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EMBCA Commemorates ‘OXI’ Day with Online Panel Discussion

October 24, 2022

NEW YORK – The East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance (EMBCA) hosted its Annual OXI Day (October 28, 1940) Commemoration: Freedom’s Shout to Tyranny – ‘OXI!’ Webinar Panel Discussion on October 23. The distinguished panelists were General (Ret.) Ilias Leontaris, author Dr. Christopher Lamb Research Fellow (Ret.) at the National Defense University, author, historian and EMBCA Director Alexander Billinis, University of Cincinnati Professor Emeritus Steven Bowman, and historian, researcher, author and EMBCA Director Peter Giakoumis.

The program also included a musical presentation by well-known Hellenic-American bass baritone Costas Tsourakis singing a cappella Sofia Vembo songs of the period. EMBCA President Lou Katsos moderated the discussion and gave the welcoming remarks, noting that ‘OXI’ Day (October 28, 1940), a national Hellenic holiday, commemorates Hellenic Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas’ response to Emanuele Grazzi, the Italian ambassador to Greece during World War II, delivering Benito Mussolini’s ultimatum “which would have allowed foreign troops free reign in Greece, a neutral nation at the time.”

“His response to these demands, and the Hellenic people’s simple shout ‘OXI/NO’ led to battles by the Hellenes of historical international consequences for Europe and the free world,” Katsos continued. “It was the first time in the European theater that an Axis power was defeated after they had taken over country after country, raising the hopes of occupied Europe, and causing the Nazi forces which were scheduled to attack the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa) to divert their forces and invade Greece instead” he added, and continued, noting, “this diversion led to a delay in the Nazi invasion of the U.S.S.R. and the Nazi’s eventual defeat there in the Soviet winter.” He emphasized that, “’OXI’ Day was a turning point in WWII and had an importance that went beyond the Hellenic Republic and a war international in scope. In addition, despite the ultimate Hellenic defeat, having fought long and hard, the bravery of the Hellenic people during those difficult six months also had the effect of changing how Hellenic-Americans, and Hellenes, in general, were perceived in America.. [Hellenic-Americans went] from being thought of as the ‘other’ to being finally accepted as Americans.”

EMBCA hosted the Annual OXI Day (October 28, 1940) Commemoration: Freedom’s Shout to Tyranny- ‘OXI!’ Webinar Panel Discussion on October 23. (Photo: TNH Staff)

Tsourakis opened the event with the Sofia Vembo wartime song ‘Paidia tis Ellados Paidia’. For her patriotic songs, Vembo was dubbed the ‘Songstress of Victory’.

General Leontaris thanked Katsos for inviting him to participate and noted that it was an honor to contribute to the very distinguished panel. His presentation included insights into the history leading up to WWII, the outbreak of the war, the battles of the Greco-Italian war, and the German attack on Greece. Slides highlighted the presentation.

Prof. Bowman discussed Hellenic Army Colonel Mordechai Frizis who was born in Chalcis and had served in World War I, in the Asia Minor campaign, and the Greco-Italian war. His heroic efforts included repelling an Italian attack and leading the Greek counterattack, but sadly, he was killed in an Italian aerial bombing on December 5, 1940. He was buried in Albania, but in 2002 his remains were transferred to the New Jewish Cemetery of Thessaloniki. Prof. Bowman also spoke about the Greek Jews and the Holocaust, referring to Michael Matsas’ book The Illusion of Safety: The Story of the Greek Jews during World War II.

Dr. Lamb offered “an outsider’s perspective” since he is not Greek or Greek-American but is married to Greek-born Prof. Ismini Lamb, adding that he appreciated and admired the Greeks devotion to liberty and defiance of tyrants well before he met his wife, having studied the Classics. In his concluding remarks, he noted that he learned something new from each of the presenters, pointing out that there should be a panel on Greek education since in his travels with his wife in Greece he found that many Greeks do not know their own history and many important dissertations on Greek history are not published in Greece.

Billinis spoke about the Greek Merchant Marine in WWII, noting that they had said ‘OXI’ before ‘OXI’ Day and continued to take losses in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and Indian Oceans as they fought a global war on behalf of the Allies. He also shared a personal story as his paternal grandfather Alexandros Billinis was one of the fatalities on a ship that was sunk on February 6, 1942 in the Atlantic.

Video of the event is available on YouTube: https://bit.ly/3D7xUf0.


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