On this day in 1929, Karolos Papoulias, the 6th President of Greece (2005-15), was born in Ioannina, Greece. He attended the Pogonian (Epirus) Elementary School and the High Schools of Pogoniani and Athens. During the Nazi occupation of Greece, he was among the first to join the armed resistance against the invading forces. He studied law at the Universities of Athens, Milan, and Cologne, where he submitted his PhD thesis on Private International Law. The 1967 military coup found him in Western Germany. He was among the founders of the Socialist Democratic Union which organized and mobilized Greeks working and studying in Western Europe against the colonels’ junta. Papoulias was also a founding member of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). In December of 2004, then Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, leader of the governing New Democracy Party, and George Papandreou, leader of the PASOK opposition, nominated Papoulias for the presidency, which is ultimately chosen by the Parliament. On February 8, 2005, Papoulias was elected by 279 of 300 votes to his first (of two) five-year term as President of the Hellenic Republic.
On this day in 1825, Odysseas Androutsos, a (controversial) hero in the Greek War of Independence, was executed in Athens. Born in Ithaca in 1788 to an Arvaniti klepht father and a mother from Preveza, Androutsos actually first joined the army of Ali Pasha after the death of his father. However, in 1818, he joined the Filiki Etairia, which was planning the liberation of Greece from the Ottoman Empire. Androutsos is best known for his defeat of Omer Vryonis (a commander of the Ottoman army) at the Battle of Gravia Inn. Androutsos, with a band of 100 or so men, managed to force Vryonis’ retreat after his army of 8,000 men suffered heavy casualties. Despite his victories for Greece, in early 1825, Androutsos was placed under arrest after being accused of collaboration with the Ottomans. The new commander of the Greek forces, who was once Androutsos’ second in command, ordered his execution on June 5, 1825.
On this day in 1944, 218 men, women and children were massacred in Distomo, a small village near Delphi, by German troops during World War II. For over two hours, the Germans went door to door and killed Greek civilians using the pretext that they had come under attack by Greek guerillas. According to survivors, the German forces “bayoneted babies in their cribs, stabbed and disemboweled pregnant women, and beheaded the village priest.” As a result of this attack, a quarter of Distomo’s population died. Fritz Lautenbach, the commander of the German soldiers, was never arrested and Hans Zampel, another German commander, was acquitted after being extradited by Greece to Germany. Like other Nazi atrocities in Greece, the massacre of Distomo is considered a ‘legal dead end.’ Today, a massive memorial located on a hilltop overlooking the village commemorates those who lost their lives on June 10, 1944. The memorial contains all of the names and the skulls of some of the victims.
Also on this day in 2004, Xenophon Zolotas, the Greek politician and economist, passed away at the age of 100. Born in Athens in 1904, Zolotas studied economics at the University of Athens and later studied in Leipzig and Paris. He came from a wealthy family of goldsmiths with roots in pre-revolutionary Russia. In 1928, he became a professor of economics at Athens University and at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, a post he held until 1968 when he resigned in protest of the military regime which had come to power in 1967. Zolotas also served as the director of the Bank of Greece and published many works on Greek and international economic topics. When the elections of November 1989 failed to give a majority to either the PASOK party or the New Democracy party, Zolotas, then aged 85, agreed to become the Prime Minister of a non-party administration until fresh elections could be held. He stepped down after the election of April 1990, which gave Constantinos Mitsotakis a narrow majority. Zolotas was a workaholic and an avid winter swimmer, making a point to swim every morning throughout the year even into his nineties.