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This Week in History: June 5th to June 11th

June 5th: 

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 of over 400. 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.

June 10th: 

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 Prime Minister at head of a non-party administration until fresh elections could be held. He stepped down after the election of April 1990, which gave Mitsotakis a narrow majority. Zolotas was a workaholic and an avid winter swimmer, making a point of swimming every morning throughout the year even into his nineties. 

Also 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 some of the skulls of some of the victims. 

June 11th:

On this day in 1915, Nicholas Constantine Metropolis, the Greek-American mathematician, physicist and computer scientist, was born in Chicago, IL. In 1936 he received his bachelor's degree, and in 1941, his doctorate, both from the University of Chicago, and both in experimental physics. Shortly thereafter, J. Robert Oppenheimer recruited Metropolis (as one of the original 50-scientist staff) to work on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos where he collaborated on the first nuclear reactors (i.e., the first atomic bomb). A significant portion of his time at Los Alamos was spent developing his understanding of computers. After the war, Metropolis left Los Alamos to teach at the University of Chicago. In 1948, he returned to Los Alamos, where he worked on two of his most well-known projects: the Monte Carlo method and the MANIAC computer. The Monte Carlo method is an approach to statistical modeling which has been placed among the top ten algorithms having the "greatest influence on the development and practice of science and engineering in the 20th century." He is also credited with developing the Metropolis-Hastings algorithm, which generates a sequence of random samples in a situation where direct sampling is difficult. The Metropolis-Hastings algorithm is considered one of the most important contributions to statistical computing. Metropolis had a son and two daughters. He was an avid skier and tennis player until his mid-seventies.

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