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Society

Commemorating ‘OXI’ Day

October 28, 2022

On October 28th, we commemorate ‘OXI’ Day and the heroism and sacrifice of the Greeks during World War II. As one by one the nations of Europe fell under Axis oppression, no one expected the small nation of Greece to stand up and fight, pushing back the invading Italians and derailing the plans of the enemy forces.

At 3 AM on that fateful day in 1940, the Greek Prime Minister answered the demand for Greece’s surrender with what history recalls as a one-word answer, OXI!’ In response, in a matter of hours, the Axis forces descended on Greece. Expecting an easy victory, they underestimated the Greeks and were pushed back. News of Greece’s victory against the fascist Italian forces in the mountains of northern Greece and Albania spread quickly via radio and soon covered the front pages of newspapers around the globe. The victory was not just for the people of the Hellenic Republic but also for Hellenes of the diaspora, wherever they happened to live, and for the entire world.

Greece gave hope to all the nations that had fallen under Axis oppression, forcing Hitler to change his plans, delaying the invasion of Russia (then-Soviet Union), and essentially turning the tide of the war. The valiant effort by the Greeks inspired the now famous quote from Winston Churchill: “Hence, we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.”

(FILE PHOTO/ΜΟΤΙΟΝ ΤΕΑΜ/ Vasilis Verderidis)
Soldiers fighting in 1940, following Metaxas’ “Oxi” heard around the world.
(FILE PHOTO/ΜΟΤΙΟΝ ΤΕΑΜ/ Vasilis Verderidis)

Generations of diaspora youngsters learned about ‘OXI’ Day in Greek schools through annual celebrations featuring patriotic songs, plays, and poems. The history is a powerful reminder of the importance of standing up against oppression and for what is right in spite of terrible odds. The values and freedoms we often take for granted were won at a great cost and the more we learn about that time period, the more we realize what an extraordinary achievement the Greek victory was.

The history makes us proud of our heritage, reminding us that Greece stood, fought, and won that victory, inspiring the world to continue fighting against fascism with a renewed vigor, even if, at the time, the situation looked grim.

The front page of the New York Times October 28, 1940.
The front page of the New York Times October 28, 1940.

As U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in a statement nearly six months after the original OXI Day: “The heroic struggle of the Hellenic people to defend their liberties and their homes against the aggression of Germany after they had so signally defeated the Italian attempt at invasion has stirred the hearts and aroused the sympathy of the whole American people.”

In these difficult times with the world emerging from the pandemic years, the message of ‘OXI’ Day is a profound one, that in the midst of a crisis, we might forget that there is hope, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if the obstacles seem insurmountable, when we work together, we can make a difference.

So, while the children in Greek schools of the diaspora across the globe recite poems in the annual ‘OXI’ Day commemorations, we should all remember and appreciate the fact that the Greeks in 1940 stood up and fought against fascism, helping to turn the tide of the Second World War.

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