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Today Greeks are celebrating the country’s refusal to surrender without a fight to the Italian forces during the Second World War and their victory over the invaders.

The country was eventually occupied by the Nazi forces in April 1941 and remained so for the rest of the war. Rebel groups continued to resist, but the  occupation only ended in October 1944. During these three years, the village Distomo was burned to ashes, in Amari Valley, Crete, 164 civilians were shot and nine villages were looted and then dynamited.  Hundreds of thousands of people were left to slowly die from starvation, especially during the bitter winter of 1941-1942. The 90% of the Jews living in Thessaloniki was sent to concentration camps and died.

Distomo burned
Famine victims in Athens during the winter of 1941-1942
The Registration of the Jews of Thessaloniki in Eleftheria Square on July 1942

The most famous example of resistance was a symbolic action done by two young men, Manolis Glezos (who later became a well-known left-wing politician and author) and Apostolos Santas. On  30 May 1941 they climbed up to the Acropolis and took down the Nazi flag. Because even if you occupy a territory, you don’t own its people.

The Nazi flag on the Acropolis

Days like the 28th of October are marked with celebrations filled with national pride and heroic tales. What we should never forget though is the irrationality of this war not in an international relations level. I can fully rationally explain to anybody with a pair of ears available how the Great Depression led to the rise of Nazism, how nationalism and the desire for economic growth combined created a monstrous war machine.  I can talk about the inadequate politicians of Western Europe and the communist fears.

However, little does it matter to the victims. From their perspective, the war was absolutely irrational and their lives were played like soldier pawns in a game of chess. Their human existence was expendable. Whether they met their destiny in Auschwitz, were shot in the head in a village somewhere in the mountains or left to die in the puddle of muddle of a back alley in Athens, these people will never be remembered properly because in most cases we don’t even know their names or they are a mere part of a catalogue composed by thousands of names. Buried in a mass grave. Their hopes, dreams and aspirations long forgotten. One may have wanted to become a seamstress. One may have dreamed of a life as a doctor. One may have desired to learn more about God. One may have been secretly in love with the same girl for years and was hopping to scrape together a few drachmas to be able to ask for her hand in marriage. They were people. If we overlook their dreams, as small and insignificant as they seem, we miss the point of human existence. You don’t have to have found the cure for cancer for your life to be worthy. Leading a fulfilling life within one’s limitations is the key for a worthy existence. This is exactly what these people were deprived of, a worthy existence and an honorary death.

Many people assume that we live in peace times, because there is no great scale war. Despite the abundance of media, even more people realize the atrocities that take place in areas of conflict. A few days ago Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte was blasted into the Dark Ages to send a message of who is ruling the country. Just like in Distomo so many years ago. If history repeats itself, for all our ipads and electric cars little progress have we done in making the world a truly better place.

Haircut aside, today should not be a day of celebrations, but a day of reflection.

Famine in Somalia