For us Swiss today, who have abolished the war-preventing army required by the Constitution, and especially for all those young people who refuse to do military service, the reason for the “Ohi-Day” (“Anniversary of the No”) of the Greeks is probably incomprehensible.
This national day of remembrance, celebrated on 28 October with a strange name, commemorates this date in 1940, when at three o‘clock in the morning the Italian ambassador came to the residence of the Greek Prime Minister Metaxas. He gave him an ultimatum. It called for the German and Italian armies to be given the right to occupy and march through; if rejected, it would be war. The prime minister of Greece, which was then bitterly poor, replied: “Then there is war”. That same morning, the proud Greek people chanted only “Ochi! Ochi! Ochi!”, “No! No! no! No!” to submission.
Meanwhile, a large army ready in the Italian occupied Albania had already begun the attack. But the Greeks fought without ifs and buts and drove the Italians far back into Albania. The Italian dictator Mussolini did not want to let this disgrace sit on Italy, took the lead of 17 Italian divisions and started another offensive. It was immediately stopped by the Greeks deep in Albania. For months the front froze there.
In the meantime, Hitler had completed the deployment of the Wehrmacht against the Soviet Union. He absolutely had to occupy Moscow before the onset of winter, but could not allow a country with a hostile army to lie behind the Germans in which the Allies could also have landed and attack from there. So, he first had to use the German army, which was ready in Bulgaria, against Greece. The Wehrmacht attacked from behind via Thessaloniki, at the same time Italy from Albania. On 23 April 1941, 6 months after the start of the attack, Greece had to surrender. This delayed the German attack on the Soviet Union by 6 weeks; the Germans entered the Russian winter unprepared. The Wehrmacht therefore suffered its first catastrophic defeat against the Red Army. It lost many hundreds of thousands of men off Moscow, including about 100,000 death from exposure or severely injured by frostbites, 2,800 of its original 3,400 tanks and all the other heavy equipment (e.g. 35,000 trucks).
Thanks to the long Greek resistance, Germany’s defeat had begun before Moscow. No wonder the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said in 1941: “From now on we will no longer say that the Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks”. What would he have said about us Swiss today?
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