Brexit and Greece

Brexit and Greece

12289525_10153916982461807_2235830430400177671_nI am sharing with you a story from today’s BBC, but before you read the BBC take, here is some background.

My 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 arrang31531037_10156608396116807_4166270486466002944_ned 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.)

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.

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 ebp2The 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 succeed 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. The surviving Allied troops escaped and never forgot their debt to the Greeks. 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. Last I heard, there are none left to carry on this tradition.

The German officer who led that Paratroop occupation of Crete became the Commander on the island, where atrocities against Greeks occurred. He was captured after the War, and in 1946, 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. 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.)  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, walking 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 many 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.

I recommend the book THE CRETAN RUNNER for an astonishing first person account of this hugely significant event in the formation of post war Europe. By George Psychoundakis.

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. So whilst I am not a ships captain, I am genetically predisposed towards fighting oppressive right wing beliefs. Its not my fault. Its my DNA.

When Hitler’s army invaded Crete in May 1941, it encountered a fierce local resistance (Credit: Credit: Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH/Alamy)

How Crete changed the course of World War Two

The Cretan Resistance caused significant damage to German morale and is likely the reason why Hitler failed to invade the Soviet Union.

By Jessica Bateman       15 August 2018

Our car pulled up a dusty track next to a grove of olive trees. My guide, Stelios Tripalitakis, got out and started briskly walking in between their gnarled trunks, stopping every couple of metres to investigate objects he spotted on the ground. I followed, desperately trying to keep up in the heavy Cretan heat.

“Ahhh, that’s just a bit of fence,” he said, disappointedly examining a piece of rusting metal.

Tripalitakis, 35, is one of Crete’s many wartime treasure hunters, devoting hours of his life to combing the island for military relics left behind when Nazis invaded the island during World War Two. Over the past two decades he’s managed to amass a collection of more than 40,000 items, transforming his living room into a makeshift museum.

As we hunted for items to add to his collection, Tripalitakis told me that around 70 German paratroopers killed by local villagers were buried on this unremarkable-looking piece of farmland. Although their bodies were transferred to an official cemetery in the nearby village of Malame in the 1960s, many personal items, such as helmets or gravity knives, were left behind. “This land has been cleaned by the farmer recently,” Tripalitakis said. “So perhaps I might find something new.”

Crete is a place where the past haunts the present. The island’s strategic position in the Mediterranean has sparked countless invasions, from the Venetians and Ottomans to, most recently, the Nazis.

Hitler’s army set its sights on Crete in May 1941 after its conquest of Greece the month before, launching an airborne attack on the island using glider and parachute forces. Crete’s residents joined 40,000 British, Greek, Australian and New Zealand troops in defending the island, often shooting down parachutes using their own rifles. However, the Allied forces misjudged the attack and, after an intense eight days of fighting, Crete fell to the Germans and the Allied forces withdrew.

Everyone has always fought for their freedom

Feeling abandoned, the Cretans – who only four decades earlier had fought for and won their independence after 250 years of Ottoman occupation – came out of their homes and continued to challenge Hitler’s forces using whatever weaponry they had. It was the first time the Germans had encountered significant opposition from a local population. The Cretan Resistance is credited with fatally delaying the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, while also reducing the number of troops available for missions in the Middle East and in Africa. Despite repeated attacks from the Nazis on local villages and communities, the Cretan Resistance remained active until the Germans surrendered four years later, in 1945.

This period of history hugely shaped Cretan identity, and even the smallest villages contain a memorial. “Crete has always been liberated by itself. Everyone has always fought for their freedom,” Tripalitakis told me.

When Hitler’s army invaded Crete in May 1941, it encountered a fierce local resistance (Credit: Credit: Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH/Alamy)

When Hitler’s army invaded Crete in May 1941, it encountered a fierce local resistance (Credit: Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH/Alamy)

Tripalitakis’ hometown of Galatas, just outside the major city of Chania on the island’s north-west coast, was captured by the Germans on the sixth day of fighting. “When I was 12, the municipality of Galatas published a small magazine about the battle and gave it to all primary school pupils for free,” he remembered. “I was fascinated.”

His interest was also piqued by the military debris that still litters the island. “Everyone has relics from the war. Cretan people didn’t have many materials, so they used whatever they could find,” he said. As the Cretans worked to rebuild their homes, fences were constructed from rifle barrels, roofs from aircraft parts, and helmets were turned into flower pots or containers for animal feed. These can still be spotted in some more remote villages.

“I realised, when I was very young, that all these things had to be saved, because over time they get destroyed or thrown away,” Tripalitakis said. “It’s really important for people growing up to learn about our history. If we don’t show them these items, they won’t learn.”

Tripalitakis’ collection, which includes more than 40,000 items, can be viewed by appointment (Credit: Credit: Louiza Vradi)

Tripalitakis’ collection, which includes more than 40,000 items, can be viewed by appointment (Credit: Louiza Vradi)

Tripalitakis made his first searching trip in 1999, gathering pieces from a German aircraft wreckage on an islet off the coast of Galatas. Since then, he’s searched the entire island. “Sometimes I go once or twice a week, sometimes four,” he told me. “Sometimes I search for just a few hours. If I’m going into the mountains, I take a sleeping bag, food and water, and stay for a few days.” He’s even learnt how to scuba dive. “It’s so cool, feeling like you’re flying over a plane wreck.” Because of Crete’s many archaeological sites, collectors have to get permission from the authorities to use metal detectors. However, Tripalitakis usually prefers to search using just his eyes and hands.

However, luck wasn’t on our side that day – our thorough search of the olive grove failed to deliver any goods, so we drove the 10km back to Galatas for a look around his museum. I walked into the apartment he shares with his father and fiancée, and was greeted by four walls of floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with every memento imaginable, from rifles to cooking equipment to dressmakers’ dummies wrapped in German and British uniforms. Pieces of gliders and parts of sub-machine guns spilled out of the apartment onto the terrace and driveway.

“I have everything, but there are still things I want, such as more motorcycles,” Tripalitakis said as he picked up a metal pot he had purchased from another collector the day before for 100 euros, and began to scrape the rust from it.

There are around 50 collectors in Chania alone, 10 of whom have also turned their haul into unofficial museums. Other private collections can be found in the village of Askyfou in the Sfakia region, and in the villages of Somatas and Atispopoulo, south of Rethymno. Although none of these collectors lived through the war, they devote their time to preserving the stories of survivors, veterans and heroes of the Cretan Resistance.

“Sometimes there’s a bit of competition, but mostly we cooperate,” said Tripalitakis, adding that he’s even been made godfather to the child of a friend he met through collecting. “We put on exhibitions together, or sometimes we exchange things or go searching in pairs.”

Tripalitakis’ most valuable item is some landing gear from an American-made Brewster Buffalo aircraft – only three of which were ever deployed to Greece. “I found it in the sea, 100m deep and buried under sand,” he said. “It took me five days to retrieve it.” Another collector has offered him 10,000 euros for the item, but he refuses to sell.

Stelios Tripalitakis stands in his museum in Crete (Credit: Credit: Louiza Vradi)

Stelios Tripalitakis: “I realised… that all these things had to be saved, because over time they get destroyed or thrown away” (Credit: Louiza Vradi)

Of course, some discoveries spark more powerful emotions than others. “I found the body of a New Zealand soldier, eight years ago,” Tripalitakis told me. “My metal detector got set off by the ammunition still on him. I think he had been buried by colleagues in a shallow grave. It was a shock to uncover it, but I actually felt happy to have found him, because I knew he could now get the proper burial and grave he deserved.” Tripalitakis called the police, who took the body for DNA testing. Since then, Tripalitakis has been desperately trying to find the man’s identity. “I’ve been through all the regiments and narrowed it down to 20 who are still missing,” he said.

Tripalitakis estimates his fuel for trips has cost 50,000 euros, and he has spent another 30,000 euros purchasing items from fellow collectors. His passion has tested his family’s patience; he admits his father isn’t keen on the apartment’s transformation. But Tripalitakis insists he’ll never sell his memorabilia, “even if I was offered a fortune”. Instead, his plan is to secure a warehouse and turn the collection into a more official museum.

Visiting Crete’s unofficial war museums

Stelios Tripalitakis’ museum can be viewed by appointment; contact him via his Facebook page.

The war museum at Askifou, Skafia, is one of the island’s most famous. The original collector, who was a boy when the Germans invaded, has passed away, but his son still runs the museum. Call +30 697 267 6526 to schedule a visit.

Another private collection is housed at the village of Achlada, just off the main road, west of Heraklion, near Agia Pelagia. If you visit the village, residents will be able to direct you.

“We cannot let the people forget history,” he said. “We keep it alive through these objects.”

 ebp2