Once We Were Here by Christopher Cosmos. (Photo: Amazon)
‘OXI’ Day is one of the iconic moments, not just in Greek history, but in world history because it did, in fact, change the course of World War II. The dramatic answer to fascism, ‘OXI’ is a potent symbol, ingrained in the minds of Greek schoolchildren wherever Greek schools exist. The songs and poems 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 against seemingly insurmountable odds. To honor OXI Day, add the following books 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 pointed out how the prejudiced attitude in the United States 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.
A point of pride for Mousalimas was 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. He passed away on May 20, 2020 at the age of 95.
For those interested in fiction on the subject of Greece in WWII, Once We Were Here by Christopher Cosmos was released in 2020 in honor for the 80th anniversary of ‘OXI’ Day, and in celebration of how Greece helped the Allies win the war. The book is now available in paperback. Cosmos, a Greek-American author and Black List screenwriter, was raised in the Midwest and attended the University of Michigan as the recipient of a Chick Evans Scholarship.
He spoke with The National Herald about the book in a previous interview, noting that “I first heard the stories that became Once We Were Here when I was very young, so in many ways, this novel represents my life’s work. I went to the Greek Orthodox church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I’m from and grew up, and one day after church there were a series of speakers who were just parishioners who lived through these events in Greece, before coming to America. One of them told a story about how they were so hungry after the Nazis came and occupied their village that they had to chew on the sole of their shoe, because the sole was made of leather. It’s a story and image that stuck with me, and that was when the idea for this novel first was born, and so, in a lot of ways, I’ve been writing it ever since.”
Once We Were Here by Christopher Cosmos is available online and in bookstores.
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 WWII, lest we forget the harsh times and the struggles that shaped the world we live in today.
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.
When the Tree Sings, by Stratis Haviaras, is a young boy’s coming of age story set during World War II. While living in German-occupied Greece, he witnesses the ongoing destruction of his family, his village, and ultimately his way of life. The novel reads more like poetry than prose and offers insights into Greek history and the character and spirit of the people.
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