OXI Day means different things to different people, but it’s lessons are still important today.
OXI means more than no
October 28, 1940. Pronounced OH-hee, this day commemorates the courage of the Greeks to stand up to the Axis Powers. This event is the first of two significant turning points in World War II, both involving Greece, and both changing the course of the war — the other being the Battle of Crete. Combined, the Greco-Italian War and the Battle of Crete effectively slowed the German’s plans which helped lead to their defeat in Russia. The ability of the Greeks to defeat the Italians and force the Germans to send troops to Greece combined with the stiff Greek resistance at the Battle of Crete, helped lead to the defeat of the Axis forces in North Africa and the Middle East and resulted in Hitler’s delayed invasion of the USSR just long enough to make the Russian winter a crucial factor that helped Russia turn the tide on the Eastern Front. Yes, small but mighty Greece changed course of the war two times — each occurrence slowing down the plans of the Nazis, saving lives, and even shortening the war. Yes, Greece.
The battle lasted until April 23, 1941– 216 days. This marked the first victory for the Allies against the Axis forces. Greece enabled that first victory. Yes, Greece.
As many others have, Mussolini and Hitler underestimated Greece. Yes, Greece.
British military historian Sir John Keegan has described the ensuing Battle of Greece as, “decisive in determining the future course of the Second World War.”
How do people define OXI?
I posted on Facebook and Twitter, and asked people what OXI Day meant to them. I didn’t receive a lot of responses. I wonder. Do people not understand the significance? Several people said, “OXI means NO!” Then I received this comment.
“To think that a tiny little country had the courage to say no to the Nazis when so many larger, more powerful countries capitulated is a source of pride to Greeks everywhere. And then to drive Mussolini’s forces all the way back to Italy, well … again, what an accomplishment. So many countries suffered at the hands of the Nazis. OXI day was a big deal then and it still is now.”
~ Annette Terevolas, Chicago USA
Yet another, from a different generation, added the following:
“It means a lot to me. Greece stood up for themselves when others would have agreed to the unjust demands. Proud moment!
~ Alex Lucas, Sydney, NSW, Australia
I asked my daughters, ages, 8 and 6, what OXI Day meant.
My 8 year-old said:
“It’s the day when we showed the world what Greeks are made of.”
My 6 year-old said:
“It’s the day we said no to the Italians. We said they couldn’t use us for their bad plans.”
They get it, but they learned about OXI Day in Greek School, and we have discussed it with them. Unfortunately, this part of WWII history isn’t taught in school. The sad fact remains, that unless they are history buffs, most people don’t know the significance of this day. Some Greeks only know this as the day “we said no to Mussolini.”
It’s so much more. It’s lessons are still relevant today. And it’s a reminder to the world that Greece may be a small country, but it is not to be underestimated. Greeks can and do great things.
OXI means more than no. Read on to learn why.
Several years ago, I had the privilege to meet and interview Dr. George C. Blytas, author of The First Victory: Greece in the Second World War. Published in 2009, First Victory is a thorough 574-page volume, and includes many little known facts. It’s a complete political and military history of Greece in WWII.
Of the book, Dr. Blytas said:
“Even though the book is large and includes the most thorough documentation, it reads as a suspense story. That is because it’s a complete history. We look at leaders of the various nations, what they thought at any given time, and how their decisions translated into action in the field. Reality often is more interesting than fiction. There are more surprises, more turns of fate and unexpected events, than even the most imaginative author of a suspense novel would think about.”
VIDEO: National Geographic video: Greece, the First Victory (in Greek, with English subtitles)
Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote based on my conversations with Dr. Blytas in 2011,
featuring some little known facts about OXI Day, and the war.
October 28 marks the 74th anniversary of OXI Day. Notably, until 1940, this day was celebrated by the Italians as the Day of the March to Rome, in which Mussolini marched into Rome in 1922 to take power. Since 1941, Greeks everywhere commemorate October 28 as the day in which the Greek resistance to the Fascists, altered the course of WWII.
Most of what is written about OXI Day offers a basic description, but doesn’t delve into the great impact of those events. We know that Benito Mussolini, the infamous Italian dictator, issued an ultimatum to Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas, demanding that Greece allow Italian forces to take up certain “strategic positions” on Greek territory. If Metaxas were to refuse, the Italian Ambassador Grazzi said, “Greece would face war.” The ultimatum came at 3:30 am. Metaxas remained steadfast. He said “No” to Grazzi and concluded “Alors, c’est la guerre,” “Then it is war.” This celebrated response was summed up in one single Greek word – “OXI!””
Before 5:30 am, Italian troops attacked Greece’s northern border, invading Epirus from Albania, forcing Greece’s entry into World War II. At 6:00 am air defense sirens sounded in all Greek towns, informing the Greek people that Greece was at war. The Greeks, who after the sinking of the light destroyer Elli on the island of Tinos on August 15 — the Day of the Dormition — were expecting something to happen. They rushed to the streets, not in fear, but in celebration. They knew Panagia — the Holy Mother — was on their side.
Dr. George C. Blytas began researching this topic in 1992, and upon his retirement in 2001, began to write. He sources Greek military and political archives, as well as Italian, German, British and American articles, books and interviews. Its introduction covers the historical developments in Greece and in Europe from 1910-1940, when Greece was invaded, providing an excellent background for the reader. Dr. Blytas said that he undertook this task, “because the English historiography hardly ever mentions Greece’s contributions in WWII. What is written is often erroneous.”
He describes the pivotal role of Greece’s OXI in WWII:
“In the first 13 months of WWII, the European nations fell to the German invasion at the rate of one nation every two weeks. Everyone expected Greece to capitulate within two weeks at the most. Unlike France, which fell in about four weeks, Greece did not have a sizeable army. But instead, Greece kept the Axis — both Italy and Germany — in the battlefield for seven months and four days. At that time the British Commonwealth had no other ally fighting on its side. The Greek victories in Epirus and Albania were the first Allied victories in WWII.”
He added that this was the first time the Axis was significantly slowed down in its progress.
“The war changed character after the Greeks were invaded by the Italians. The war of blitzkriegs changed into a slow war of attrition. That dramatic change favored Britain and its allies.”
In his book, Blytas reveals something Hitler wrote, shortly before his suicide, acknowledging the alteration in the course of the war.
“Italy’s entry into the war gave our enemies their first victories, a fact which enabled Churchill to revive the courage of his countrymen and gave hope to the anglophiles the world over. The shameful defeats that the Italians suffered in their pointless campaign in Greece caused certain of the Balkan states to regard us with scorn and contempt. Here and nowhere else are to be found the causes of Yugoslavia’s stiffening attitude and her volta-face in the spring of 1941. This compelled us, contrary to our plans, to intervene in the Balkans, and that in turn caused the catastrophic delay in the launching of our attack on Russia. If the war had remained a war conducted by Germany and not by the Axis, we should have been in position to attack Russia by May 15, 1941. Doubly strengthened by the fact that our forces had known nothing but decisive irrefutable victories, we should have been able to conclude the campaign before the winter came…”
“The Greek resistance was the biggest surprise of the first quarter of WWII.It constitutes a major turning point in the direction of that war. This was not the only time the Greeks dramatically changed things. Hitler alluded to the Battle of Crete, which kept his troops in Crete too long, causing him to again alter his plans. Readers of First Victory can learn all about Greece’s role in the entire war, through the Battle of Greece, Occupation and the Resistance, as well as Greece’s effect on the outcome of the war, not only in Russia, but also in the Mediterranean and Middle East.”
It is important to note, he said, that before Mussolini invaded Greece, he was winning battles in North and Eastern Africa, however, once the Italians began fighting with Greece, Mussolini didn’t send any more troops to Africa. His attention was riveted on the Albanian front, because it was close to home. The growing number of dead and wounded Italian soldiers returning to Italy was beginning to be felt by the Fascists in Rome. That gave the opportunity to the British to begin winning battles in Africa. This is another important factor in the Allied victory. The Greek resistance in occupied Greece sunk Hitler’s Mediterranean strategy, and allowed the Allies to win the war in Middle East.
Dr. Blytas says the Greeks received no credit for this.
“This has not been recognized before, and the Greeks have received no credit for this. It’s incredible that the Greeks — just 1% of the Allied population — could keep the Axis in battle for 10% of the duration of the war.”
What it means today
Today, this means that even the smallest of nations can have the greatest impact; that courage and bravery cannot be disregarded; that even a small group can have big impact; and most especially, that people should never underestimate the Greeks. Greeks are strong, wiser, and more capable than most people know. This day is a reminder to the Greeks — here in the States and around the world — that each and every day, we must, as my 8 year-old so eloquently stated, show the world what we are made of.
Publisher: Cosmos Publishing Co., Inc. (November 30, 2009)
The Washington OXI Day Foundation – inspired by the events of October 28, 1940