Ochi day in Crete and around the country marks the date that Greeks said “no” to fascism. Refusing to be bullied into compromise, they fought for their values, displaying ultimate and tangible bravery.
On the 28th of October, Greece -and Greek communities around the world- celebrate the “Ochi Day” (“No day”): One of the nation’s most important public holidays, commemorating its people’s indomitable spirit, undying courage and determination.
On the crossroads of three continents, Greece’s key geopolitical position means that whoever occupies it may control much of the Mediterranean Sea and the surrounding areas. This is especially true of Crete, the country’s largest island and southernmost post.
Back in 1940, with a view of furthering the Axis’ overall war effort, Benito Mussolini saw Greece as an easy victory with multiple geostrategic benefits. A conquest that would also strengthen Italy’s position in the political arena and consolidate its power within the Nazi Alliance.
In accordance with this plan, on the 28th of October, Emanuele Grazzi, the Italian ambassador in Athens, on his way back from a party in the Italian embassy, called into the home of Ioannis Metaxas in Kifissia: Shortly after 3:00 am, he presented the former military general and Greek Prime Minister with Mussolini’s ultimatum:
This demanded that Greece grant free passage to the Italian army through the Greek-Albanian border, and allow its troops to occupy certain “unspecified” parts of the country. Refusal to do so would be construed as an act of war. In line with popular sentiment, Metaxas stood firmly against the imperialistic policy of the Italian fascists, and, as the legend goes, replied with a laconic “Ochi”-No. His actual response however was in French, the official diplomatic language – “Alors, c’ est la Guerre!” – “Then it is war!”.
Howbeit expressed, that “No!” reflected the Greek populace’ stance which was the denial of allegiance to the Nazis. The word ‘Ochi’ first appeared as a title in the main article of the newspaper ‘Greek Future’ of N. P. Efstratios on October 30th 1940, while Athenians took into the streets of the capital yelling “Ochi”!
This loud and clear No also brought Greece into World War II on the side of the Allies. Indeed, for a period, Greece was Britain’s only ally against Hitler.
Within a few hours from Metaxa’s reply, the Italian troops invaded Epirus on the northeastern borders. But despite Mussolini’s initial predictions, the Greek Army turned out to be a formidable opponent, driving the Italians back through most of Albania.
Not only did Greece rebuke the fascist’s demands, but also seized the offensive securing the first victory of the Allies against the Axis powers.
This win markedly boosted the morale in enslaved Europe, but also led Hitler to step in and take action. His formidable Nazi army invaded Greece in April 1941. The occupation lasted until October 1944 and it was a bleak and brutal period for the country. Yet the Greek’s bravery during key conflicts, like the Battle of Crete, continued to inspire the rest of the world. Winston Churchill himself famously declared, “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks”.
Greece’s refusal to yield to dictatorial commands made the Allies realize that the Axis can in fact be defeated. On a more practical level, it is arguable that WW2 may have lasted much longer, had Metaxas not said “No!”. If Greece had surrendered without any resistance, many war experts claim that it would have enabled Hitler to invade Russia in the spring, rather than disastrously attempting to take it in the winter.
Celebrations of Ochi day in Crete
Metaxa’s No propelled Greece into a war that eventually led to its occupation by the Axis powers. But his famous “Ochi” also represented a spirit of bravery that is still celebrated today throughout the country. Having played an important role in resisting Nazi oppression, Crete is no exception.
Some weeks prior to October 28th locals start decorating streets and balconies with Greek flags in every Cretan village and town. The national television broadcasts -what are by now considered classic- Greek movies about the war of 1940 and the German occupation, while the radio plays the same heroic songs that boosted the Greek troops’ morale during those trying times. High school students also start practising for the parade on the 28th.
On the anniversary day, school and military parades take to the streets, and they are full of ceremony and pomp and Greek pride. Likewise, great Orthodox ceremonies are held in the cathedrals of Cretan capital towns –Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion or the coastal city of Agios Nikolaos.
Ochi day in Crete: Battle of Crete Award
The island of Crete has played a pivotal role in the struggle against the Nazis. One of the biggest highlights of this resistance, and arguably a turning point for the war, was the battle of Crete: On May 20, 1941, thousands of Nazi paratroopers descended on the island in the largest airborne attack of World War II. Most of the Allied troops had already left Crete, so the Nazis anticipated a swift and easy surrender. They didn’t however count on the courage of the civilians: The unyielding Cretan men and women, who mustered whatever makeshift weapon they could find and joined the few remaining Allied soldiers in their fight against the invaders. “Everyone — great and small — ran to the nearest scene of action to attack the enemy, armed as they were”, recalls George Psychoundakis, a 21-year-old shepherd who witnessed the invasion. In unison, these fighters inflicted the first significant loss upon the Nazis, decimating half of Hitler’s 8,000 elite paratroopers within the first 48 hours. Indeed the Nazis suffered more casualties on the first day of the battle of Crete than they had suffered since the beginning of the war.
Cretans managed to hold out the enemy for 10 days, but their losses were considerable too. In reprisal for their bravery -in battle; in hiding and caring for wounded fighters; in smuggling arms and messages when they knew that discovery meant certain death- nearly 1.000 Cretan women were killed by the Nazis, and another 500 were extradited to Germany.
Risking their lives for freedom, the women of Crete fought valiantly for the defence of their island and their actions inspired the generations to come.
In honour of those heroines, the “Oxi Day Battle of Crete Award” is given each year to a woman who has taken courageous action in an effort to protect, promote or acquire freedom and democracy. This is an initiative of the Washington Oxi Day Foundation, which was instituted with the aim of informing US policymakers, international opinion leaders, and the general public about the decisive role of Greece in the outcome of World War II.
Celebrating Ochi Day in Crete at the Oscar Suites & Village
Filled with pride for our history and fellow countrymen and countrywomen, at the Oscar Suites & Village in Agia Marina -Platanias, Chania, we are getting ready to celebrate Ochi Day in Crete on the 28th of October. The summer might be over but we are still open for the season and the weather holds, with sunny days and balmy nights. So we would like to take this opportunity to invite all of you, our dear friends and guests, to join us for the celebrations. It would be our honour and pleasure to have as many of you as possible with us on this very special day!