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Commemorating “OXI Day”

October 28, 2021

The commemoration of ‘OXI’ Day reminds us of the heroism and sacrifice of the Greeks during World War II. As one by one the nations of Europe fell under the heel of Axis oppression, no one expected Greece, a relatively small nation, to stand up and derail the plans of the enemy forces.

On October 28, 1940 at 3 AM, the Greek Prime Minister faced the demand for Greece’s surrender and gave the answer that has come down to us as the great ‘OXI – No!’ 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, 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.”

Greek-American children grow up learning about the meaning of ‘OXI’ in Greek school with the annual celebration, the songs and the plays, and especially the poems we memorized and practiced over and over again.

The story was a profound one and made us proud of our heritage, reminding us to stand up against oppression even if the odds are against us. The most important thing is to do what is right and stand up for the values and freedoms we often take for granted. Greece made that stand, won that victory, and inspired the world to also fight against fascism with a renewed vigor, even if, at the time, the situation seemed dire.

It can be difficult to continue the fight when things seem so bleak, as we have seen in the global COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of a crisis, we can forget that there is hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The obstacles may seem insurmountable, but working together, we can make a difference. There may be setbacks along the way, but the small victories teach us that united in our efforts we can defeat any enemy, whether it is a deadly virus or the Axis forces.

The trauma experienced in the war is something that still lingers to this day, even if the ‘Greatest Generation’ was perhaps more stoic than the subsequent generations. Living through war colors everything after, how we relate to people, how our grandparents raised their children, how they related to us. The things they saw could never be unseen, and they often refused to share what they had seen – they threw a black stone behind them and left the homeland for a better life elsewhere, and if they were lucky, they found it. The love of the homeland lingers, however, and the inspiring story of ‘OXI’ Day is something we should always be proud of and always share.

So, while the children in Greek schools of the Diaspora across the globe may not love the fact that their teacher makes them repeat their poem 50 times to get it exactly right for the annual ‘OXI’ Day commemoration, they will appreciate, eventually, and always take pride in the fact that the Greeks in 1940 stood up for freedom against oppression and fascism and helped turn the tide of the Second World War.

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