NEW YORK – On October 25, the East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance (EMBCA) presented the OXI Day (October 28, 1940) and its Effects on World War II, Europe and America panel discussion via Zoom in association with the Hellenic American National Council (HANC), and AHEPA’s Hellenic Cultural Commission.
Lou Katsos, EMBCA founder and president, gave the welcoming remarks noting that “OXI Day (October 28, 1940) a national Hellenic holiday represents when the Hellenic Prime Minister Metaxas was awoken to respond to a series of demands from a representative of a WWII Axis Power which would have allowed foreign troops free reign in Greece, a neutral nation at the time. His response to these demands a simple ‘OXI/NO’ led to battles by the Hellenes of historical international consequences for Europe and the free world.
“It was the first time in the European theater that an Axis Power was defeated after they had taken over country after country, raised the hopes of occupied Europe, and caused the Nazi forces which were scheduled to attack the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa) to divert their forces and invade Greece instead. 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. As per the title of this event OXI Day was a turning point in WWII and had an importance that went beyond the Hellenic Republic and the war that was 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 were perceived in the United States. It transformed them from being thought of as the ‘Other’ to being finally accepted as Americans. These and other aspects of OXI Day will be elaborated on in the panel discussion.”
Opera singer Costas Tsourakis performed a cappella a few songs made famous by Sofia Vembo. Among those participating in the event, Secretary General for Public Diplomacy and Greeks Abroad Prof. John Chrysoulakis, speaking in English and in Greek, offered welcoming remarks and thanked all those participating in the event commemorating OXI Day.
Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras offered remarks about the current situation in the eastern Mediterranean and the lessons learned in the Mediterranean theatre during WWII. “Before we act, we must think,” he said.
The highly distinguished panel included retired Hellenic Lt. General Ioannis Baltzois, historian and author Prof. Alexander Kitroeff of Haverford College, the Museum Director of Kehila Kedosha Janina Marcia Ikonomopoulos, AHEPA Supreme Vice President Jimmy Kokotas, and historian, researcher and author Peter Giakoumis.
Prof. Kitroeff noted the tremendous response of the Greek-American community, raising funds for the war effort, the Greek War Relief Association (GWRA), headed by Ahepan Spyros Skouras and other prominent Greek-Americans, local AHEPA chapters and parishes. Actively selling war bonds, Greek-Americans sold not only to themselves but to other Americans, mobilizing on the side of America and of Greece, Prof. Kitroeff noted.
Ikonomopoulos spoke about the Greek Jews who fought heroically in 1940, including Colonel Mordechai Frizis, born in Chalcis. Frizis, on horseback, continued to rally his men though he was mortally wounded and then died of his injuries. Ikonomopoulos also shared some of the lesser known stories of Ioannina Jews who were lost and those veterans, amputees, who were injured on the Albanian front and then met tragic ends in Auschwitz-Birkenau and others who later refused to be taken by the Germans and were executed.
Kokotas spoke about AHEPA’s efforts during WWII, the selling of war bonds and the Greek battalion of the OSS. He noted that understanding the history, ideals and values are vital to the understanding of what is going on today in the eastern Mediterranean.
Giakoumis pointed out that his father and uncle fought on the Albanian front and he grew up hearing stories about the war. He spoke about Metaxas and the Balkan Wars in which 45,000 Greek-Americans fought, many of whom then fought in World War I, and then their sons fought in WWII.
Katsos also noted the contribution and the sacrifices of the Greek merchant marines who joined in the war effort. Kitroeff pointed out that there were strong seamen’s unions one of which had the motto “keep the ships moving” and their efforts to get supplies to the Allies were vital. He also noted that Frank Sinatra performed a concert at Madison Square Garden to raise funds for Greece during the war.
Lt. General Baltzois concluded by reading a letter from a Greek mother whose son was killed in the war, asking for her other sons to be drafted to fight, and who was honored with a statue in Greece.