A Dirty Little Secret: Greece’s Prison Camps for Women During the Greek Civil War (1946-1949)

I am somewhat tuned in to the American “Pappas Post” which attempts to keep readers apprised of Greek culture to readers in North America so that it is not forgotten.

I have read countless articles about the heroic Greek resistance to Nazi occupation in 1941. The resistance was ferocious and the Greeks paid a very heavy price for resistance. Mass executions and retributions so the last thing I expected was a dirty little secret still not exposed and open for healing in Greece.

The documentary “Beneath the Olive Tree” (2020) directed by Stavroula Toska  opens some nasty Greek cultural history largely swept under the carpet by the Greek educational bureaucracy about the Greek Civil War which was fought between 1946-49.

I did not have much of a background in this other than seeing the grenade wounds to his legs suffered by my father-in-law during his participation in the Greek Civil War.

However this description is misleading. I thought the Civil War was waged against Greek Communists but that is not the case.

The Greeks developed a mass resistance movement against the German occupiers that totalled over two million people by the time Greece was liberated from the German occupation in October of 1944. The resistance front was known as the EAM with its military component known as ELAS. The Greek communists were popular and the new Greek government under Premier Papandreou included EAM in his coalition government which was unpalatable to Churchill who demanded ELAS disarm which they did despite a bloody demonstration in Athens where 250,000 protested Churchill’s demands.

Papandreou had to resign and ELAS surrendered its weapons and yet those brave fighters in the resistance were perceived as subversives yet collaborators with the Germans were left untouched and allowed to hold governmental positions. It seemed as those who resisted against the Germans were suddenly communists or subversives not to be trusted.

The Greek government then required all citizens to sign a declaration of repentance pledging loyalty to the government and denouncing communism and leftist movements. This was very convenient and responsive to British and American interests of crushing communism in the emerging Cold War. But it totally denigrated the resistance movement fighting German occupation.

Greeks who refused to sign the declaration of repentance were imprisoned, exiled, or executed. A very dirty and unpatriotic response to Churchill’s anger. So prison camps were established for those who refused to sign the declaration. The purge that followed extended beyond actual resistance members to family members associated with resistance members.

This documentary tells the story from the perspective of Greek-American director Stavroula Toska whose grandmother was one of the many women who were sent to these prison camps for refusing to sign the denunciation. Her grandmother refused to talk about the ordeal so Stavroula flew to Greece to discover the women imprisoned in the island of Trikeri who wrote journals secretly and then one day buried them beneath an olive tree. One of the survivors stated we were deprived of our families, our studies, hopes and dreams. A disassembled camera was smuggled into the camp so there are photos as well. The journals were discovered and published unedited in Greece.

I will let you hear their stories which are not pleasant. However knowing the fierce resistance against the German occupation and the heavy burden of German revenge I must admit I find myself angry that those who helped liberate Greece were treated as enemies. Not only that in the Greek history curriculum in Greek schools there is no mention of the Greek Civil War perhaps because it is so embarrassing politically.

As we hear the former PM of Greece Alexis Tsipras (2015-19) say the history of the Greek Civil War was written by those that won it. The people who fought for the liberation of Greece were punished for it. The people who won the Civil War were those who collaborated with the Nazis. Our children must learn this part of Greek history. We must learn our lessons so we can avoid the mistakes that lead to tragedy says Tsipras.

The 76 minute film is virtually available at the Hellenic Film Society USA’s websitehttps://hellenicfilmusa.org/   and runs from March 19-28th. It was made in 2020 and is narrated by Olympia Dukakis and director Toska. A saddening film of betrayal and the bestiality of politics.

Published by Robert K Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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