Honoring Oxi Day, Books to Add to Your Reading List

A mother says farewell to her son as he goes off to the Albanian front in 1940. She holds an icon of St. George, the patron saint of Greece. Photo: By Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hellenic Republic, via Wikimedia Commons

Oxi Day is one of the iconic moments in history, not just Greek history, but in world history because it did in fact change the course of World War II. The dramatic answer to the spread of fascism, “Oxi” is a potent symbol, ingrained in the minds of Greek schoolchildren wherever Greek schools exist. The songs and poems we learn for the Oxi Day celebrations stay with us long after Greek school is over, reminding us of the power of standing up for what is right when it seems like no one else can. In honor of Oxi Day, here are a few books to add to your reading list.

Memoirs by WWII veteran Andrew Mousalimas, offers a unique look into the day to day experience of the extraordinary young men who served in the Greek U.S. Operational Group (USOG) created by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) the precursor of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). The opening is powerful with Mousalimas and his childhood friends in the choir at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Oakland, CA when they heard rumors that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor on that Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, one day after Mousalimas’ 17th birthday. Most of the community’s young men, ages 14 and older, who were in church that day, Mousalimas noted, either volunteered or were drafted into the U.S. Armed Forces. Volunteering three times for hazardous duty with Greek-American units during the war, Mousalimas noted how the prejudiced attitude in the U.S. towards Greeks began to change with the news of the Greek Army’s valiant effort, the first Allied victory of WWII, against the Italians in 1940.

Memoirs of World War II by Andrew Mousalimas.

A point of pride for Mousalimas is the fact that not one member of an American or British Operational Group was ever betrayed by a Greek citizen, in spite of the fact that the Nazis promised informants the weight of the American or British commando in gold. Mousalimas said for himself and his fellow veterans of the Greek/USOG that “our lives really are testimonies to the Greek people’s bravery and resistance.”

The book is highlighted by maps and many photos from the war and more recent ones from the unveiling of a monument in Athens honoring the elite unit of commandos, and from Washington, DC in March 2018 when Mousalimas received the Congressional Gold Medal.

The First Victory: Greece in the Second World War by George C. Blytas is a history which includes the events leading up to the famous “Oxi” of Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas to Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s ultimatum and Greece’s entry into World War II. The Greek victory over the Italians and the resistance that followed delayed Hitler’s plans to invade the Soviet Union which many scholars agree changed the course of the war. The book also includes personal accounts from those who lived through WWII.

American Kid: Nazi-occupied Greece through a Child’s Eyes by Constance M. Constant is a vivid and moving story of survival. As the Greatest Generation grows older, it is vital to preserve stories of World War II, lest we forget the harsh times and the struggles that shaped the world we live in today.

American Kid: Nazi Occupied Greece through a Child’s Eyes by Constance Constant. Photo: Amazon

Fleeing from the Great Depression in the United States in the late 1930’s, Katherine and her three American-born children find themselves fleeing the Germans and then living under the Occupation for the duration of the war. For many children and grandchildren of immigrants, those years in Greece were never spoken of in the family, as if talking about it was too painful for our older relatives to share and so the truth of what happened is lost or only fragmentary. American Kid offers insights into the brutal years of Occupation that might otherwise be lost.