One shell struck the wall outside the king’s study. Admiral Dartige ordered them to stop firing at seven He wanted his government’s authority to bombard the city, but representatives of foreign powers complained of the danger to their legations.
After an exchange of prisoners, the Allies withdrew during the night. Troops isolated at Zappeion left for Piraeus under escort. Allied control1ers of ports, railway stations, telephone and post offices were withdrawn, as was the Franco-British secret police force. At least fifty-seven Allied soldiers had been killed and one hundred and fifty-four injured, while thirty-five Greeks had been killed, and fifty-six injured.
Burning for revenge, Admiral Dartige sent a telegram to Paris advising that the Greeks deserved a ‘severe lesson’, and that he was ready to carry it out. He wanted to occupy Piraeus and bombard Athens. In preparation, all Frenchwomen working in Greek homes were ordered to leave within twelve hours, or they would forfeit their passports. On December 8th he proclaimed a blockade of the city. Α few days later, he was formally deprived of his command and prematurely retired.
The blockade continued, however, and the adulteration of flour produced epidemics of dysentery, especially among the children and the old. Bread disappeared, and was replaced by carob beans and herbs. Lack of mothers’ milk took too many infant deaths.
This ‘victory’ over the Allies emboldened the supporters of the king to initiate a violent pogrom against Venizelists throughout Athens. The houses of supporters of the former Prime minister were attacked by armed gangs, and the householders forced to flee to the Allies for protection. Many hundreds were arbitrarily arrested by the League of Reservists. Some were executed in cold blood on the banks of the Ilissos and in the military bases at Goudi and Pedeion tou Areos. The names of thirty-six victims are known, but there were probably many more. In an atavistic ceremony on December 26th the archbishop of Athens formally excommunicated the absent Venizelos, represented by a bull’s head. The head was set on a stake at Pedeion tou Areos, cursed, and buried in a cairn of stones. Then the finely dressed ladies from Kolonaki crowded around to ‘stone Venizelos.’ As a consequence of these events, the Venizelists renounced any allegiance to the dynasty, and Venizelos’ government in Thessaloniki was recognised by the Allies. [Read more about the ‘stoning of Venizelos’ in Athens: The City.]
On 29th January the royalist Greek army in Athens was compelled to parade in front of the colours of the Allies and salute them in a ceremonial act of humiliation in front of the Zappeion building. The king was represented by his brother, Prince Andrew. Gradually, one by one, the islands began to declare for Venizelos, Α conference of Hellenic communities outside Greece met in Paris on May 1st and repudiated the king. On May 3rd Mr Zaimis formed a new administration which he said was to try to overcome difficulties with the Allies. But the attempted murder of two British officers at Phaleron showed that he was not in control of the situation, although he did dismiss some actively pro-German officers. [Read more about the Allied Occupation of Athens in Athens: The City.]
On 10th June the Entente Powers demanded the abdication of King Constantine. He left the country to his brother, Alexander, without, however, making a formal act of abdication, and slipped out of the country from Oropos, making for Switzerland. Venizelos was installed in Athens as Prime minister. The civil service and the armed forces were purged of royalists, who were replaced with Venizelists. The royalists never forgot that the king had been forced out by a foreign power, and that Venizelos had been returned to power ‘with the assistance of Senegalese bayonets.’ The ‘National Schism’ was fatally set in amber.
Meanwhile, from 1916, the Turks had determined on the extermination of the entire Armenian population by the method of forced deportation, which, was interpreted as ‘direction without destination.’ Most were killed or died of starvation on the marches across the countryside. In consequence, a flood of Armenian refugees arrived in Greece. An orphanage was set up in the Zappeion building.
Although Greek forces entered the war late, their success in Macedonia against Turkey off from the Central Powers, threatened the security of Austria-Hungary, and was admitted by νon Hindenburg to have been one of the key factors that induced the Germans to sue for an armistice. Greek warships and troops participated in the triumphal entry of Allied forces into Constantinople.
Athens Between the Wars (1918-1940)
Venizelos spent over a year in Paris at the peace conference, tirelessly arguing Greece’s case. As a result, the Treaty of Sevres of August 1920 gave the Greeks eastern Thrace as far as the Chatalja Lines, Imvros, Tenedos, and Smyrna and its hinterland. This was everything they wanted to realise the Great Idea except the city of Constantinople itself, the Dodecanese and Cyprus.
The Italians had landed south of Smyrna in March 1919, thus before the treaty was even signed, Βritish, French and US warships had supervised the landing of Greek forces at Smyrna. This gave fresh impetus To Kemal’s nationalist Turkish movement, already being supplied by the French. When Kemalist forces drove the British out of the Izmit Peninsula, the Greeks were authorised to clear Thrace and western Anatolia of Kemalist forces. When the Turkish nationalist forces in Eastern Thrace were defeated, their leader captured, and Adrianople occupied by Greek troops on 26th July, there was general rejoicing. In Athens flags were flown, a gun salute fired and a solemn doxology sung in the cathedral. Although few could have foreseen it, Greece was at the height of its fortunes, and from this point onwards everything would slide to catastrophe in what was to be called ‘the terrible century
On the first stage of his return to Athens, two disaffected naval officers tried to kill Venizelos at the Gare du Lyon, in Paris. Then on 25th October, King Alexander, who had been bitten by a pet monkey, died. [Read about the death of King Alexander from a monkey-bite in Attica.]His brother Paul refused the crown. As a result, the general election of 14th November 1920 became a referendum between Venizelos and Constantine. The royalists promised to reduce their commitments in Asia Minor and demobilise the army. This was a message with tremendous appeal to a population which had been in arms since 1912. The Allies warned that if Constantine were restored, they reserved the right to adjust their attitude towards Greece. Venizelos lost, left the country on a British yacht, and King Constantine returned.
The fortunes of Athens then began to turn upon events in distant Asia Minor, as had happened nearly seven hundred years before. Despite the changed attitude of the Allies, new royalist government decided to consolidate its position there by an advance against the forces of Kemal, and selected the new officers to lead the army on the basis of their loyalty to the crown, rather than for any skills they might have. The new commander, George Hatzanestisas, insisted on directing operations from Smyrna, four hundred kilometres from the front. The casualties on both sides were enormous, and the Greeks lines of communication became grossly overstretched through hostile territory when the army had advanced to the enemy defensive lines within sixty miles of Ankara. Lacking ammunition and food, after twenty-two days fighting, they were forced to seek a truce. Then the Turks began their prepared offensive. Hatzanestisas ignored the pleas for reinforcements from the front commanders thinking the Turkish attack a diversion. He was preoccupied with planning an expedition to liberate Constantinople. The Greek retreat turned into a disorganised flight. Many soldiers were taken captive, and tens of thousands lost their lives. The defeated and demoralized army took ship for Greece and abandoned the Greeks of Asia Minor, who swarmed into Smyrna for protection, from the vengeful Turks.
On 9th September the Turkish Army entered the port city. First they systematically hunted out and killed all the Armenians. Then they turned on the Greeks, their numbers swollen with some 400,000 refugees from the interior. They seized bishop Chrysostom in his church, gauged out his eyes and dragged him through the streets by his beard, beating and kicking him, and cutting off his bands with a scimitar. Finally, he was hacked lo pieces. The Turkish Army then set fire lo the Greek and Armenian quarters of the city, driving all the inhabitants down to the quayside. George Horton, an eyewitness of the catastrophe, reported that the Turkish soldiers had systematically torched the city in order to wipe out the Christians in Asia Minor, so that they could never again return lo their homes. He was convinced that, like the genocide of the Armenians, the massacre, looting and burning had clearly been planned in advance as systematic ethnic cleansing.
Desperate to board any ship out of Smyrna, most were turned away by crews who feared that their ships would capsize. US, British and French warships lying at anchor in the port deliberately refrained from extending any assistance to the desperate citizens, in order to comply with orders to avoid coming into conflict with the Turks. According lo the most conservative estimates, the numbers of the slaughtered exceeded 100,000, while other estimates put the number of dead in the city and its surrounding territories as more than 250,000-300,000.
When the news of the burning of Smyrna reached Athens, flags were lowered to half mast and black drapes hung throughout the city. Crowds went down to Piraeus anxiously gazing out over the sea for any sign of escaping Greeks. In Piraeus Horton tried to get the Captain of the Winona to go to Smyrna to take off some of the distressed people, but the Captain said that he had a load of figs to deliver to New York.
On shore, by the fifteenth the city was already three-quarters rubble and the fires were dying down. The Turks resumed attacks upon the people on the quayside after concerts were held on the allied ships to drown out the sounds of massacre from the shore. An admiral had to apologise for being late for dinner on a nearby ship when a woman’s body became entangled in the propeller of his launch.
Α private US citizen, Asa Jennings, located twenty transport ships and went to the by now impotent and hopeless royal government to ask permission to send them to rescue the Greeks on the quayside. The Prime Minister sent a request for guarantees from the Turks for the safety of the ships, and simply waited for a reply. Frustrated, at 4.00 pm on Saturday 23rd September, Jennings threatened that if he did not get a reply within two hours, he would publish an open letter saying that the Greek government was not prepared to permit Greek ships to sail to save Greek and Armenian refugees from certain death. The government capitulated and placed the entire Greek fleet under Jenning’s command. At dawn the next morning ten ships left to take off refugees. Then they returned with seventeen. On the third day they were joined by a cargo fleet under British charter. By October 1st 180,000 people had been rescued.
In the midst of the general collapse of political authority, a group of Venizelist army officers on the eastern islands formed a Revolutionary Committee under Colonels Plastiras and Gonatas to take over the situation. On 26th September an aeroplane flew over Athens dropping leaflets demanding the abdication of King Constantine, the resignation of the government, the dissolution of the Vouli, and the reinforcement of the Thracian front. Prince Nicholas pleaded for a Greek warship to take the king and the royal family To safety, but received no reply. The British minister obtained a British warship for this purpose. Early in the evening, 20,000 soldiers from Chios and Mytilene landed at Lamon with Colonels Plastiras and Gonatas on the Lemnos. They gave the government an ultimatum to comply with their demands by a certain time. King Constantine, deserted by ministers, civil servants, and almost everyone else, formally abdicated, the crown technically passing to his son, Prince George.
On the morning of 28th, the soldiers from Lamon entered Athens, Colonels Plastiras and Gonatas and Captain Phokas assumed the role of government. Two days later, the discredited ex-king left Tatoi for Oropos, and slunk out of the country once more. He was to die, generally unmourned, at Palermo within a year. ‘
After an extraordinary parliamentary commission had reported, two former prime ministers, former ministers of foreign affairs, the interior, the economy, transport, and the navy; and a general formerly commanding the army, were taken before a court-martial and charged with high treason. Their trial lasted for two weeks. During this period, great pressure was put on Greece by Allied governments to avoid awarding the death penalty, and open threats were made. But on November 15th the judges announced that all were guilty, and while two received life sentences, the rest were sentenced to death. The executions of the six were carried out in Goudi at 11.30 am on the same day. Prince Andrew, father of Prince Philip the duke of Edinburgh, was banished for life for having disobeyed orders, and sent into exile on a British warship.
Representatives of foreign governments were outraged. The Dutch Ambassador expressed the reaction of most diplomats and politicians when he wrote: ‘The crime committed by the Greek Government is revolting and has aroused the indignation of every civilized person. Six ex-ministers, who made very serious mistakes but did not harm their country irreparably, were sentenced To death… it has caused the contempt of the civilized world powers.’ The British Prime Minister, Bonar Law, declared that diplomatic relations with Greece would be severed for their ‘barbaric action.’ The US Government indefinitely postponed recognition of the Greek State. It is worthy of note that while the plight of millions of Greeks and Armenians in Asia Minor, and the deaths of more than a million had provoked little response among the leaders of the Western world, the execution of six former-cabinet ministers responsible for the disaster roused the world leaders to a fury of indignation. The reason, of course, was that it was not in the interest of Western leaders to have the example of a people treating their leaders as responsible for their political actions so soon after the slaughter of the First World War. It might cause their own people to reflect upon what had happened, who was responsible, and how that responsibility should be paid for.
Following talks between the British consul and Kemal about oil rights, a conference was held at Mudanya. Kemal told the Grand National Assembly in Ankara on 4th October: ‘We must clear our enemies from every part of our nation. But we may not need war to accomplish this. If they make the enemy leave Thrace, we will not be forced to resort to military operations.’ Α mass exodus on foot of the Greek population from Eastern Thrace then began. The gendarmes confiscated all the livestock of the refugees. The plight of these people gave even the self-preoccupied Ernest Hemmingway pause to comment on their wretchedness.
In Athens, refugees camped everywhere where there was space: on the beaches of Phaleron, in the former royal palace, in the boxes of the opera house, in the Parthenon, on the banks of the Ilissos… during that first winter ‘virtually every refugee was ill.’ Pneumonia took a terrible toll. Among other Greeks being evacuated from the Pontus region, smallpox and typhus, were so virulent that no more were taken from that area.
Dr. Fridtjοf Nansen was delegated by the League of Nations to study ways and means of assisting the refugees. He suggested setting up a supervisory commission under the League, but the US government refused to work under League supervision. Congress did, however, vote $200,000 to assist destitute US citizens stranded in Greece. Α group of US feminists set up a quarantine station on the island of Makronissos, off the coast of Attica, for the treatment of Pontic refugees. The League of Nations floated a loan at the ‘not especially charitable interest rate of 8.71%.’
Nansen proposed a general exchange ofpopu1ations between Greece and Turkey, to be supervised by a League commission. From this point onwards, Muslims in Greece did not cultivate their lands, so that in areas of Western Thrace there would be no harvest. Finally, by a convention signed on 30th January 1923, it was agreed that the Greeks of Constantinople and the Muslims of Greek Thrace should be exempted from the exchange. Already more than a million Greeks had fled or been driven from Asia Minor, and only 150,000 remained, to be exchanged with 390,000 Muslims. Among the refugees were 100,000 Armenians, whom the Greek government ordered people to treat ‘with the same consideration as Greeks.’
The tent cities all over Greece soon turned into shanty towns. Around Athens were Kaisariani, Neos Kosmos, and Vyronas. In a separate class was Nea Smyrni, settled on the whole by the wealthier refugees from Smyrna. Further ουt To the north were Nea lonia and Nea Erythreia. Around Piraeus were Nea Kokkinia, Drapetsona and Keratsini. In 1920 the popu1ation of Athens was 293,000, and Piraeus 133,000. This was just 5.9% of the population of the country as a whole. Following the exchange of peoples, the population of Piraeus jumped from just over 300,000 to almost 700,000 in a few months. Βy 1928, 284% of the population of the country lived in the Greater Athens area.
An immediate problem for the refugees was that many of the able-bodied men had been seized and not allowed to leave Turkey. An agreement had been signed on July 23rd that they should be allowed to leave. Most were marched to Magnesia. On the road they were robbed of their clothes and casually killed at whim by local people. The system was the same as that which had been used with such effect upon much larger numbers of Armenians during 1917. The ill and laggards were bayoneted, and many were sold as slaves to local peasants. The small number of survivors were released only in January 1924.
An additional hardship for the refugees was that many among the native population resented their arrival, describing them as ‘Turkish-born’ or ‘yoghurt-baptised’. There were some violent clashes in the greater Athens area between local people and refugees. Some of the refugees, known as Karamanlis, had been deported from central Anatolia as Orthodox Christians even though they did not speak any Greek at all. Many of the refugees, particularly those from Smyrna, found the Greeks of the mainland unsophisticated and parochial.
Those refugees which settled in the countryside were comparatively fortunate, in that less money was assigned for urban settlers. Many had skills such as textile manufacturing, and cigarette rolling. They became a source of cheap labour to be exploited by the wealthy, leading to a period of heavy industrialisation of the country. Some were entrepreneurs or professional people. In the long term, the refugees were to benefit Greece in many ways.
But it was not only the refugees who suffered Under these conditions, many of the soldiers of the Greek army who had been in uniform since 1912 found themselves unemployed upon demobilisation. Needless to say, the tourist trade upon which Athens economy depended was ruined as the cruise ships avoided Greek ports, the value of the drachma fell.
In 1923, Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis called upon all the Orthodox churches to adopt a new calendar in line with that used in the rest of the world. Several agreed, including the Church of Greece, while others, including the monastic communities on Μουnt Athos, continued to adhere to the old calendar. The Greek Government, with the support of the Church authorities, introduced the reformed calendar in 1924. The 9th March was immediately followed by the 23rd. This reform caused a schism within the Greek Church, for some believers, who came to be known as ‘Old-Calendarists’ refused to countenance the change.
The Royal Gardens became public property, and opened to the public in at the National Gardens in 1923. Their heyday was between that date and the Second World War, when they were well-protected and well-maintained. The monument for the Unknown Soldier was placed in position before the palace in 1932. The Senate moved into the old palace in 1934, and the Vouli or lower house of parliament moved there a year later.
Under the stresses which society was subjected to, it was inevitable that political instability would result. In June 1925 General Pangalos seized power and imposed censorship of the press. On 5th January 1926 he was declared Prime minister without elections. On 22nd August, he was imprisoned while in Crete by General Kondilis. Demonstrators marching down Vassilisis Sofias were fired upon from Rigilis Street. The leaders of the demonstration negotiated with the Prime minister and a confrontation was avoided. On 1st March 1925, a group of republican army officers tried to seize power to prevent the restoration of the monarchy. The instability only ended with the return of Venizelos to power in 1928.
Unfortunately, he was not to enjoy quiet times. In 1928 there was another influx of homeless people into Athens; this time from Corinth, where a massive earthquake had levelled almost every building. The Wall Street Crash and the subsequent depression inevitably had their effects in Greece. The Athens Stock Exchange closed in October 1929.
In late October 1930 some conspirators planned to overthrow the government of Venizelos while he was in Turkey effecting a historic rapprochement with Ataturk. Twenty-seven were arrested and tried. ΒΥ 193 Ι the national finances had picked up. Athens became a port of call for civil aircraft. The Turkish premier Ismet Pasha and his foreign minister arrived in Athens on 3rd October, repaying a visit to Turkey by Venizelos. On 6th June 1933 Venizelos’ car was riddled with bullets when driving back to Athens from Kifissia. The attackers chased his car for three miles. His wife and chauffeur were wounded and a passenger killed.
After Venizelos lost an election in 1932, instability with attempted coups and assassinations returned. In 1935 a plebiscite on the return of the monarchy with a 98% voting for the restoration of the monarchy in the form of King George II .According to the official results, only Μο per cent voted against the monarchy. The vote was so blatantly rigged that it fooled no one, but King George returned anyway. The Republicans immediately won an election in 1936, in which the Communists held the balance of power. In the same year Eleftherios Venizelos and Panayiotis Tsaldaris, who best represented anti-Venizelism, both died.
Despite the refugee crises, the political chaos and the economic slump, there had been some remarkable developments during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1925 the Piraeus Monastiraki and Vίctοria Kifissia railways were linked underground, and the station built in Omonia Square. In 1926 the Gennadeion was built to house the rare book and manuscript collection of John Gennadius. The Marathon Reservoir was completed in 1929-30, solving Athens’ water problem.
Amidst all the poverty and desperation, the wealthy, as always, enjoyed themselves. The Inter-war years were the heyday of Kifissia. Osbert Lancaster later described it as a ‘folk museum’ of the more extravagant examples of twentieth century domestic architecture without rival in Europe. Among the styles he noted were Turkish Art Nouveau, Minoan Revival, Island Style, and especially Hellenistic Temple, Monte Carlo Casino and Swiss Chalet. He missed some. People of rival political persuasions patronised the different hotels. During the 1920s wealthy Athenians also began to use their new motor cars To drive out to Glyfada and Vοulίagmeni. Αt the same time, new luxurious residential suburbs were laid out in Psihiko, Holargos, Filothei, Ilioupolis and Vοula.
On 4th August 1936,General Metaxas, a sympathiser with the Italian Fascists and the German Nazis, who believed that parliamentary politics would ‘throw us into the embrace of Communism’ was seized power with the with the approval of King George ΙΙ, and put the entire country under martial law.
He propounded the notion of a ‘Third Hellenic Civilisation’: the first being that of the city states of the fifth century and the second the Byzantine Empire. He would found the third golden age of Hellenism. Attempting to be a populist leader, he styled himself ‘First Peasant’, ‘First Worker’, ‘National father’ and Duce. The new society would be achieved through discipline, as on the ancient Spartan model. Young people were pressured into joining the uniformed National Youth Organisation. His regime was quasi-fascist in its mix of nationalist populism and glorification of the state over the individual, but authoritarian and paternalistic, like many other regimes at that time in the Balkans, in its rallying call to traditional values of king, country, religion and family. Prison camps were set up on islands for political dissenters, and the leadership of the Communist Party quickly arrested.
Athens Under the Nazis
The Occupation (1941-1944)
Although Metaxas admired Mussolini and Hitler, he was a patriot. When, through the agency of his ambassador in Greece Mussolini demanded the right of Italian soldiers to enter Greek territory, his demand was firmly rejected. [For the story of this famous ‘No’, read Athens: The Suburbs.] Although the Italians bombed Piraeus on January 20th and many were killed, the invaders were soon pushed back into Albania. Churchill offered air and land support. Anxious not to provoke German intervention, accepted the former and refused the latter. When the dictator died on 29th January 1941, he 1eft behind an inept government unable to cope with the dangerous situation. His successor, Alexander Koryzis, invited in British troops, who started to arrive in March. Hitler, unwilling to expose the southern flank of his projected invasion of the Soviet union, launched a blitzkrieg on the Balkans.
Early on the morning of Sunday April 5th 1941, Germany declared war on Greece. Perhaps not surprisingly, Piraeus was their first target. The harbour was crowded with vessels discharging cargo, including the 12,000 ton Clan Fraser, with 250 tons of TNT in its hold and other ships nearby also loaded with explosives. Although several times during that day enemy planes flew over, no precautions were taken, such as towing the vessels containing the explosives outside the port for the night. Under cover of darkness, waves of German planes dropped mines outside the harbour, blocking all vessels inside the port, then launched a heavy bombardment. The TNT in the hold of the Clan Fraser went up at about 3.15 a.m.. The shock of the blast was felt fifteen miles away in Athens, doors were blown in; while windows were shattered in Psihiko, a suburb to the north of the city. White hot debris detonated the ΤΝΤ in the other ships nearby, and set other ships, and buildings ashore, on fire. Dawn revealed that the port had been reduced to ruins, with ships and buildings still burning. The road between Piraeus and Athens was filled with refugees. Many camped in the railway stations and in Omonia Square, while others sought safety in the surrounding hills. [Read about the attack on Piraeus, and the disastrous explosion of the Clan Fraser in Athens: The Suburbs.]
On 18th April 1st Prime Minister Koryzis committed suicide, and on the next day there was an air battle over Athens between the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force. General Tsolakogiou surrendered in Epiros, even offering his services to a collaborationist government. When the Germans advanced south, on 23rd Αpril the Allies abandoned the capital, and the king and government fled to Crete.
The Bulgarians were to occupy Thrace and Eastern Macedonia, the Italians most of the rest of the country, and the Germans Athens, Piraeus and some of the islands. On 27th April 1941, German troops entered Athens and made the Hotel Grande Bretagne their headquarters. They set up a puppet government under General Tsolakogiou. Using existing secret police reports drawn up by the Metaxas regime, the latter lost no time in rounding up communist sympathisers once more.
When German forces first entered the Greater Athens area, they were under strict orders to behave in a civilized and courteous manner, under instructions to treat the Greeks as though they bad been ‘liberated from British occupation.’ But the Swastika flag, raised above the Acropolis, was soon stolen by two schoolboys. Then they soon came to be loathed as they imposed increasingly harsh measures on the population. Α curfew was enforced. All shutters had to be kept closed, especially irksome during the oppressive heat of the summer nights. It was forbidden to criticize German soldiers under any circumstances, even by so much as a glance -and the Germans themselves were the arbiters of what constituted a ‘critical glance’. [Read about the theft of the Swastika in Athens: The City.]
The conquerors were afraid to sleep in camps for fear of bombardment by the Allies, so they appropriated private homes for their own use. They requisitioned all public and most private transport, so that citizens had to walk or use the home-made two-wheeled push-carts which were used as ‘taxis’. Hospitals were emptied of the sick, including war casualties, to ensure that they would be available, if required, for German soldiers. The wounded victors of the Albanian campaign were turned out of their beds to be quartered in vacant warehouses, or were forced to wander the streets in pyjamas. Medicines were reserved for the use of the conquerors.
The Germans looted the country. German companies, such as I. G. Farben, appropriated the output of the mines. The tobacco, leather, cotton and silk crops were confiscated, or ‘purchased’ at pre-war prices with currency freshly minted by the Germans, which soon proved to be worthless. German soldiers would even stop passes by and casually rob them of their jewellery and watches. The same procedures were applied to food. Owners of livestock were required to hand over their flocks and herds. Within four months, over fourteen million animals had been sent to Germany. Much of the citrus fruit crop was appropriated by the Germans. The occupiers requisitioned food coming in from the countryside. Although most was taken by the occupying forces, or was exported, much of it found its way into the hands of profiteers, who sold it on the black market.
Although the British government had previously assured the Greek premier that in the event of the occupation of his country by the Axis Powers, Britain would permit 30,000 tons of grain per month to be imported for the use of the population, after the British forces had left this undertaking was not honoured. The justification given was the need to deny the occupying soldiers access to external sources of food. But it is clear that the effect of a total blockade would be to generate a full- scale famine. It seems inescapable that the real motive of the blockade was to drive the population to desperation, and so provoke them to rebellion against the occupying forces. To make matters worse, much of the country’s grain supply had already been consumed by the British forces during their brief stay in the country.
Moreover, manpower in agriculture had been reduced by conscription, while the most fertile land, in the north, had been seized by Hitler’s Bulgarian allies. In any case, although three quarters of Greeks worked on the land, the main agricultural crops the country produced, olive οίll tobacco, wine and currants, were not basic foodstuffs. Greece imported cereals and dairy products. Moreover, as normal transport broke down, country people grew increasingly reluctant to enter the towns to sell such produce as they had.
The hot dry summer of 1941 was followed by an unusually harsh and prolonged winter. Although Athens has a generally mild climate, with temperatures rarely falling below freezing, a harsh, penetrating wind from the north or northeast can quickly and thoroughly chill a city where the buildings are designed to keep out the heat of the sun, not to retain it. That winter, temperatures fell below zero. Fuel was very hard to come by, and the remains of the forest around Athens disappeared.
Famine became inevitable. The price of a loaf of bread rose to two million drachmas Ordinary meat, oil cheese and butter disappeared. All the animals in the greater Athens area were eaten Donkey meat was passed off as veal and cat as rabbit. Peop1e survived on scraps from the refuse of the conquerors, and on cabbage, grapes and acorns and wild greens; and even they were in short supply. Vitamin deficiency was commonplace: evident in the form of boils and tumours on hands, feet and faces. Malnutrition and the cold conspired to generate tuberculosis. Eyewitnesses recall the bloated stomachs of the children of the poor, most of whose hair fell out. Because of the malnutrition of the mothers, nine out of every ten babies died almost as soon as they were born. Others were abandoned by desperate mothers unable to feed them. Most medicines disappeared. Even aspirin required a certificate to obtain.
In time, many became tοο weak tο continue the search for food. They would sink tο the ground and die in the streets. An eye-witness wrote: ‘… passers by, their clothes hanging limply away from their skeletal bodies, would sway and drop down dead. Their lifeless limbs sprawled out on the pavement, like those of a severed puppet, seemed unreal. We did not stop, nor did others who passed by, as it became such a usual sight – and then – there was nothing we could do.’ The collaborationist government did nothing to assist the people during this period. Fortunately, EAM organized daily meals of soup made of dried beans in some areas, which saved many lives.
The effects of the famine were unevenly distributed. They were felt particularly severely by those on fixed incomes, and especially by industrial and service workers, whose wages had failed to keep pace with inflation. They bore most harshly and most implacably on the poor refugees of the industrial suburbs, who worked for long hours in terrible conditions in sweatshops owned by rich Greeks. Since much industrial plant was appropriated by the Germans, and raw materials were hard to come by, many lost both their jobs and the pitiful incomes which went with them.
Dυring that winter throughout the country as many as 450,000 people out of seven million either died of starvation or succumbed to ailments resulting from chronic malnutrition. In December, deaths in Athens were said to be a thousand a day. Many joined the resistance fighters with a sense of grievance against their own middle classes, who had watched their neighbours die and failed to help. They would exact a terrible revenge when the Germans left. Ironically, the health of the wealthy, forced to eat less, and reduced to eating some greens, improved considerably. At the end of winter, the British finally relented, and allowed in Red Cross supplies. [Read about the famine in Athens in Athens: The Suburbs.]
Graffiti recording resistance soon began to appear on walls. Many left the city and its crowded suburbs for the mountains and guerrilla resistance. On 28th October ίη 1942 and 1943 there were demonstrations. When, in February 1943 plans were made to deport Greeks to Germany for slave labour, there was widespread disorder. Archbishop Damaskinos threatened the Occupation Αuthοrities with a major rising, and they desisted. When nearly a hundred trams were destroyed in the Kallithea tram depot, only intervention by the archbishop prevented fifty hostages from being shot.
Jews were ordered to report to the authorities on a weekly basis. Archbishop Damaskinos protested. He instructed all monasteries to give sanctuary to Jews and organized the issue of false baptismal certificates. He used his limousine, exempt from searches, to get Rabbi Barzaiai out of the city to ELAS partisans and safety, while Police chief Evangelos Evert provided them with false identity papers. Some were taken out of the country by fishermen through the east-coast port of Rafina, although some of these were simply robbed and abandoned on deserted islets.
The Germans increasingly relied upon the collaborationist government to recruit Nazi sympathizers, mostly monarchists, former Metaxas supporters and other right-wingers, to form ‘Security Battalions’. Their torture chambers in their HQ in Stoumara Street were as notorious as those of the SS. Corpses of the victims killed there would be dumped on street comers. Other, less formal, groups of collaborators were created, such as the Panoliaskou Brothers in Keramikos, the Papageorgious band in Pangrati, and Colonel Griνas group known as ‘Χ’ in Thiseio.
In time, EAM/ELAS developed a well-organized resistance in Athens. Unlike the andartes of the countryside, they were young street fighters in ordinary civilian clothes with forged identity papers, based largely in the poorer refugee settlements which ringed the city centre. ELAS targeted collaborators, but respected the determination of the police to remain independent of the occupying forces. Resistance fighters caught in Athens were hung from trees in the streets, their bodies guarded by Security Battalionists to stop people from taking them down and giving them a proper burial.
As the Soviet steamroller moved inexorably westwards, the German occupying forces, sensing approaching defeat, began to grow increasingly desperate; while those Greeks who had actively collaborated with the Germans, grew ever more afraid, particularly of the working class refugees from Asia Minor, among whom the ELAS resistance movement was very active. The Germans determined upon a policy of collective guilt, in order to terrorize the people of those areas into acquiescence using the bloka. German forces would surround an area, usually very early in the morning, and round up all the men and holding them in the main square. Traitors would point out resistance fighters. These wοuld be executed, while others wοuld be taken to the SS Ρrisοn camp at Haidari as hostages. Once again, it was the poor refugees in the industrial suburbs, such as Kokkinia, Nea lonia, Vyronas, Dourgouti (now Neos Kosmos), Kallitheia, and Gyzi, who bore the brunt of their ferocity. As the occupying forces had calculated, the news of what was happening in one district would quickly spread across the entire Greater Athens area, and induce widespread terror.
The SS prison camp at Haidari was used as a transit camp to hold Jews and others before moving them out of the country; to house Greeks being held for interrogation at their Headquarters in Kolonaki; and tο keep hostages awaiting execution in reprisal for partisan activities. The buildings lacked proper accommodation and sanitation. Water had to be brought in by truck, and if the supply of petrol ran short, so did the water. Prisoners were forced to relieve themselves in the corridors and on the stairways. Food was limited to beans, bread and water. The only doctor in the camp had no dressings or medicines.
Early in 1944, after a German general was killed in the Peloponnese, two hundred hostages were selected for execution. Taken across the city to a firing range in a ravine on the side of Mount Hymettos, at Kaisariani, they decided, en masse that they would not undress, as victims were always required to do, but would go to their deaths fully clothed and with dignity. Families and friends gathered on the nearby hillsides and watched helplessly as the hostages were executed in batches of twenty This atrocity was followed by others. On 10th May ninety men and ten women, and on 18th another hundred, went to their deaths; on 5th September fifty were executed in reprisal for the murder of a notorious collaborator, Apostolos Papageorgiou. On 8th September, seventy-two were shot in the, ravine of Daphni. The villages of Attica were no less vulnerable. When, on 22nd July 1944, two German officers were killed at Pikermi, fifty-six villagers were executed and the neighbouring village of Koropi burned down.
Βy late summer 1944, the Germans were preparing to pull out. Colonel Ρlytzanopοulοs, head of the Security Battalions, began claiming that he and his officers had always really supported the Greek Government-in-exile in Cairo. Members of the Security battalions visited ΕΑΜ leaders to suggest joint action against the withdrawing Germans, an offer which was contemptuously refused. By September 10th, frequent gun battles between the two resumed.
On 12th October, Athens and Piraeus were liberated by resistance fighters. By the time that the Germans pulled out, the economy and infrastructure of Greece was in ruins, and its currency worthless. The coming British had fought alongside the Greeks before pulling out, and were regarded by almost everyone, including the members of EAM, as welcome allies. But the wealthy, many of whom had made fortunes on the black market, and the collaborators, looked to them for protection against reprisals by EAM/ELAS. In an already polarised society, there could be no easy reconciliation.