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Greek / American Operational Group Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
Memoirs of World War 2

Greece: Drama

The Volta and the Young Men of the EAM


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We settled in Drama for a couple more weeks. Initially we did not fraternize with the Drama citizens, but the enlisted men broke down the barriers and began speaking in Greek. We visited the kafenia (coffee shops) and tavernas. Every evening there was the traditional "volta" when families would walk back and forth in the Platia, the town square. Many marriage proposals were initiated during the volta. We often joined the citizens in the volta.

The Greek-Americans were very happy the Nazis had pulled out of Greece, and we prayed the Greek people would finally have some peace and quiet after four terrible years under the Nazi yoke, not realizing a fierce civil war was in their future.

The young men of the EAM, who knew us from our stint in the mountains, would join us in the volta and complain that their group, the EAM/ELAS, was not being allowed to participate in forming the government in Drama. They directed us to the building where the meetings were held by the British and the pro-Royalist Greeks. Most of us Greek Americans were 19 and 20 years old, and unfortunately we were very ignorant of the politics in the Balkans. What the hell did we know? More importantly, we had no political power or know-how to help these young men who had fought courageously against the Nazis for four years.

Since the end of WW2, I have been haunted by the events of the Greek civil war and often wonder if that bloody war could have been prevented. Our group, mercifully, was not allowed to stay in Athens after we left the mountains of Macedonia. Had we remained in Athens, we would have been forced to join the British against our former allies the EAM/ELAS. It would have been a cruel blow to us Greek-Americans. Even the British soldiers who fought with the EAM/ELAS were saddened when they took arms against their former ally.

When we operated in Greece we neither witnessed nor heard of any atrocities by the EAM/ELAS. In many villages they were hailed as heroes and were warmly greeted. Five of our six groups operated with the EAM/ELAS. I did not hear a single negative report from any of my fellow comrades about them. Since then, some of the veterans have developed amnesia and are now uncomfortable in supporting a so-called Communist group. How soon they have forgotten the EAM/ELAS was loyal to our Operational Groups. Not one American was betrayed by them.

As the years have passed, I have researched the Greek experience and discovered that prior to WW2 the large majority of the people who eventually joined the EAM/ELAS were from the rural areas and were disenchanted with the elitist Royalist and Metaxas regimes. A few had been political prisoners during the Metaxas era. Unquestionably the Communists infiltrated into the leadership of the EAM/ELAS, but the huge majority were loyal Greeks who fought bravely in the mountains and expected to participate in forming a new government in Greece after the end of the war.[note 1]

Greeks who waited out the war in the safe sanctuaries of Egypt, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom, along with some who had remained in Greece and collaborated with the Nazi occupation were recruited by the British to form the new government of Greece, while the brave EAM/ELAS were left out of the loop.[note 2] I have often wondered if the British had allowed the EAM/ELAS to participate in forming the new Greek government, could the civil war in Greece have been averted?


Notes

  1. The first-hand perceptions here about the motivation of the resistance members in general do coincide with an analysis of the origins of the resistance in Greece by Mark Mazower, Inside Hitler's Greece:The Experience of Occupation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993).
    [Return to the text at note 1]
  2. Costas Couvaras, an OSS officer who parachuted behind the lines in Greece, came to the same conclusion in his memoirs.
     
    There was a further tragic paradox in the British command during the formation of new governments in the British sphere of influence at the end of WW2. While a unilateral "right-wing" government was established in Greece, resulting in the civil war there, something diametrically opposite occurred in Yugoslavia. The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) were instrumental in bringing Tito's Communist Party into power, to the tragic exclusion of the Yugoslav Royalists led by Mihailovich who had bravely fought in resistance against the Naxi occupation. An exposé of the Yugoslav tragedy has been carefully brought forward by one of the British laison officers who was dropped into Yugoslavia in 1943, Michael Lees, The Rape of Serbia: The British Role in Tito's Grab for Power 1943-1944 (San Deigo: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,1990).
    [Return to the text at note 2]


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