Seventy-one years ago today, in the face of the advancing allied armies, the Germans had already begun evacuating southern Greece. Yet, on September 27th, 1944, Athens was still under occupation. It was in this occupied city that an unknown hand clambered on a shed in the borough of Kaisariani, to write these words:
The heroic EAM (Greek Liberation Front, the leading Greek resistance group)
celebrates its three years of fighting
EAM-ELAS (Greek Liberation Army, the military branch of EAM)
The author repeated the message, in almost identical phrasing, on the next wall, probably balancing on the ledge of the nearby window.
How could he do that in a city still patrolled by German troops? The truth is that Kaisariani was a special case. More a shanty town than a proper neighborhood, it was entirely made up of Greek refugees fleeing from Turkey in the 1920’s, with little more than the clothes on their backs. The inadequate support from the cash-strapped Greek state, the hostility of other Greeks who saw the new arrivals as a threat to their jobs and a repressive dictatorship, resulted in dire poverty for the refugees. This in turn led people to join leftist movements which promised a better life; Kaisariani became a hotbed of communism. In the face of persecution from the regime, the neighborhood’s residents became quite adept at underground activity, which proved very useful when the Nazis arrived. Soon, the underground groups of communists were organizing the resistance against the Germans and being joined by thousands.
This naturally, did not please the Germans, who organized dozens of incursions in the neighborhood. Assisted by right-wing Greeks, who sided with the Germans, they arrested and executed hundreds, without managing to bring the neighborhood under control.
Less than three months after the graffiti was painted on the wall, the Germans were gone and the Greek civil war broke out. The right-wing former assistants of the Germans were pitched against the left-wing former resistance fighters. Those who had resisted the Germans but were not communists were forced to choose sides. The British supported the former, defending the monarchy. It is their bullets that peppered the building with marks that are still clearly visible.
Unfortunately, a Historic Park has yet to be made in the area, including this building and other historic landmarks all around it, but it is my dream that one day this will happen. Until then, lovers of history may walk the neighborhood and take in the not-always-harmonious co-existence of past and present.