On this day – October 28, 69 years ago the Greek Prime Minister back then Yannis Metaxas received a telegram from the Italian government. His answer to the telegram defined the destiny of the country in the following years.
In the telegram the Italian PM Mussolini wanted his army to be allowed to enter Greece and have access to all ports and airports. The Italians planned to use Greece as a base, from which to load their army with provisions for their offensives in North Africa.
The telegram was personally brought to Mr. Metaxas’ home in Kifisia by the Italian ambassador in Athens. After the Greek PM carefully read it, he answered in French with a phrase, which remained in Greek history: “This means we are at war!” Metaxas was not facing a dilemma – he answered negatively and brought Greece into World War Two on the side of the Andantes. Since then this day is pronounced to be a national holiday in the country and here it is famous as the “No!” Day.
If you ask people, who have lived this day, what they remember – they will tell you about the hunger, the fear from the occupiers and about the resistance. Those who lived in cities remember the sirens, pillboxes where traitors were hiding. The story of Mrs. Roxana Lalioni proves how even after many years, the memories come to live when she thinks of the heavy footsteps of the soldiers, who entered apartment buildings and forced their way into people’s homes. “Never to happen again! The times were horrible…” says many times Mrs. Lalioni, who was only a child in the beginning of 1940.
“I was born in 1938. When all this happened I was only two years old. Of course back then my mother was still alive. She used to hold my hand – back then I was very young and we used to run, in order to hide in the cold…” says Roxana.
They went to the hiding place “of one good woman – we were many people, children, we were hungry, we cried, because we were chased after. We used to get scared when we heard the sirens and we used to run to the pillbox in order to hide. Our hiding place was in an apartment building, which still exists in Ano Petralona. In the basement… They used to push the doors, take people for prisoners without any reason and with no mercy. Back then the famous singer Bebo used to sing: “Children of Greece, children, this is why we fight up there in the high mountains”. With her songs she used to protect those in the resistance… Poverty was out of proportion and there were many bad people. Let it go away and I don’t want those times to ever come back!
We lived through many scary things but one thing I remember vividly. My mother and I used to live in a basement. We were hiding in a small kitchen – 2 meters by 2. We used to stay there and when we heard the sirens we rushed to the hiding place. We were afraid because they used to enter and break everything. They were bad times. We used to hear the footsteps of the soldiers. Cold people, they didn’t feel anything. We lived through many things until Greece was free and took it own way. But this was long time ago. They used to kill people and wrap them in sheets. We used to hide and they used to throw them on the streets.
Back then a family used to live in the apartment above us…they were very good people. But we had one neighbor – very bad woman – who wanted to harm them. She used to go and tell where Greeks are hiding. Who knows why she was doing that?!? In order not to touch her, not to harm her children… It is hard to do good, but to do bad – everyone is first… The man in the family I told you about used to keep notes of everything that was going on. The neighbor was following everything he was doing and he was afraid of her. Then the Germans came to arrest him – we recognized them by the sound of their boots – something you can never forget.
He understood what was goingon and he came down to me and my mother, in order to hide his wofe and children. He brought with him his notes and shoved them in a crack of the wall. This man lived through many bad things because of that woman… He and his family were good people…I used to be friends with his daughters. One morning they came and arrested him. They broke the door to our house and arrested him. The soldiers saw me and my mother hiding but they didn’t do anything to us – they only wanted to arrest him. Then they sent him to exile, they beat him…you know they always did that…
The kitchen where we lived with my mother was on the ground floor and it used to have a window. One day a Greek came and knocked on the window. We opened to him because we knew him – he used to come there before when they were chasing him. He warned us not to live in the house but to go to the pillbox because it was dangerous. What I want to say is that it was very scary and horrifying and it all remained as a memory – nothing good ever happened. There were many traitors for one piece of bread… The occupiers needed a lot of time to gather their things and leave. They took many prisoners and burnt many houses…
Today died another girl, who told her story – Ellie Papa, 89 years old. Her husband was executed in prison. She was also in prison for many years and she gave birth to their child there – a boy named Niko. She used to write there all the time – about her live, about the resistance and she used to write stories for her son. She resisted too, she was not afraid. But nowadays no such heroism exists. Everything Ellie Papa wrote happened… There were many traitors. Even Mr. Panayotis, who came to hide with us, died because of a traitor…otherwise he would have not been arrested.”