Brexit and Greece and the resistance that froze fascism
I am sharing with you a story from today’s BBC about the Cretan Resistance, but before you read the BBC take, here is some background from that time. 1941. Germany winning so much their leader asked “Are you tired of winning yet.”
First off, In May 1941, Hitler tired of Italy failing to take Greece, as Mussolini was supposed to do as his part of the AXIS agreement, and decided to send overwhelming force to end this embarrassment to the AXIS.
Greek Communist led resistance was proving too much for the Italian Army. The Germans though conquered Greece quite easily, in just 6 weeks. They had the best of everything; leadership, battle plan, fighting spirit, the best God on their side (The Catholic one) and the most effective assault weapons ever made.
German victory in Greece was achieved by taking men and materials from the massing Army on the Russian border. Operation Barbarossa was the code name for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, which started on Sunday, 22 June 1941. The biggest assembly of men and military tools ever gathered; for the purpose of taking Russia.
22 June is about 6 weeks later than it would have been IF Hitler had not had to delay to vanquish Greece.
I believe (although many account’s do not) the fact the German Army found themselves on the outskirts of Moscow when the cruel winter bit, and cost them everything, is because they started 6 weeks too late. or at least, were delayed by the resources shift to the Greek occupation.
Six weeks late BECAUSE of the brave Greeks holding them up. Perhaps, more than any single other cause, Greek resistance in 1941 (led by famous communist Greeks) was the military action that led to Germany’s eventual defeat, first by the Russian winter, and later by the Russian Communist Army. Communist forces in Greece and Russia, more than any other political demographic, vanquished Catholic fascism.
Why harp on about the Greek communists?
Because their role is not properly acknowledged; after Churchill recognized the communist threat and after the tide turned, encouraged a climate of disgraceful persecution of Greeks, demonized by any association with communism, including my own Grandfather, falsely denounced along with Yiannis Varoufakis own father, in the Churchill inspired purges that followed the Russian victory in Berlin. That though is a different story. A version of History subject to many nationally motivated re interpretations as told by the victors. Back to the battle for Crete.
Symbolically, the place where this deleterious effect on Operation Barbarossa is best exemplified is the battle for Crete. And the evacuation, Dunkirk like, from Sfakia.
My family birth-name is Ανδρέας Broulidakis. At age ten, June 1971, I was sent from my home in Johannesburg, flying alone from Jan Smuts airport on a Boeing 707 to Athens to visit my Patrithia. Fluent in Greek I was sent for 6 weeks on a tour of Greece arranged by my father and facilitated by my uncle Elias, at the time a General in the Greek Airforce. (So my tour included visits to key NATO bases and watching live drills of American made missiles taking down aircraft. I also watched Phantom Jets in action. And saw first hand how important NATO and a European Union was for all of Europe.)
My father, Manoussos Broulidakis was a volunteer in WW2. Wearing a British Infantry Captains uniform, the six foot tall, handsome blue eyed young man from Sfakia in Crete (pictured astride his first car in Cairo) gave all he had as a young man in his twenties in 1939 to fuck-up Nazi’s who threatened freedoms he valued. For 6 years, 1939 to 1945, carrying an officers side arm all the way through Africa and Italy. A Browning 1910 9mm, which became my side arm in my own war years later. I grew up fascinated by WW2 and my fathers courageous 6 years spent being explosively anti fascist.
During my 6 week trip as a 10 year old, I went to Crete, headed to Sfakia, to the village of my family name, Broulidakis. I located the family home, occupied by two old women dressed in black who kissed my feet, concerned I would throw them out and reclaim my home. But I was not there for that. (You can read about it though in my book The Emergency Bouzouki Player.)
I was there for a crash course in Greek history, including events in 1941. I followed the path taken by the defeated, routed allied troops, some 20,000 Brits, Kiwis and Aussies. Pursued by angry murderous Nazis with the best killing tools available to any army up until that time, intent on their aggressive capture. The British evacuation strategy was to head south, aiming to scale the mountainous terrain between them and the harbor of Sfakia, where British ships small enough to enter the fishing boat harbor could evacuate them. Their retreat could not have succeeded but for the resistance fighters, some with the same name as myself, who harried the Germans, in many cases, paying with their lives. Their successes against the Germans are widely recorded. About 18,600 men of the 32,000 British troops on the island were evacuated. The surviving Allied troops escaped and never forgot their debt to the Greeks. Many Cretan civilians were shot by the Germans in reprisal during the battle and in the occupation. A Cretan source puts the number of Cretans killed by Germans at 6,593 men, 1,113 women, and 869 children. German records put the number of Cretans executed by firing squad as 3,474 and at least 1,000 civilians were killed in massacres late in 1944.
The Cretans who, like me, placed dishonor below death.
Honor and doing the right thing is everything. Every year after the war, survivors traveled to Chania, to the location of the German air drop in 1941, where they commemorate their escape. I once met WW2 veterans there for this memorial purpose in Chania. Last I heard, there are none left to carry on this tradition.
Bruno Brauer, commander of Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 1 during the invasion, became the Commander on the island. Post war he was arrested, tried, and executed by the Greeks in 1947. On the exact hour of the exact day the paratroopers started jumping out of their Junkers planes, he faced a firing squad in Athens.
His body was taken to Crete and buried there, in a grave which the resistance fighter, known as ‘The Cretan runner’, George Psychoundakis, spent some years of his later life tending. Think about what might make a former resistance fighter tend the grave of the german officer who ruled his Island? The reasoning for which will require that you read his book. It is an incredible story. And one I learned as a tremendous example of the unique relationship between Britain and Greece. In the parable between George Psychoundakis and Patrick Lee Fermor.
I am going to bet that no one who voted Brexit has a blind jot of an idea of the nature of deep historical bond that exists between Brits and Greeks. (Not even Lord Byron’s Greek story. “We return his body for burial in England but we keep his heart to be buried here, where it belongs.“) Having read probably every book on the subject and written loads of stories from that time, I was pleased to see the BBC run a story today.
And so I include it here as a BBC take on a story I first experienced in 1971, following the route the Allied soldiers took to Sfakia, and ending up at my family home. Symbolically, I have been both a Greek and a British citizen, with a passionate interest in the best for the people and culture of both. I feel I learned a great deal about both in my 1971 visit and my conversation with the original collector of the bits left behind by the participants of that war, in his museum in Askifou, Skafia, which was basically his house.
This was the first Cretan kid to go around picking up bits of things, from his home above Sfakia. Like pieces of shot down planes, British and German guns and ammunition. And so on; the paraphernalia of the battlefield.
I spent a few hours with this remarkable man, listening to his recall of memories from that time. Clearly Cretans laid down their lives to delay the Germans long enough for the allies to evacuate the Island, after which they faced terrible repercussions from very nasty Germans. (Over 8,000). My guide, the first museum man, whose name sadly I forget, was a young man when the Nazis came, and started his collection even while they were still in occupation. I see in the BBC story, that he has since passed, but the memories of his collection and his words live on for me.
I am so pleased to see his story told to a wider audience, by the BBC, by a new generation who preserve the artifact reminders of that war that shaped Europe – and the bonds between European nations. I see my guides son still runs the museum (detailed below). Which I can only suggest as an extremely strong recommend.
In the cluster of house near the harbor in the picture below is the house where my grandfather, Ανδρέας Brouldakis, son of Manoussos Broulidakis, son of Ανδρέας Broulidakis, son of Manoussos Broulidakis, whose father was Ανδρέας Broulidakis, himself the son of Manoussos Broulidakis.
I don’t know much about the 9th generation, backwards, but all since were ships captains. And all fought ideological oppression all of their lives. Literally. (400 years of fighting genocidal Muslims.) So whilst I am not a ships captain, I am genetically predisposed towards fighting oppressive right wing beliefs. Its not my fault Right-wingers hate me. Its my DNA that make me aware of how dangerous religiously befuddled right wing fascist are.
It helps explain why I believe Brexit is for idiots. And Trumpeters represent the ghosts of fascists past in a manner endangering all anti fascist victories of the past.
The Cretan Resistance caused significant damage to German morale and is likely the reason why Hitler failed to invade the Soviet Union. The troops diverted from the Russian front caused a 6 week delay, which in turn found the German Army at Moscow’s border right when the Winter hit.
By Jessica Bateman 15 August 2018
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