Bitter legacy behind war of words between Greece and Germany

Harsh memories of wartime occupation are inflaming hostility

Helena Smith in Athens
The Observer, 28 February 2010
via the Guardian

The cover of German news magazine Focus caused a media row between Germany and Greece. Photograph: Marc Mueller/EPA

The cover of German news magazine Focus caused a media row between Germany and Greece. Photograph: Marc Mueller/EPA

Throughout the German occupation of Greece, the square in front of my home was taken over by the Wehrmacht. Streaming into Athens on the morning of 27 April 1941, the tanks, motorbikes and cars of the 6th Armoured Division headed for the city centre and, in particular, the ancient Plaka district. Within an hour, the swastika had been hoisted from the Acropolis.

It was thus that the square was turned into an army depot, German guards posted at each of its four corners. My neighbour, Lina, who was 12 at the time, remembers German officers taking over the top floor of the building next to the neoclassical house she lives in – which happens to be my home. On the floor below lived Mr and Mrs Michaelides, with their three children. “Incredibly, they stayed throughout the war,” she recalled. “I was always scared for them, my mother always made sure I called them by their first names, because they were Jews.”

Last week those memories returned with the outbreak of a very different sort of war. “Economic Nazism threatens Europe,” proclaimed one newspaper, lashing out at German media jibes that the Greeks, being “cheats”, should pay for allowing their debt-ridden country to reach the point of bankruptcy.

“Racist frenzy and calumny against Greece,” railed another after a German weekly saw fit to cover its front page with an image of Venus de Milo gesturing obscenely under the headline “frauds in the Euro-family”…

…For older Greeks last week, his only crime was that [Greek deputy prime minister Theodore Pangalos] did not go far enough. It wasn’t just the stolen loot, plundering of homes and factories, crippling of the economy, or destruction of the countryside and burning of villages and schools. It was the sheer brutality of a regime that allowed some 300,000 to die from starvation after it requisitioned food, killed at least 100,000 in reprisals following mass resistance, and with frightening efficiency virtually wiped out Greece’s entire Jewish community…

The article continues at the Guardian.

Read also, “Athens, Berlin Spar as Bailout Takes Shape,” at the Wall Street Journal.

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