Throughout this text, in reference to the Second World War occupation, I will use the term Germans to denote the Nazis or the Third Reich, as this is the locution commonly used in Greece, both in official historiographic documents and in everyday discourse.
Chapter 1. 1963–2008: History, Microhistory, Metahistory, Ethnography
It was late one evening on a winter preceding the junta. The day the junta came to power was April 21, 1967, when I was about to turn nine years old. This incident happened two or three winters before, in 1964 or 1965. There was a knock on the door, and when my mother answered a middle-aged man (or so he seemed to me) was standing there, dressed in not tattered but certainly old-fashioned clothes, a dark suit and white shirt, no tie, with a light sweater underneath his suit jacket, no overcoat, but a scarf around his neck, and a leathery, deeply furrowed face, whose seriousness fell on me like a weight. He was holding two large, very heavy canvas bags, one in each hand, half holding them, half resting them on our doorstep. He looked at my mother and said, “I am selling books, madam.” He looked at me and said again, “Buy one, please, for your daughter.” My mother asked him to come inside, where, from her salary as a high-school teacher, she bought four books, two bound in green fabric, two bound in black fabric, all with golden letters on the spine and the front: Foivos Grigoriadis's To Andártiko (The Partisan Warfare), a four-volume history of the Greek organized armed resistance to the German occupation during the Second World War . The books were curiously numbered: the first volume had no number on the spine; the second, third, and fourth had their numbers. At some point, many years later, when I actually read the books I realized that the first, numberless, volume was really the fourth. That we had had no volume one, but two copies of volume four, one numbered, one not, all the result of a low-budget, clandestine production of the books, no doubt. This was by no means the first time that I had encountered a clandestine procurement of books. When I was even younger, from when I was four until I was six or seven years old (so, around 1962–65) my mother would take me with her to downtown Athens, to a basement apartment that served as a contraband bookshop, beneath the Opera House. She would carefully balance her high heels on the winding metal staircase descending to the shop, where we would buy copies of Nikos Kazantzakis's censored books. Walking to the shop, my mother would hold me by the hand and make me whisper to her what she had taught me to tell the police if they stopped us: “We are going to buy underwear” (nearby there was a shop that made underwear to order). We would buy one book at a time, as much as my mother's purse could accommodate, so as not to arouse suspicion. In this way we managed to get the complete works of Nikos Kazantzakis. I opened one of those books, The Fratricides, to read again recently. It is a novel that Kazantzakis wrote about the civil war in Greece. It was originally published in 1963, but ours was the second edition of 1965. Binding pages 13 to 18 my mother had left a bookmark, a cheap, utilitarian bookmark, which has, nevertheless, marked this book forever: she used a tailor's pin. This makeshift bookmark probably marks page 18, a page where Kazantzakis writes about the experience of the forced exchange of populations in 1922 between Greece and Turkey after the Treaty of Lausanne. The specific passage describes the last gesture that the villagers of this Greek-speaking, Christian village make before they have to leave it forever: they visit the cemetery, where they bid farewell to their dead.
For opposition to Kazantzakis's books in Greece, see Antonakes 1996.
When I interviewed the Greek historian Antonis Liakos in March 2006, he also commented that, when he was a child, he and his friends would flock around the parents of friends, primarily fathers, returning from extended periods of exile or prison not so much because of the excitement of their return as for the oddity of their appearance. “They would wear these suits with oversized lapels and high-cut vests, which we had never seen before because they were in vogue before we were born.”
Of course, the occupation was by the Germans, the Italians (until 1943, when Mussolini collapsed), and the Bulgarians, but the locution commonly used implicated only the Germans, referring only occasionally to the Italians and, at least in southern Greece, almost never to the Bulgarians. Nikos Doumanis (1997) has dealt with the different ways in which the occupation by the Italians has been remembered in the Dodecanese, especially in relationship to the memory of the Germans. He argues that the Italian occupation has been passed on as a relatively peaceful encounter, whereas the memory of the German occupation has been the exact opposite: as the most brutal, savage, barbaric, and fearful experience in modern Greek history. This is also my experience as a subject of this history: the stories told about the Italian occupation have usually been rather innocuous and sometimes humorous.
One such story was told me by a man who grew up in Crete, Manolis. Manolis was born after the war, but the story, he says, is one that his mother would often recount as he was growing up to make him laugh: “Our house had been taken over by the Italians as a Commandatura. My mother and my father were confined to one bedroom and the Italians had the rest. The Commandante was a very gentle man, a classicist, who spoke perfect ancient Greek and who usually communicated with my mother in his own version of modern Greek. One day he went to my mother and, in Greek, asked for a kochliarion [the ancient Greek term for “spoon”]. My mother said 'But, Giovanni, you know, I don't speak Italian.' To which he responded, 'Ma donna mia Margarita [in Italian], Hellenika milo, koutali thelo [in modern Greek].' [“But dear Mrs. Margarita, I speak Greek, I want a spoon”].”
The incident is of importance mainly because it is an example of what theories of language ideology describe, where the deployment and reception of specific registers of a language circumscribe the political and social position of the speaker. On language ideology in general, see Woolard and Schieffelin 1994. On language ideology within the specificity of the Greek example, see Tsitsipis 1999. But the incident is equally important as yet another example of the relationship of Western Europeans, in general, to modern Greece. For them, modern Greece usually exists only as the symptomatic site of Greek antiquity (see Herzfeld 1982a; Danforth 1984; Gourgouris 1996; Leontis 1995; Panourgiá 1995, 2001, 2004a). Importantly, too, my Cretan friend was told this experience from the Italian occupation as a funny story. By contrast, being Cretan and remembering accounts of the Battle of Crete in 1941 and the brutal retaliations of the Germans throughout the occupation, he always shivered at the thought of the Germans.
In light of this historical experience, the current relationship of the Cretans with the Germans—and the other way around—becomes particularly interesting. When visiting Crete, on a number of occasions I have repeatedly been shown locations of remembrance of Greek and German encounters, such as the German cemetery, the place where the Commandatura had been, and the famous “bird,” a small statue of an eagle sitting atop a pillar whose beak had been broken because, my interlocutor said, “people believed that the Germans had hidden golden sovereigns there.” She continued, “When Manolis [her grandson] goes to school I want him to learn German,” a desire that I also heard voiced by a number of other Cretan women.
When I asked her daughter-in-law, a young woman from Athens, about this, she shrugged her shoulders, saying, “I have no idea; don't ask me. This is her own thing.”
To engage with this fully would require its own research, but I can at least mention here that all the women who expressed this admiration for the German language and wanted their grandsons to learn it came from Right-wing families.
Crete is also the primary destination of German tourists, and German tourists are considered by most Cretans to be the best tourists they can have. As one hotel owner mentioned to me a few years back, they are clean and orderly, they pay their bills, and they never make noise. In light of that, however, one should also consider the following story, recounted by Eleni, who visited Rethymno with a group of Athenian friends a few years ago: “I had not been in Crete in a few years, and I had never stayed at a resort before. This time we were participating in a conference, and early one morning we were woken up by the voice of a German physical education coach yelling “Schnell, schnell” as she coached a group of German tourists doing gymnastic exercises on the lawn outside my window. It reminded me of all the films about the war and the occupation that we were watching as children.”
This dissonance between the experience of the two occupations cannot be dismissed as making the Italian occupation an object of nostalgia as opposed to the barbarity of the German occupation. First of all, it is now widely understood (as seems to have been the case at the time, too) that the Italian soldiers who fought during the war and became occupying forces did so under duress, having been conscripted into the army by and under the fascist dictatorship of Mussolini. This knowledge was widely shared at least by the Leftists and the anti-Metaxas Greeks, in connection with the knowledge that the Italian Leftist and Communist movement had suffered as harshly under Mussolini as their Greek counterparts had under Metaxas. Therefore the Italian occupying forces, by and large, were encountered as themselves existing in fear of fascism, unlike the German forces, who are still viewed as willing participants. Had the Italian occupation been the only one, we would probably hear about Italian atrocities more often. But by contrast with the Germans, who occupied Greece at the same time, the Italian presence in occupied Greece became a refuge for memory. What I mean by “refuge for memory” is that, in light of the German barbarity, the brutality of the Italian occupation (accompanied by a high level of inefficiency, incompetence, and haphazard operations that drew the scorn of the Germans) came to be a mnemonic space of humanness, with all its frailties and weaknesses. It came to be a space where memory could take a breath, where memory could seek refuge from the atrocities that have been burned onto it. In all of my interviews and encounters with the different generations of Greeks who experienced the war and the occupation, I have not come across even one narrative of Italian brutality, although Philip Deane (pseudonym for Philip Tsigantes) mentions that his uncle, Ioannes Tsigantes, the leader of Midas, one of the minor Resistance groups under the direct guidance of the British Foreign Office, was brutally executed by an Italian patrol detail when he was caught burning incriminating evidence of the organization in his stove.
Such stories are rare, however. More typical is a story told by a woman whom I interviewed in the winter of 2004. She had been born in a small village on the mainland of Greece in early 1942. As she recounted: “My mother said that in '43 (it must have been '43 because I was just crawling)—my parents had bought the house just a couple of years earlier—they [occupying soldiers] came to the village looking for an andártēs [a partisan] who had been hiding there. So they came in and looked for him, the Italian soldier first. We were just standing and crawling there, and my father was behind the door, my mother next to him. As the Italian came in, my father picked up a piece of wood to hit him behind the head, but my mother pulled him away. The Italian saw him and turned his gun on him, right on his forehead, and then said, in Italian it must have been, pointing toward us, 'Bambino, bambino,' meaning that he would have killed him had we not been there. The Italian left, and not half an hour later the Germans came in and burned our house.” I have encountered narratives of Italian arrogance, as when the Italians decreed that in Athens schools would teach Italian in fulfillment of the foreign language requirement, or when they requisitioned the house of a family friend, who came from a long line of revolutionaries of the 1821 War of Independence, then took all the relics that had been left in the house and had not already been taken by various museums (letters from the government, the great-grandfather's sword, all sorts of documents).
That narratives of Italian compassion are more common than narratives of brutality is especially noteworthy given that there are no narratives of compassion by Germans (although there is at least one account, in Skroubelos's Bella Ciao, of a German who collaborated with the Greek andártes and procured ammunition for them). This might seem to invite explanation by attributing to Greece an Italophilia and Germanophobia before the war. But we have no evidence of this. Quite the contrary, the well-established philhellenism of the Germans had produced an affinity for Germany among at least the economic and intellectual elite of the country (aided, one would imagine, by the ties of the royal family of Greece to the German royal families). Indeed, many Greek intellectuals and academicians had been educated in Germany in the interwar period and were completely baffled by the German invasion. On the issue of German and Greek intellectual relations before, during, and after the war, see Fleischer 2003: 87–121.
“The people got up from the graves, with soil still clinging to their hair and faces; they found their courage; they opened their arms and held one another, as if they wanted to comfort one another; without thinking, they started serenely, slowly, to dance around the graves; and their eyes filled with tears that ran down to their necks” reads the paragraph that straddles pages 18 and 19 (my translation).
1959: High Heels. Private photograph.